ISLAMABAD - Chief Justice Saqib Nisar on Friday lambasted the National Accountability Bureau for ‘creating’ lacunae in the corruption references, which has left the judiciary on the frontline to face public criticism.

He also warned the accountability watchdog that the court will not spare the relevant investigation officer if any lacunae are left in any corruption reference in the future.

The CJP made these observations while heading a three-judge bench hearing a suo motu case regarding alleged unreasonably high rates of taxes, cess, duty and fee on oil, gas and electricity. Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan were the other two members of the bench.

The apex court has come under severe criticism after the Islamabad High Court recently freed prime minister Nawaz Shairf, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar from jail.

The leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz were convicted by an accountability court (AC) and jailed. The IHC admitted their appeals against the AC verdict and granted them bails, observing that the convictions were based on very weak grounds.

Legal experts say there were a number of lacunae in the NAB case against the Sharifs and this led to their release on bail. The high court is also likely to overturn the AC judgment in Avenfield apartments case eventually, they believe.

Since the LHC decision the PML-N supporters in particular and the public in general are criticising the top court, which had spearheaded the downfall of Sharifs by disqualifying Nawaz as a parliamentarian, in the Panama Papers case in July 2017, and ordered NAB to prepare corruption cases against the Sharif family.

During yesterday’s hearing of oil and gas prices’ case, the chief justice told Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan that the judiciary had started the process of accountability which was also the slogan of their government.

The CJP asked the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) if prices are determined by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) and approved by the federal cabinet then what was the role of the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) in this process.

“When all the [price determination] process is carried out by Ogra then why PSO Managing Director Imranul Haq was drawing Rs3.7 million along with other perks and privileges,” Justice Saqib asked.

“Not only the MD but the PSO's various other top officers were getting salaries of more than Rs1 million,” Justice Ahsan supplemented.

During the hearing, the bench summoned petroleum minister and observed that the matter being adjudicated was of serious nature.

"It is not our job to look into price hikes rather it is the executive who keeps check on such matter. We are looking into matters relating to corruption, misuse of authority and abuse of power," the CJP told him.

The chief justice remarked that the officers of PSO were using luxury vehicles like four-wheelers, while some of them might even have bulletproof cars.

This extravagance is contrary to the austerity policy, which the new government is also claims to be following, he observed.

He told the minister that the court had started the process of accountability and same is the slogan of government. He regretted that the investigation was not being conducted by NAB in the way as it should be.

Illegal appointments

The CJP also regretted the way the previous government made appointments on the basis of favouritism.

NAB special prosecutor Akbar Tarrar informed the bench that the bureau was investigating the matter of alleged illegal appointments and a reference will be filed within three weeks.

So far favouritism was exposed in two appointments, he said. The PSO MD was ‘imported’ from Engro Fertilizers, though he had no experience of oil industry, he added. To make appointments of choice, even the eligibility criteria was changed, he alleged.

Justice Ahsan remarked that a similar behaviour was adopted [by the past rulers] for Pakistan International Airline, causing damage to the national flag carrier.

The chief justice directed the petroleum minister to examine as to who was the person behind such appointments and that if the appointments were made in transparent manner.

He said that those involved in making illegal appointments should be taken to task to set an example for the future.

Justice Saqib told the minister that the court was sitting to assist whatever the government required for ending corruption in the country.

"It is you to see how to end misuse of authority. Those who looted money should be held accountable," he remarked.

The minister responded that the government would comply with the guidelines of the top court, adding it was also the government’s aim to end the menace of corruption.

During the hearing, Justice Ahsan also asked regarding LNG contracts with Qatar. The minister said that prima facie the contract was not transparent and a report will be submitted in a week on this account. To a query, the bench also informed that LNG contract was government-to-government.



NAB slammed

The CJP told the NAB’s representative that the accountability watchdog regularly summoned people but failed to produce any result, which he said was actually needed.

Had something happened next after the arrest of Ahad Cheema and Fawad Hassan Fawad, the CJP asked. He asked the counsel to show even a single case in last seven years which had been decided.

"NAB's structure has to be streamlined and upright persons have to be appointed in the Accountability Courts [too],” he remarked.

Justice Saqib directed Tarrar to ask NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal and bureau’s prosecutor general Asghar Haider to appear in his chamber for a briefing.

The CJP warned the NAB that if any lapse was created in any corruption reference in future, the IO concerned will not be spared. "It won’t happen that you (NAB) create lacunae and we (judiciary) face the criticism."



Report on oil, gas prices

In compliance with the top court order, a chartered accountant firm, KPMG Taseer Hadi &Co, submitted an audit report on the fair price of Motor Spirit (MS) and High Speed Diesel (HSD).

The report stated that ex-depot price for PSO was monitored by Ogra and procurements by PSO were governed by PPRA Rules while taxes on such ex-depot prices are finalised by FBR. It added that the ex-depot price is largely uncontrollable in the case of PSO.

“We have been given to understand that the possibility of any discount on import price is entirely dependent upon G-to-G [government to government] negotiations, despite the fact that PSO has been procuring MS and HSD from a limited set of vendors,” the audit report said.

Previously, the top court had directed the PSO to file comments and directed NAB to examine the transparency in appointments.

The case has been adjourned until October 10.



SC slates NAB for lacunae in corruption references