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Govt to seek court opinion on PSEs

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ISLAMABAD:

The government has decided to file a reference in the Supreme Court to seek clarity about appointment of parliamentarians on boards of state-run companies.

Sources told The Express Tribune that the cabinet, in a meeting, directed the Attorney General and law minister to immediately file a reference in the Supreme Court under Article 186 of the Constitution to get clarity as to whether elected members could be placed on boards of public sector enterprises (PSEs).

The issue came up for discussion while considering the resignation of Minister for Energy (Power Division) Hammad Azhar from the chairmanship of Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) and National Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (NEECA).

The Power Division told the meeting that former energy minister (Power Division) Omer Ayub Khan had also stepped down from the chairmanship of Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), PPIB and NEECA on September 11, 2020.

The cabinet approved the resignation on the basis of a summary of the Power Division.

Subsequently, when Azhar took charge of the energy ministry on April 17, 2021, the Power Division, on his directive, sought advice of the Law and Justice Division as to whether such services of the minister for energy (Power Division) as chairman of PPIB and NEECA boards would come within the meaning of “service of Pakistan”.

The Law Division replied that the membership as chairman of boards of PPIB and NEECA would be tantamount to “service of statutory body”.

Based on clarification of the Law Division, Azhar also tendered his resignation from the chairmanship of PPIB and NEECA boards.

PPIB and NEECA are statutory bodies established under the Private Power and Infrastructure Board Act 2012 and National Energy Efficiency Conservation Act 2016 respectively.

According to Section 6(1)(a) of PPIB Act, the minister for the erstwhile Ministry of Water and Power (now Ministry of Energy – Power Division) is the chairman of PPIB board.

Section 8(1) of the Act provides that meeting of the board should be presided over by the chairman and in his absence a member designated by the chairman should preside over the meeting.

According to Section 3(1)(a) of NEECA Act, the federal minister of the division to which subject matter of this Act stands allocated is the chairman of NEECA board.

Section 3(5) of the Act provides that meeting of the board should be presided over by the chairman of the board or, in his absence, by the vice chairman or in his absence by any member elected by the board.

It was evident that the energy minister was the chairman of PPIB and NEECA boards in his ex-officio capacity and hence amendments to the PPIB and NEECA Acts might be required.

Such amendments to the PPIB Act had already been submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Legislative Cases (CCLC). Similar amendments to the NEECA Act were being drafted.

The position of chairman of these organisations is critical as all strategic and operational decisions are made at the board level and as such regular meetings of boards are essential, which are in public interest.

Some proposals were submitted as an interim arrangement in view of the need to hold board meetings.

One, the resignation of Muhammad Hammad Azhar, Minister for Energy (Power Division), from his position as chairman NEECA and chairman PPIB might be accepted with effect from September 16, 2021.

Two, the federal cabinet, using the powers of chairman, may allow secretary Power Division in terms of Section 8(1) of the PPIB Act to preside over meetings of PPIB board and exercise other powers of the chairman from the date of resignation of Muhammad Hammad Azhar, Minister for Energy, till the amendment to the PPIB Act.

During discussion, cabinet members recalled that the cabinet had approved the filing of a reference in the Supreme Court under Article 186 of the Constitution to get clarity as to whether elected members could be represented on boards of public sector entities, which had not been done so far.

The cabinet considered a summary titled “Resignation of Minister for Energy (Power Division) from Chairmanship of PPIB & NEECA”, submitted by the Power Division, and approved the proposals.

It also gave directive to file a reference in the Supreme Court to seek clarity on the appointment of parliamentarians on boards of public sector entities.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2021.

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