- And respecting the law
One of the most common features of past and present civilian governments is a propensity to undermine or overlook protocol, procedure and the legality of important and sensitive matters. When this practice gets too much out of hand, courts have to step in and force some course correction. During the PML (N)’s tenure for example, then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif preferred to take decisions without cabinet approval. Winning by a thumping majority had its perks but bypassing Cabinet was not one of them, and this is exactly what the Supreme Court had to remind Mr. Sharif of when many important decisions were being taken by the kitchen cabinet rather than the actual one. Fast forward to the current PTI government and things are somewhat similar. Even though there is no electoral majority to speak of, the arrogance that it may give rise to is very much there. Take the recent case of Islamabad mayor Sheikh Anser Aziz of the PML(N), who was suspended for three months by the federal government pending a corruption inquiry. It is peculiar that Mr Aziz was neither present in the meeting of the Local Government Commission where the decision of his suspension was taken nor was the matter part of the original agenda, and was rather inserted at the last minute.
Only six days later, the Islamabad High Court reinstated him, much to the embarrassment of the PTI. An earlier restraining order of the IHC over the removal of Mr Aziz notwithstanding, SAPM on CDA affairs Ali Nawaz Awan is clearly in a hurry to make the post of the Capital’s mayor vacant. That the job has belonged to a member of the opposition party since 2016 adds fuel to the fire. Last year, without taking into consideration the sensitivity, modalities or legalities of the matter, the entire PTI setup from the PM to the president and downwards botched up the extension of the COAS with a haphazardly prepared notification that got noticed by the Supreme Court. The matter had to be settled by passing some meaningful legislation in Parliament. The entire episode exposed the incompetence of the federal government’s legal and administrative framework. While the matter of Islamabad’s mayor is not as high-profile, it checks all the boxes when it comes to recklessness and disregard for legal procedure. It would suit the PTI government to carefully consider such decisions more carefully in future so that courts do not have to step in time and again to remind them of the limitations of the law that the government must operate within.