Constitutional Politics Before The Lahore High Court – Institutionalisation Is The Ultimate Solution
Before the honourable Lahore High Court, an interesting issue is pending regarding the presentation of audit reports for the years 2001 to 2015 before the Public Accounts Committee, of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, which has become non-functional. Appearing on behalf of the Opposition Leader and Chairman of Public Accounts Committee, Mr Mian Mahmud ur Rashid, I argued that presentation of district governments audit reports before the Public Accounts Committee has become indispensable in order to ensure proper accountability of public funds through discussion of audit reports on the accounts of district governments before the House as well as Public Accounts Committee.
To present the audit reports of district governments is also necessary because the quantum of paras and financial irregularities contained in the said reports are over 200 Billion Rupees which would in turn become manifold with the passage of time especially considering the time value for money in future.
According to Section 108 of Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 as follows:-
“108(3): The Audit Report of the Auditor General shall be considered by the Punjab Accounts Committee of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab.”
I further contended that the Public Accounts Committee is the main instrument of parliamentary oversight and its strengthening is vital to ensure accountability of public funds and good governance, which would eventually eliminate corruption from the public sector. Moreover the functioning of PAC can be placed on the same pedestal of inquisitorial proceedings of accountability courts established under the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance as well as the Anti-Corruption Establishment Ordinance respectively.
Presentation of the said reports before the Public Accounts Committee has also become the need of the hour keeping into consideration the recent elections of local bodies which has increased the scope of local governments by manifold.
It was also noted by the court during the proceedings that on 22.09.2015 the petitioner, Mian Mahmood ur Rashid, wrote a letter to Chief Minister of Punjab to fulfill his statutory obligations and reminded him not to make any further delay in placing the audit reports of the district governments before the Public Accounts Committee but no further reply was received by the petitioner.
As per Article 171 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, the reports of Auditor General of Pakistan are required to be submitted to the Governor who causes them to be laid before the Provincial Assembly. Article 171 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is as follows:-
“171: Reports of the Auditor General: The reports of the Auditor General relating to the accounts of the federation shall be submitted to the President who shall cause them to be laid before both Houses of Majlas-e-Shoora and the reports of the Auditor General relating to the accounts of a Province, shall be submitted to the Governor of the Province, who shall cause them to be laid before the Provincial Assembly.”
Transparency and accountability are key principles which are to be adhered by every democratic governments, hence the audit reports of the district governments should be laid before the Public Accounts Committee instead of Chief Minister of the province.
It was vociferously argued by me that the issue requires judicial review as the respondents have failed to perform their statutory obligations, keeping into consideration that justice and fair play have become one of the salient future of the Constitution – (PLD 2015 SC 401).
After hearing these arguments, the honourable judge raised an objection and inquired whether the petition was maintainable as the petitioner had impleaded the Chief Minister and Governor in the petition whereas Article 248 of the Constitution states:
Protection to President, Governor, Minister, etc.- (1) The President, Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not he answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions:
Provided that nothing in this clause shall be construed as restricting the right of any person to bring appropriate proceedings against the Federation or a Province.
(2) No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any court during his term of office.
(3) No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or a
Governor shall issue from any court during his term of office.
(4) No civil proceedings in which relief is claimed against the President or a Governor shall be instituted during his term of office in respect of anything done or not done by him in his personal capacity whether before or after he enters upon his office unless, at least sixty days before the proceedings are instituted, notice in writing has been delivered to him, or sent to him in the manner prescribed by law, stating the nature of the proceedings, the cause of action, the name, description and place of residence of the party by whom the proceedings are to be instituted and the relief which the party claims.
On this query, I presented the landmark judgment of Supreme Court of Pakistan, PLD 2010 SC 61, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary vs. President Pervez Musharraf, in which the court concluded that in case of illegal and unconstitutional acts of the Governor and Chief Minister, the constitutional writ petition was maintainable.
The honourable judge, on getting convinced by the dictum laid down by the Supreme Court admitted the constitutional petition for regular hearing in order to issue directions against the honourable Chief Minister, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, and the Governor, Mr Malik Rafique Rajwana. It is a huge relief considering the reply filed by the Auditor General of Pakistan as well as Deputy Auditor General of Pakistan had already been submitted before the honourable court and audit reports already been submitted before the Governor.
The Provincial Assembly Secretariat has also admitted before the court in its para-wise comments, that the audit reports are being held by the Chief Minister contrary to the law and his constitutional obligations. The court observed that when the Article 171 of the Constitution states that audit reports of the provincial governments are to be submitted by the Auditor General to the Governor, who shall be deemed to present them before the Provincial Assembly, then how come audit reports of the accounts of district governments would be held up by the Chief Minister.
In my view, the ruling party has an apprehension that in case these audit reports get released and the Public Accounts Committee starts functioning effectively, the claims of good governance by the provincial government would perhaps be proved false and be exposed.
The lesson to be learnt is: when would people at the helm of affairs understand that development is not a solo-flight but a phenomenon which takes place through building institutions? If the Public Accounts Committee is not functional, then this question arises: how would the taxpayer’s money be recovered and irregularities in state affairs be pointed out?
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.