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November 19, 2018

Punjab ACE gets unprecedented free hand

Top Story

November 19, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has got an unprecedented free hand, courtesy of suspension of three rules by the Supreme Court, to proceed even against ministers and provincial head of the bureaucracy, the chief secretary, without any legal encumbrance.

“It was rare in the history that ACE Director General Hussain Asghar, known for his integrity and courage, approached the apex court seeking undoing of the prior permission of the chief minister to initiate inquiry against senior officers of Grade 20 and above working in the province,” a top official told The News.

The Supreme Court dispensed with such permission and suspended three rules, which necessitated this authorisation from the chief minister, saying these are unconstitutional and illegal. When contacted, a senior ACE official told The News on condition of anonymity that his establishment has become totally redundant in the presence of these illegal rules, which are in place since decades, handicapping the organisation to work freely. Similar rules also exist in other provinces, he pointed out.

The official said that under article 25 of the Constitution all citizens are equal before the law meaning that they have to be taken to task without any discrimination if they are found to have committed any unlawful act. The provision doesn’t differentiate between a minister/bureaucrat and an ordinary person, he said.

Additionally, he said the Supreme Court and Federal Shariat Court have also ruled that the law has to be applied without any discrimination. Therefore, he said the ACE rules were against the Constitution and superior courts’ judgments.

“Hussain Asghar as the head of a Supreme Court appointed- investigating committee that had probed the famous Haj scam had approached the apex judicial forum and arrested the then religious affairs minister,” the official said. “It was then ruled by the Supreme Court that nobody was above the law.”

The official said that the suspended ACE rules were just an administrative measure that can’t bypass or surpass the Constitution and the case law.

“When we have to approach the chief minister or chief secretary every now and then for even initiation of inquiry against any government employee or bureaucrat, there was no justification of having the ACE and it was better to abolish it altogether,” the official said. “When we had kept waiting for such permission, making rounds of the chief minister/chief secretary offices, we can’t work efficiently and independently.”

The official said that even under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) a head constable of police station has the power to register a case against any figure of government like ministers and bureaucrats, including the chief secretary, it was imprudent to deprive the ACE of this power.

He said the Punjab government was asked to change the unconstitutional rules but it was not done and the ACE director general had to go to the apex court for their scrapping.

The official said not only permission of the chief minister or chief secretary was essential for initiation of inquiries against government employees and senior bureaucrats, the two powerful figures were empowered to drop any such action at their will. “All the 36 districts of Punjab have one superintendent of police (SP) each as the deputy director, who, as police officer, was armed with the power to register cases, but when they had been in the ACE they were robbed of this authority. The authority once given to the police officer can’t be withdrawn under the Police Act.”

He said that the ACE was currently looking into several cases relating to land, bridges, roads and other projects. The role of the concerned provincial secretaries, deputy commissioners (DCs) and commissioners is being probed, he said adding that the suspended rules conditioned any ACE action with the permission from the chief minister or chief secretary.

The suspended rule 5 said the ACE inquiry against a DC, an officer of district government, a divisional commissioner, a provincial secretary, head of an attached department, and any other officer of Grade 20 and above shall be initiated by the ACE director general with the prior permission of the chief minister. However, in the case of Grade 19 officers, such permission may be accorded by the chief secretary, but the ACE chief may, without any such permission, contact the complainant or the informer to ascertain his identity and the evidence available with him, if any, in support of the complaint.

Rule 6, which was also suspended, said no criminal case shall be registered against a DC, commissioner, secretary, head of an attached department, and any other officer of Grade 20 and above without the prior permission in writing of the chief minister but in case any of Grade 19 officers, such permission may be accorded by the chief secretary.

However, no permission shall be required for registration of a case against a public servant caught as a result of trap arranged by the ACE under the supervision of a magistrate, in the act of committing an offence specified in the ACE law but in that case a report shall immediately be made to the chief secretary, the administrative secretary and the immediate supervisory officer of the public servant concerned if he is in Grade 16 and above and to the appointing authority and the immediate supervisory officer if the public servant is in grade 15 and below. Suspended rule 10 dealt with dropping of case or reference for departmental action.

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