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‘Sugar report prepared by fact-finding entity with no legal effect’

SAMAA | - Posted: Jul 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 3 weeks ago
Posted: Jul 13, 2020 | Last Updated: 3 weeks ago
‘Sugar report prepared by fact-finding entity with no legal effect’

A Pakistani vendor waits for customers at a wholesale market in Lahore on February 27, 2015. Photo: AFP

The Islamabad High Court issued on Monday its detailed order on the petition filed by sugar mill owners against the government action based on report prepared by a sugar committee.

On June 20, Chief Justice Athar Minallah told the lawyers of the Pakistan Sugar Mills Association that the court will not extend the stay order barring the government from taking action against mill owners. On June 11, the court restrained the government from taking any action on the basis of the sugar commission’s inquiry report for 10 days.

He gave the reasoning for his verdict in a 35-page detailed order.

“It is also not disputed that ‘sugar’ is one of the most essential commodities for the general public, particularly the low-income strata of the population and the working classes,” says the order.

Read more: Sugar mill protection ends, no court stay order extension

The executive branch of the State, as representatives of the people, remain responsible and thus accountable for implementing policies that would ensure the availability of essential commodities at affordable prices, it reads. Whenever there is a shortage of an essential commodity in the market or there is an increase in its price, the executive branch is not only expected to fulfill its constitutional obligations, but it becomes a duty to discover the reasons and to take appropriate measures in order to alleviate the sufferings and hardships.

The sugar crisis, which had led Prime Minister Imran Khan to order a preliminary inquiry and appoint an ad hoc committee followed by notification of a statutory commission of inquiry by the Federal Government were exclusively executive functions. “It was indeed a definite matter of public importance, besides being a matter of general interest and of direct and vital concern for the general public,” it adds.

The Inquiry Act of 2017 makes it obvious that the commission of inquiry is a “mere fact-finding statutory entity and its scope of jurisdiction for this purpose is strictly confined to the Terms of Reference specified in the notification issued by the Federal Government”.

It defines the role of the entity as following:

  • Stage 1: Obtaining record, collecting facts through various means such as conducting interviews, examining relevant persons etc.
  • Stage 2: Managing the data. This involves the stage of analysis and examination thereof. It is implicit in performing this important function to adopt the various means available for this purpose, such as conducting an audit in any form, including forensic.
  • Stage 3: Form an opinion and to make recommendations in accordance with the Terms of Reference specified in the notification issued by the Federal Government.

The entity is constituted for investigating, analyzing and evaluating the data and making recommendations based on its findings. The recommendations are not binding nor have any legal effect.

Related: 12 mills ‘safe’ from sugar commission as protection order upheld

The court ruled that the inquiry commission had conducted the proceedings in the most professional and fair manner and that in the facts and circumstances there has been no breach of the principles of fairness.

Any government policy has to be formed by the Executive, the verdict reads. “It is in a better position to decide such matters on account of its mandate, experience, wisdom and sagacity.”

“The Judiciary, on the other hand, is entrusted with the task of interpreting the law and to play the role of an arbiter in cases of disputes. It has been emphasized that the Judiciary neither has sword nor power over the purse.”

The judges are “not representatives of the people nor accountable for those functions that fall within the exclusive jurisdiction and domain of the Executive branch of the State”.

Intervention in such matters can only be “justified if an aggrieved petitioner can demonstrably show a violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights”. The Executive is answerable to the people for
performance of its duties and functions assigned under the scheme of
the Constitution and, therefore, it should be free from unnecessary
interference and intrusions thus warranting exercise of judicial
restraint, it adds.

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