ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Finance on Wednesday was the scene of heated debate on a unique and pertinent question — which is superior, the Supreme Court or parliament?
The argument was triggered by a resolution submitted to the committee by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Senator Azam Khan Swati, demanding a briefing from the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on parliamentarians who have availed themselves of tax relaxations under a gift scheme.
Senator Saleem Mandviwala, who chairs the committee, informed the members that a reply from the finance ministry claimed that parliament was not authorised to obtain such information.
Lawmakers angered by FBR’s assertion that parliament can’t summon tax records already released to judiciary
“This is strange that the FBR can forward this information to the Supreme Court and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), but we are not worthy,” Senator Mandviwala said, adding: “The issue is that a department under the purview of this committee has been accused of data tampering, therefore it was our responsibility to seek an explanation from them.”
He said it was unfair that FBR was not ready to brief the committee on a matter that has already been made public.
But before he could seek a response from other members, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Mushahidullah intervened, accusing the mover of triggering a political debate.
“This is more of a political issue and does not really concern finance and the economy,” Senator Mushahidullah said, adding: “I do not understand why are you bringing it up in this committee since it is already under consideration before the highest court in the land.”
But when he sensed that his words were not convincing for the chairman, the ruling party senator became incensed. Senator Mandviwala tried to explain that the main issue was the attitude of the departments such as the FBR, but Mr Mushahidullah threatened to take the matter “beyond the point of no return”.
“If we discuss such issues against individuals already facing court cases — you all know who I am referring to — then be prepared.
“There are other parliamentarians and personalities who will face scrutiny in this committee,” Senator Mushahidullah declared, adding: “I will present your papers before this committee too; nobody will be spared and nobody should be spared.”
Senators Ilyas Bilour and Mohsin Leghari tried to pacify the situation, suggesting that the chairman ignore the matter and leave it to the apex court, whereas PML-Q Senator Kamil Ali Agha expressed his displeasure over FBR’s response.
However, Senator Mandviwala asked the PML-N firebrand to calm down and requested him to make good on his claims.
“It is your responsibility and my duty to have anything related to me presented here. Before we proceed any further, why not have my documents brought before this committee?” Senator Mandviwala asked, adding: “At least tell the details of my wrongdoings”.
This sent Senator Mushahidullah on the backfoot, who said: “No, I meant everybody will be in the firing line, including myself. I do not have anything related to you right now; I will get it when the time comes.”
The matter was referred to FBR Chairman Tariq Pasha, who read out from the law and said it did not authorise parliament to seek tax details from FBR.
To defuse tensions, PML-N Senator Saud Majeed said there was a move to discredit politicians, “but we have to be vary of such things.”
Eventually, Senator Azam Swati suggested that the matter should be referred to Senate Chairman Senator Raza Rabbani.