Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser convened a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting on November 28 to elect his new chairman, a position that fell vacant following resignation by opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif.
In his resignation, which he submitted on 18 Nov, the day before his departure to London with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz nominated the MNA party of Sheikhupur Rana Tanvir Hussain as his replacement.
“I would like to propose that MNA Rana Tanvir may be considered for this position as decided by the joint opposition parties,” Mr Sharif writes to the speaker in his brief resignation.
While the PML-N is claiming that it has taken the other opposition parties on board on the nomination of Rana Tanvir as the new PAC chairman, a key office-bearer of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said that they had not been ‘consulted’ before his nomination.
“Although we believe that being the largest opposition party, the PML-N has the right to get the PAC chairman office, and we may not raise any objection on it, but technically speaking, they have not taken us into confidence on Rana Tanvir’s nomination,” said a senior PPP office-bearer on condition of anonymity, saying that he did not want to spoil the atmosphere as his statement could be seen as disunity in the ranks of the opposition.
The PAC has been non-functional as Shahbaz Sharif had not presided over its meeting for nearly six months. It was in May that Mr Sharif, who was on a private visit to the UK, had announced his decision to quit the chairmanship of the PAC, a position he had secured after prolonged wrangling between the government and the opposition parties.
Mr Sharif’s decision had been announced by PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb through a statement after a joint meeting of the party’s parliamentary groups in the National Assembly and the Senate at the Parliament House which was presided over by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
Shahbaz Sharif had gone to London at that time after he was granted bail in various cases and his name was removed from the Exit Control List (ECL) on the orders of the Lahore High Court. It was in the same meeting that the PML-N had nominated former foreign minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif as the party’s parliamentary leader in the assembly. This position had also been previously held by Mr Sharif.
Ms Aurangzeb had stated that Mr Sharif was “never keen” to become PAC chairman and had accepted the position only on the insistence of the joint opposition and the parliamentary advisory group.
She said the members of the other opposition parties expressed concern about the non-convening of the PAC meetings and asked Mr Sharif to nominate someone else if he was unable to chair the committee meetings.
Mr Sharif had been elected PAC chairman unopposed on Dec 22 last year after Prime Minister Imran Khan finally surrendered before the opposition’s demand in the wake of their threats to withdraw from all the National Assembly committees.
Although there is no restriction on the government in the rules to give PAC chairmanship to opposition parties, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition that the office is given to an opposition member to ensure transparency in financial affairs.
The PTI government was reluctant to give chairmanship of this vital parliamentary committee to the opposition leader contrary to the traditional practice as the prime minister was unwilling to offer the position to Mr Sharif because he was facing corruption charges.
The PML-N had refused to nominate another member from the party to head the PAC, arguing that according to parliamentary tradition, the leader of opposition should become chairman of this committee.
It was initially agreed by the PPP and the PML-N in the Charter of Democracy signed by former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in London in May 2006 that the opposition leader would be appointed as the PAC chairman.
When the PPP formed its government in 2008, PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan became the PAC chairman. However, when he resigned from the office after developing some differences over the issue of the appointment of the auditor-general, the PPP nominated Nadeem Afzal Chan as the PAC chairman instead of asking the PML-N to nominate some other person in place of Chaudhry Nisar.
During the five-year tenure of the previous PML-N government, PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah headed the PAC by virtue of his position as the opposition leader.
Shibli Faraz, Leader of the House in the Senate and a senior Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf member, said when the PML-N had initially nominated Rana Tanvir sometime back, his party had agreed to his nomination. However, he said, since then a lot of political developments had taken place and the party would make a final decision in this regard after holding further in-house consultations on the matter.