ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday directed the federal government to submit its response as it took up a petition questioning the inclusion of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in the 10th National Finance Commission (NFC) without consultation in accordance with Article 160(1) of the Constitution.
The constitution of the commission — which is aimed at distributing between the Centre and the provinces the net proceeds of five major tax categories, besides looking into expenditure requirements for special areas and special needs of the country — was challenged by opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MP Khurram Dastgir Khan.
The one-member bench comprising Justice Miangul Hassan also sought responses from Federal Law Secretary Muhammad Khashih-ur-Rehman, SAPM Shaikh, Principal Secretary to the president Tariq Najmi, Cabinet Secretary Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera and other respondents.
Barristers Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha and Omer Gilani represented the petitioner in the court.
During the hearing, citing media reports, Barrister Omer Gilani contended that Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has also objected to the decision regarding the 10th NFC. To which, Justice Miangul Hassan warned the lawyer to present “factual arguments instead of speculating” about the issue in question.
“Whatever you cannot resolve on the assembly floor, you bring it here [to courts],” remarked the judge.
The judge warned the barrister that in case the petition gets rejected then an “exemplary fine” will be imposed on the petitioner.
Justice Aurangzeb was of the view that instead of questioning the establishment of the commission, the petitioner should have questioned the inclusion of SAPM Shaikh in the commission.
Since the country does not have a regular/elected finance minister, President Dr Arif Alvi authorised the inclusion of Shaikh in the commission to enable him to chair meetings of the NFC otherwise there was no room in the Constitution for an adviser to be even a member of the commission let alone preside over its meetings.
In his arguments, Barrister Ranjha noticed that the Constitution demands the country to be governed by elected representatives. “In the absence of an elected finance minister, who will be the convener [of the NFC]. The president cannot convene a session,” he said.
Ranjha pointed out to the fact that the Constitution leaves no room for a PM’s adviser, an unelected official, to call a session of the NFC. “In this case, we have to review whether the PM’s finance adviser is the only one who has been included without consultation,” remarked the judge.
The court subsequently issued notices to the respondents and adjourned the hearing.
10th NFC AWARD:
Last month, the Ministry of Finance had formally notified the constitution of the 10th NFC to announce a new award for sharing of federal divisible resources between the Centre and the provinces amid a fresh political debate on constitutional and financial powers of the federation and its units.
The notification of the constitution of the 11-member commission was issued after approval by federal and provincial members and its terms of reference by President Alvi as required under Article 160 (1) of the Constitution.
According to the notification, Finance Secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch will serve as an expert for the commission.