ANANTA RAJ LUITEL
KATHMANDU: The Supreme Court has curtailed the authority of parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to exercise judicial and quasi-judicial authority time and again.
In a full text judgment, in relation to a two-year old corruption case against half a dozen high-ranking officials of Nepal Airlines Corporation, the apex court passed the verdict. While signing an agreement with France-based Airbus Company to buy two planes without getting approval through the corporation’s board of directors, NAC officials had faced corruption charges as per PAC order to the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority.
The apex court order addresses the allegation that parliamentary committees had overstepped the judicial and quasi-judicial authorities while dealing with various cases.
Then NAC executive Chairman Sugat Ratna Kansakar had signed the contract with Airbus Company on condition that the lock-up money would be non-refundable.
Though the apex court decided the case on April 16, it issued the full text judgment last week. “PAC does not have the power to step on the authority of the CIAA, NVC or the Public Procurement Monitoring Office if there is corruption,” the division bench of Justices Kalyan Shrestha and Bharat Raj Upreti ruled.
The bench noted that PAC’s intervention was an attack on the independent decision of such constitutionally or legally competent agencies. “The parliamentary body can discuss and only report to the full house if there is anything to amend regarding any policy matter or issue, but does not have such rights to take decision like a court or a constitutional body.”
The apex court also reminded that PAC does not have authority to intervene in the discretionary power of a competent authority. “Neither is PAC a judicial body nor has it the authority to exercise executive authority, therefore it does not have such a right to intervene in the affairs of such authorities.”
The bench said that the PAC decision to scrutinise the contract was out of its jurisdiction. The bench also said that PAC not only intervened in the jurisdiction of the CIAA but also encroached in the business autonomy of NAC.
“NAC is a business body owned by the government so its business autonomy should not be encroached by other agencies because such intervention would weaken its strength to compete with the private sector and its capacity will go down,” the apex court noted.
The Special Court had quashed the case filed by the CIAA based on the directive of PAC, and had issued clean chits to Executive Chairman Sugat Ratna Kansakar and five others accused of embezzling millions of rupees. The CIAA then had filed an appeal in the apex court one-and-a-half-year ago challenging the acquittal.
The anti-graft body had said the officials embezzled Rs 5.73 crores by sending lock-up money, which was non-refundable, to the France-based Airbus Company to buy two planes without getting the decision approved through the corporation’s board of directors.
The apex court also upheld the decision of the Special Court acquitting then Acting Deputy Director General Raju Bahadur KC, Acting Deputy Managing Director Ganesh Thakur, Acting Director Gyanendra Purush Dhakal, Director Mayur Shumsher Rana and Assistant Director Keshav Raj Sharma. According to the verdict, since the lock-up money was returned, no harm had been done to the company and the country, so there was no element of corruption in the case to convict them for graft.
Former CA member of CPN-Maoist and lawyer Eak Raj Bhandari, however said the apex court ruling to curtail parliamentary committees is not a right step. “The apex court cannot intervene in the political decision of the parliamentary committee even though the decisions of the committees might be legally and technically incorrect,” he said, adding, “It is the right of the people’s representatives to express concern about any matter if there is corruption and irregularities inn any case,” Bhandari added.