ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have locked horns over the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) as both parties are interested in getting their candidate elected to the key post.
PAC is the top-notch parliamentary body to oversee the spending made by the former governments as the yearly report of the auditor general for Pakistan (AGP) is presented before the committee which takes decisions over any irregularity committed in the statement of accounts.
Experts believe that there is no legal bar on the treasury to head the PAC, the parliamentary tradition over the past two governments has been that the office goes to the leader of the opposition or any member from the opposition benches named by the opposition leader.
It was Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government back in 2008 which for the first time gave the chairmanship of the PAC to the major opposition party who named Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the then leader of the opposition, to chair the PAC. The PML-N returned the favour to PPP in the year 2013 as the then opposition leader, Syed Khurshid Shah, became the chairman of the PAC.
However, this time around, PTI is reluctant to allow the opposition Leader Mian Shehbaz Sharif, to chair the PAC, terming it a ‘conflict of interest’ as the junior Sharif would get an opportunity to justify the ‘wrongdoing’ of his party which ruled the country for the past five years.
However, interestingly, the same conflict of interest may become a major hurdle for PTI too as if its nominee assumes charge as the PAC chairman, then questions may be raised if any audit para comes for discussion about PTI’s own government. But there are remote chances of such a chance as during the PAC’s last session, the tenure of PML-N government from 2013-2018 was being discussed.
WHAT IS PTI’S TAKE ON PAC CHAIRMANSHIP?
Talking to Pakistan Today, PTI Chief Whip in the National Assembly (NA) Malik Amir Dogar said that there had been no decision as yet about the future chairman of the PAC. However, Dogar said that NA speaker was mulling various proposals about the future PAC chairman as he had to take any decision in this regard in consultation with all political parties.
“Before taking any decision on the subject matter, let me make it clear that PTI wants to follow parliamentary traditions. However, we also have to ensure that the corrupt elements of former government do not go scot-free in name of following the parliamentary traditions,” he said.
When asked to explain, Dogar said that former PAC chairman Syed Khursheed Shah had set a very bad tradition by giving clemency to corrupt practices of his party.
“One should not forget that Syed Khursheed Shah had justified his own wrongdoing as PAC chairman for allegedly purchasing mobile phones worth Rs90 million for pilgrims during Hajj in 2012 without inviting tenders,” the PTI leader said.
He further alleged that Shah had also helped his close friend, Syed Naveed Qamar to justify the audit paras about his tenure as minister for petroleum.
“Even the then AGP had boycotted the PAC proceedings when during the audit paras of Naveed Qamar’s tenure as petroleum minister came for a debate and Shah left the meeting, asking Naveed Qamar to chair the session. The then AGP had refused to allow this cover-up and boycotted,” he further said.
Dogar added that it would be a mockery of parliamentary traditions if Shehbaz Sharif as PAC chairman would be allowed to justify his own party’s wrongdoings.
“Since PTI stands for transparency and clean government, we will not allow this cover-up. We are mulling how to go about it,” he added.
WHAT PML-N HAS TO SAY?
During the recent parliamentary party meeting of PML-N, the party leaders had urged Shehbaz Sharif to accept the office of PAC chairman in the party’s interest as well as in line with the parliamentary traditions.
PML-N senior leader Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed said this is part of PTI’s pattern of U-turns on all areas.
“They talk of democratic norms yet are denying the leader of the opposition the right to chair the PAC, which violates also past precedent. They talk of bringing back looted wealth and cracking down on tax evaders, but give relief to non-filers of tax returns,” he said.
The PML-N leader said that PTI talks of combating corruption by eliminating cronyism, but Imran Khan overseas cronies get plush positions and roles in lucrative slots.
“They talk of upholding national honour in foreign policy, yet the PM accepts protocol downgrading by accepting a phone call from the US secretary of state, while his two immediate predecessors had gotten presidential calls. Prime Minister Imran Khan promised to open any constituency demanded by the opposition but when it came to his own, NA-131, he reneged on that commitment,” concluded the PML-N leader.
Meanwhile, PPP senior leader Sherry Rehman said that the PAC chairmanship was the right of the opposition as per the parliamentary traditions.
“PTI must respect the parliamentary traditions and the PAC chairmanship should be given to the opposition. I think PTI must adhere to the parliamentary traditions and the PAC chairman slot should be given to the opposition,” she concluded.
Earlier in the day, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the government wanted to keep the chairmanship with itself to investigate corruption. Later, in the evening, Fawad said that the party has decided to concede the PAC chairmanship to PML-N.