Abuse of authority – I want the man who hired Qasmi: CJ

SC seeks tax record of Ataul Haq Qasmi; As PTV chairman he received an aggregate of Rs278m as salary, employee benefits and other expenses during two-year term.

STAFF REPORT

ISLAMABAD

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar on Monday ordered the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to present complete record of tax returns of former Pakistan Television (PTV) chairman Ataul Haq Qasmi and demanded a report from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) if a case against him can be investigated by the anti-graft body.

During the hearing, former information minister Pervez Rashid admitted before the court that he had nominated Ataul Haq Qasmi for the slot of Pakistan Television (PTV) chairman.

He was responding to Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar’s repeated queries in this regard.

“I want the man who conceived the idea of Qasmi leading the PTV,” the chief justice had remarked at one point.

Justice Nisar had warned that if the appointment is found to have been illegal, all expenses incurred by the state-run broadcaster on Qasmi will be recovered from the person responsible for hiring him.

Qasmi had been looking after the affairs of PTV as its chairperson after a three-year contract given to former managing director Mohammad Malick expired on Feb 26, 2016. The post has been lying vacant since then.

Explaining the reason behind nominating Qasmi as PTV chairman, Rashid said that when he assumed charge as information minister, PTV had to acquire entertainment programmes from other channels. Rashid wanted PTV to produce its own content and nominated Qasmi due to the playwright’s performance as the chairman of the Al-Hamra Arts Council.

Justice Nisar dismissed Rashid’s explanation, saying that it was the MD’s job to run PTV, not the chairman’s, and noted that the position for the MD was still vacant. He also asked why Rashid had appointed a playwright as a chairman in the first place.

Additional Attorney General (AAG) Rana Waqar claimed that the information ministry had moved Qasmi’s appointment summary and had it approved by the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

This led the CJP to wonder if the prime minister had the authority to appoint the MD of the state television channel.

Waqar then claimed that Qasmi was appointed as one of the directors on the PTV board and was then appointed as MD by other board members.

Qasmi had sparked controversy by appointing himself PTV MD in April 2017. He was replaced by the acting MD, Information Secretary Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera, and had distanced himself from the broadcaster in Dec 2017.

Qasmi had allegedly received an aggregate of Rs278 million from PTV under the heads of salary, employee benefits, and other expenses he had discretionary control over during his two-year term.

Justice Nisar, who is heading a two-judge bench hearing a suo motu case regarding the PTV MD’s appointment, read out the financial details submitted to him in a report by the information secretary.

Qasmi received Rs1.5m in salary per month, Justice Nisar was told by Information Secretary Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera. He said that the report submitted in the SC contained details of a total Rs270m that were spent to cover Qasmi’s expenses during his two-year tenure.

The CJP noted that in addition to his salary, Qasmi was paid Rs300,000 for his medical expenses and Rs1m for travel expenses, according to the report. Close to Rs2.4m were given to him as an entertainment allowance.

The state television also gave him a Mercedes and paid for its maintenance as well.

“Under which law did the organisation pay for Ataul Haq Qasmi’s car’s maintenance?” Justice Nisar demanded.

Furthermore, Qasmi received another Rs5m for hosting a programme, the report said. The programme also incurred Rs7.5m in other expenses.

Qasmi’s lawyer Ayesha Hamid, however, denied that Qasmi had received any salary for hosting his show. She also defended his salary, saying that Rs1.5m was not an unreasonable amount for a chairman of the state television.

The hearing of the case was adjourned until February 21.

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