Tussle over PAC chairmanship delays formation of NA panels

Dawn

ISLAMABAD: The ongoing tussle between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the opposition parties over the issue of the chairmanship of all-powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has started affecting the functioning of parliament as National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser is unable to constitute other committees as well due to the opposition’s boycott threat.
Sources in the NA Secretariat told Dawn that the speaker had been facing a difficult situation due to the “rigid attitude” of both the government and the opposition over the issue as both of them had refused to budge from their stated positions.
The opposition parties want that the PAC chairmanship should be offered to them as per the parliamentary traditions and they have already nominated Leader of the Opposition and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif for the post.
PTI ready to go ahead with committees even without opposition, says Fawad Chaudhry
On the other hand, the ruling PTI is unwilling to give the PAC chairmanship to the opposition, saying that it could not allow the opposition parties to review the projects that had been initiated and executed by them during their own governments.
Under the rules, the speaker was bound to constitute all the standing and functional committees of the house “within 30 days after the election of the Leader of the House (prime minister)”. Since PTI chairman Imran Khan had been elected prime minister on Aug 18, the speaker had time till Sept 17 for the formation of over three dozen house committees.
According to the sources, all the opposition parties had already handed over the names of their members for the committee to the NA Secretariat as per the rules, but the speaker had to stop the process when the opposition announced that its members would withdraw from all the committees if the PAC chairmanship was not offered to them.
There is no restriction on the government in the rules to give the chairmanship of the PAC to the opposition parties, but it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition for the past 10 years that the office is given to an opposition member in order to ensure transparency in the financial matters.
In the Charter of Democracy, signed by the PML-N and the PPP in London in May 2006, the two parties had agreed that “the chairmen of public accounts committees in the national and provincial assemblies will be appointed by the leaders of opposition in the concerned assemblies”.
The PAC is the apex parliamentary watchdog that oversees the audit of revenue and expenditure by the government and it is considered to be the most powerful and important committee of parliament.
When contacted, Minister for Infor¬mation Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the PTI was earlier divided over the issue, but now it had decided that the PAC chairmanship would not be offered to the opposition leader, who was already facing corruption charges and currently under detention.
Mr Chaudhry asked how Mr Sharif could be allowed to head a committee that would be auditing the projects undertaken by his brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The minister, however, said a final decision in this regard was expected to be taken in PTI’s parliamentary group meeting to be presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday before start of the National Assembly session.
About the opposition’s threat to boycott the committees, Mr Chaudhry remarked that in his opinion the speaker should go ahead with the formation of the committees without the representation of the opposition members as “no one should be allowed to make parliament hostage”.
PML-N spokesperson Marri¬yum Aurangzeb told Dawn that they were determined to stay away from all the committees if the speaker did not fulfil his commitment to appointing Shah¬baz Sharif as the PAC chairman.
Similarly, when contacted, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Naveed Qamar also criticised the government and the speaker for delaying formation of the committees. He said the PPP was a part of the combined opposition and a signatory to the Charter of Democracy and, there¬fore, it considered the PML-N’s stance on the issue as “correct and legitimate”.
Rejecting the information minister’s reasoning, Mr Qamar said the PAC had already cleared its backlog and now it was set to review the audit reports of the financial year 2018-19. Under these circumstances, he said, it had become more imperative that the PAC should be offered to the present opposition.
The PPP leader claimed that Speaker Asad Qaiser had assured them in the presence of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that the PAC chairman would be nominated from the opposition parties.
The speaker in a recent TV interview had stated that the PAC chairmanship issue was between the government and the opposition and that he was ready to play the role of a bridge.
A source close to the speaker said that Mr Qaiser was perturbed over the situation and had already met Prime Minister Imran Khan over the issue.

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