Rs776 million given to bar councils brushed under the rug?

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Back in June 2010, the government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Justice Iftikhar-led Supreme Court was at loggerheads over various issues ranging from infamous Swiss accounts cases to sluggishness in implementing apex court’s decision to reopen NRO cases. In its bid to get the black coats by its side, the then law minister Advocate Babar Awan was given a whopping Rs877 million to disburse among local bar associations across Pakistan and provincial bar councils of all four provinces.

The PPP government—despite a stern response from the Supreme Court Bar Association that banned Awan’s entry in its premises and returned his million rupees cheque—managed to divide the legal fraternity to great extent. However, some cash-starved provincial and local bar councils welcomed Awan with much fanfare and thanked him for the grants.

The grants and aids, however, failed to produce desired results for PPP, and the divided bar councils, along with strict judiciary, gave little respite to an embattled party whose sitting PM was sent home on contempt of court charges.

Interestingly, the audit officials called the whole tranche of payments exceeding Rs776 million “irregular and unauthorised.” Furthermore, the audit officials cited that, according to the Section 57 of Legal Practitioners and Bar Council Act 1973, only the provincial government can give grants to provincial bar councils, while the federal government can issue funds to Pakistan Bar Council alone.

Last October, on a hearing of Public Accounts Committee—now headed by the Leader of Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah—the whole matter was brushed under the rug since an amendment to the Bar Practitioner Bill was underway, and directions were issued to regularise the payment as soon as the law gets amended.

Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is one of the most significant constituents of the Parliament; the committee is entrusted with keeping a strict check on the use of public money. Its foremost function is to examine the accounts pertaining to the appropriation of sums granted by the NA for the expenditure.

Since it has been the norm that leader of the opposition heads the PAC, the matters and issues pertaining to previous governments, that date back to the time when their party was in power, are dealt a lenient hand—as the case with funds and grants to bar councils prove.

“PAC is entrusted to keep a check on public money and how it is spent by the government organisations. It is curious that the matter of giving funds to bar councils by PPP government was settled by the leader of the same party who chairs the committee. A more thorough and impartial investigation is required in this matter,” said a Supreme Court advocate requesting anonymity.