This time, the Supreme Court did not require a flurry of litigation to get to the bottom line: Write the letter or face ‘appropriate action’.
While the court had gone through a protracted process with former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani before even warning him and then ultimately showing him the door, the riot act was read to his successor, Premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, during Thursday’s proceedings – only two weeks since a notice was first sent to him.
He now has till July 25 to give the court a report on compliance with the court’s two-and-half-year-old verdict in the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) case – more specifically on paragraphs 177 and 178, ie writing a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The cases had been closed after the promulgation of the NRO in 2007 – but the controversial ordinance was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2009 as void ab initio, and the government was ordered to write to Swiss authorities to reopen them.
The orders have not been followed by the government to date – defiance of which has already cost one prime minister his job. However, the current premier has not been given the luxury of a protracted hearing. After being told by Attorney General Irfan Qadir that the new premier and the Cabinet had asked the ministry of law to give its view on the matter, the court seemed irked at what was being viewed as more delay tactics. The five-member bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, said that it would give a short order on the matter later in the afternoon.
When it reconvened in the afternoon, the court read the following order: “Adjourned to 25.07.2012 on which date the Prime Minister of Pakistan / Chief Executive of the Federation shall cause a report to be submitted before this Court regarding compliance of the directions contained in paragraphs No. 177 and 178 of the judgment passed by this Court in case of Dr. Mobashir Hassan (the NRO case) failing which this Court may initiate any appropriate action under the Constitution and the law.”
The court gave a chronology of its orders passed on different dates regarding implementation of the NRO judgment and stated: “It goes without saying that all … directions issued by this court during the implementation proceedings apply with equal force to the present incumbent of the office of the Prime Minister/Chief Executive of the Federation as he has merely stepped into the shoes of his predecessor in office and, thus, he too is bound to implement the relevant directions of this Court regardless of any advice tendered earlier or in future.”
The “advice” that the court was referring to was opinion of the law ministry, which had been sought by the Cabinet on Wednesday. The attorney-general informed the court that the matter was taken up in Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting and the Cabinet has desired that the Ministry of Law should furnish its views. He added that ‘as and when’ the Ministry of Law renders its opinion in the matter, the Cabinet shall then take decision “in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” The attorney-general also asked for a longer adjournment, saying that he had to leave for vacation.
The court would have none of it – and in fact, took exception to the noises the government was making in this regard.
“We take judicial notice of the fact that after attending a meeting of the Federal Cabinet yesterday the Federal Minister for Information held a press conference wherein he categorically declared that the Constitution of Pakistan does not permit writing of the relevant letter to the Swiss authorities and, therefore, the direction of this Court issued in that regard cannot be implemented. We further note that different political functionaries of the Federal Government and others have also been harping on the same theme in the print and electronic media and even in public meetings for some time and a reference in this respect is being made to the provisions of Article 248 of the Constitution…,” the court order stated.
The court also observed in its written order that the government did not claim immunity under Article 248, and recalled that counsel for former premier Gilani, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, also did not argue on this provision and, instead, claimed customary international immunity for President Zardari.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2012.