ISLAMABAD: Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) Akhtar Buland Rana on Tuesday termed the composition of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) against the spirit of democracy and refused to participate in future meetings of the spending oversight committee.
The sudden move by the AGP not only stunned the PAC, but has also challenged the whole system of the parliamentary oversight of pubic expenses.
Rana's refusal to participate in the future PAC meetings might also cause problems for him at a time when the government is considering filing a reference against him on allegations of drawing excessive salary in the Supreme Judicial Council.
On Tuesday, the PAC had convened under the chairmanship of Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament Khursheed Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The meeting was scheduled discuss the audit objections against the expenses incurred by Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2013 –the years when PPP was at the helm of affairs.
In his brief appearance before the PAC on Tuesday, the AGP argued that the current PAC in dealing with audits of previous years expenses is convening under a chairman who was till last year a member of the federal cabinet. This was a conflict of interest.
Rana said that the present chairman PAC was a federal minister and the PAC is dealing in audit objections pertaining to time period corresponding with the time his party was in power, which was a “serious conflict of interest.” Therefore, neither Rana nor his department would attend the PAC meetings. This stance surprised everyone in the room.
This is the first time in three years that Rana had raised such an objection. He had never objected to the appointment of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as chairman PAC during the PPP tenure, nor when Khan handled the audit objections pertaining to General Musharraf period and that of Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure.
Rana said he has already written a letter to Speaker National Assembly, explaining his department’s position to him.
The office of the AGP is considered ears and eyes of the parliamentary accountability system and a vital tool to keep a check on the government’s expenses.
Addressing the AGP, the PAC Chairman said, “I know why are you doing this but I will not say anything.”
While the members of the PAC belonging to all political parties agitated against Rana, Shah calmly called off the meeting and held discussions with PAC members behind closed doors.
After the in-camera meeting, the members of the PAC said that they have decided to refer the matter of AGP’s defiance to Speaker NA for a decision. They also took the AGP rebelliousness as breach of privilege of the Parliament, hinting that a privilege motion may be moved against Rana.
The PAC has already sent a reference to Speaker NA Sardar Ayaz Sadiq after one of its sub-committees found that Rana drew excessive salary from the exchequer. Under the constitution, the AGP can only be removed by Supreme Judicial Council in a manner prescribed to remove a judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Advising AGP to exercise restrain in his behavior, member PAC Sheikh Rohale Asghar of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) claimed that the appointment of Khursheed Shah had not affected the functioning of the PAC.
Sardar Ashiq Gopang of PML-N termed the AGP’s defiance as an insult to the PAC.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Shafqat Mehmood said that the PAC was performing its constitutional role and if the AGP thought that the PAC was working on party lines he should have raised the issued at the forum.
Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP alleges that the AGP’s objection has direct relation with the PAC’s decision to move a reference against him to the Speaker NA.