ISLAMABAD: With the Supreme Court of Pakistan remaining adamant on not allowing its registrar to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for scrutiny of the former’s accounts, the parliamentary watchdog will meet today (Thursday) to decide on the matter.
The meeting has been called after the law ministry reiterated its earlier opinion that, like any department using public money, the Registrar of the Supreme Court is bound to appear before the PAC.
The meeting has the prospects of being a decisive one in the prolonged tussle between parliament and Supreme Court on the matter – one which has lasted eight years. A Supreme Court registrar last appeared before the PAC in December 2004 when a sub-committee of the PAC settled audit objections.
The PAC, headed by Nadeem Afzal Chan of the Pakistan Peoples Party, will ask legal experts about their views on the apex court’s decision to bar its registrar from appearing before the accountability body before taking a final decision.
Since 2006, the SC has been refusing to allow the parliamentary anti-corruption watchdog to quiz its registrar over the apex court’s financial accounts. On the other hand, the PAC is also adamant to establish its supremacy.
‘SC not under government’
In a letter to the PAC, the SC has said that PAC’s mandate was limited to audit the expenditures that have been voted for by parliament. It added that the Supreme Court’s budget was a charged expense and part of the federal consolidated fund, which cannot be discussed. Furthermore, the PAC has a mandate to scrutinise the accounts of government departments while the apex court does not fall under the government, according to the letter of the SC.
The apex court has further said that the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue has a designated desk in the SC, besides effective internal controls, so there is no need for PAC’s oversight.
The SC’s decision is also based on a letter of the Finance Ministry that authorised the Chief Justice of Pakistan to make re-appropriations in its budget and also the power to create new posts. However, the ministries of law and finance have clarified that the letter does not exempt the SC from an audit or from appearance before the PAC.
PAC can audit any expense
“Irrespective of the fact whether the SC’s expenses are part of federal consolidated fund or not the PAC has the mandate to audit any expense which is met out of the taxpayers’ money,” said Yasmeen Rehman, a PAC member from PPP. She said parliament has entrusted the PAC to ensure fair and efficient use of taxpayer money.
Since 2008, the PAC has recovered over Rs140 billion from various government departments.
Rehman said that the AGPR desk cannot settle audit objections, as these powers are entrusted to the PAC. She questioned the status of audit objections should the registrar stay away from the meetings.
Deputy Auditor General of Pakistan Tahir Saeed said the Supreme Court’s audit has been regularly carried out since 1986-87. He said the only issue was the appearance of the registrar of the Supreme Court in the PAC to discuss the audit objections.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2012.