Chief Court says all members have equal rights on development funds; disposes of a petition directs opposition members to approach SAC for early hearing of an identical case
GILGIT/ISLAMABAD: The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Chief Court on Saturday held that the chief minister has no discretionary powers regarding the allocation and distribution of development funds. Development funds should be distributed among members of the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly equitably as per the laid down procedure and rules.
“There is no provision in the Constitution of Pakistan, the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018, and rules related to it regarding the discretionary powers of CM in the allocation of development budget to the members of the assembly, declared a two-judge bench of the court that was hearing a plea filed by opposition members of the GB Assembly (GBA) regarding unequal distribution of development funds.
“The development schemes are required to be project-specific and not individual specific to get the support of the public belonging to a particular area or constituency who are in good books of the CM or the Government by depriving an area where basic facilities are even not available,” stated the verdict was given by the bench comprising of Chief Judge Justice Malik Haq Nawaz and Justice Ali Baig.
The bench disposed of the case and directed the opposition members to approach the Supreme Appellate Court (SAP) for an early hearing of an identical case pending for final judgment before the apex court since 2019.
The petition was filed jointly by the Leader of Opposition in the GBA, Amjad Hussain Advocate, Nawaz Khan Naji, Engineer Ismail Khan, Ghulam Muhammad, Anwar Khan, and Rahmat Khaliq making chief minister, the provincial government and the planning ministry respondents.
The opposition legislators had contended that the GB government had diverted the entire development budget to the constituencies of the ruling party members in contravention of democratic norms, the judgments of the SCP and the procedures.
The petitioners through their counsels Naveed Hussain and Israr Hussain prayed the bench to declare the decision null and void and restrain the CM from distribution or discriminatory allocation of funds.
They prayed the court to ask the planning department under what authority they have shown zero allocation to the opposition members’ constituencies and allocated extraordinary budget to the ruling party members.
The Chief Court bench in its verdict cited SC guidelines on a similar matter. “The executive while using its discretion should follow the procedure provided in articles 80 to 84 of the Constitution as well as the Rules of Procedure, 2007. Such grants cannot be spent at the absolute discretion of the executive and that should be exercised in a structured manner,” the bench quoted the SC verdict.
The SC had observed that the Constitution does not permit the use/allocation of funds to MNAs and MPAs at the sole discretion of the Prime Minister, or the Chief Minister.
“If there is a practice of allocation of funds to MNAs/MPAs/Notables at the sole discretion of the PM/CM the same is illegal and unconstitutional. The government is bound to establish procedure/criteria for governing allocation of such funds for this purpose,” the SC verdict stated.
The bench observed that no development budget to be handed over to any member of the treasury which is required to be used in the manner as provided by the Constitution and relevant laws and regulations keeping in view the best interest of the public.
The bench declared that the SC had unequivocally stated that funds can be provided by way of re-appropriation but the procedure provided in the Constitution and the rules has to be followed. No bulk grants can be made in the budget without giving detailed estimates under each grant.
The judges further held that a division bench of this court in its judgment, dated 19.02.2019 in a similar case had directed that development funds should be distributed equitably among the elected members.
The division bench of the chief court on a petition filed by former Member of GB Assembly Captain (retired) Muhammad Shafi stated that the development budget had not been distributed equitably, and the share of opposition members was diverted to the constituencies of treasury members.
The funds were required to be distributed based on the population of the districts as well as the constituencies. But the GB government violated this principle of population-based distribution.
Opposition members described the verdict as their victory. When contacted, an Opposition member from Ghizer, Nawaz Khan Naji, expressed satisfaction over the decision and said that they will fight the case in Supreme Appellate Court as well.
The advocate general and assistant advocate general opposed the maintainability of the plea arguing that a similar case has been decided by this court which has been suspended by SAC on appeal and is pending hearing. He suggested the petitioners approach the SAC for remedy.