Act of defiance: Auditor general refuses to appear before Public Accounts Committee

Claims the body functions against the spirit of democracy

Our Correspondent August 06, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Auditor General Akhtar Buland Rana on Tuesday refused to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the plea that the anti-graft watchdog was acting against the spirit of democracy.

The top auditor’s move shocked members of the parliamentary watchdog. It may also ignite more trouble for Rana at a time when the government is considering filing a reference against him on allegations of drawing an excessive salary in the Supreme Judicial Council.

The PAC meeting was convened to discuss the audit objections against the expenses incurred by Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2013 – while the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was at the helm of affairs. Interestingly, Khursheed Shah of the PPP chaired the PAC meeting.

During the PAC meeting, Rana said that Pakistan ostensibly follows a Westminster-style parliamentary system that is modelled after the United Kingdom. Britain’s parliamentary watchdog, he said, scrutinises accounts of the current government and the body is headed by the leader of the opposition.

Pakistan’s PAC has been dealing with previous government’s audit objections and the leader of the opposition, being the chairman of the body, was in conflict of interest, argued Rana.

He said the present PAC chairman has himself served as a federal minister and the PAC was dealing in audit objections pertaining to his government’s period, which was “serious conflict of interest”. Rana said, therefore, neither he nor his department would attend PAC meetings .

Interestingly, Rana has never objected to the appointment of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as PAC chairman during the PPPs term. Khan not only handled the audit objections pertaining to General Musharraf’s period but the PAC under his command also took the audit objections pertaining to Nawaz Sharif’s second tenure.

Rana said that he had written a letter to the National Assembly speaker, explaining his department’s position on the matter.

“I know why are you doing this but I will not say anything,” said Khursheed Shah while addressing Rana.

After the in-camera meeting, members of the PAC said that they decided to refer the matter of AGP’s defiance to the NA speaker for a decision. They also interpreted Rana’s act of rebellion as a breach of parliamentary privilege and said a privilege motion may also be moved against him.

The public watchdog has already sent a reference to NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq after one of its sub-committees found that Rana drew an excessive salary from the exchequer.

Members of the PAC, including Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N’s) Sheikh Rohail Asghar, advised the auditor general to exercise restraint in his behaviour. The PML-N leader argued that the appointment of Shah as PAC chairman was not affecting the working of the PAC in any manner.

Similarly, PML-N’s Sardar Ashiq Gopang termed the AGP’s defiance as an insult to PAC.  Heaping pressure on the AGP, Shafqat Mehmood of PTI said that the PAC was performing its constitutional role.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th,2014.