ISLAMABAD: Ministry of Interior has sought funds of £385,000 to pay fee to a British law firm, which fought cases against MQM (London) supremo Altaf Hussain in the Dr. Imran Farooq murder case.
Sources said a British law firm M/s Guernica International was hired to pursue cases under investigation in the UK, including the Imran Farooq murder case, money laundering and incitement for violence cases. Contract for legal services between the law firm and the Government of Pakistan, through Ministry of Interior, was signed at the rate of £25000 per month for a period of twelve (12) months with effect from February 14, 2018.
In order to clear an invoiced amount of £133,450 (pertaining to contracted services from February 2018 to June 2018 including out of pocket expenses), Ministry of Interior moved a summary on December 26, 2018 requesting for approval of a total £233,450 to cater for the remaining contract period till October 2018 as well. After approval of federal cabinet and after getting necessary funds from Ministry of Finance the invoiced amount of £133.450 was cleared on March 7, 2019.
Further, an amount of £100,000 for the period from July 2018 to October 2018 has been paid vide this Ministry's sanction of December 24, 2020. Meanwhile, the law firm continued working on the cases and also forwarded a request for renewal of contract for another term of twelve months effective February 2019 which is pending as well. The primary reason for non-clearance of liabilities and non-renewal of contract is the audit objection that engagement of the law firm has not been done in compliance with PPRA rules and has not been processed through Ministry of Law & Justice and Office of Attorney General of Pakistan, thus declaring the earlier payment “irregular”.
Being a sensitive issue, the process was carried out as per PPRA Rule 42 (C) by institutions associated with the national security and after evaluation the British law firm M/s Guernica International possessing requisite credentials was shortlisted. The Office of Attorney General of Pakistan has remained associated with the exercise. Ministry of Law & Justice was also part of the process in a sense that services of Khawaja Imtiaz were hired by the Ministry as Assistant Attorney General/Special Public Prosecutor to represent federal Government in the cases against Altaf Hussain.
The sources said there are two pending issues which need resolution. First, the outstanding payment of £75,000 for the first contract period from November 2018 to January 2019 has to be cleared; and second, the second engagement from February 2019 to January 2020 needs to be accorded ex-post facto approval to enable the Ministry to execute the contract and also to clear the payment for the second engagement period. As such, around € 310,000 (£300,000+£10,000 for out-of-pocket expenses) shall be required as a supplementary grant from the federal government - £75,000 will be paid by this ministry out of its budget which Finance Division has already allowed through a letter of November 25, 2020.
To discuss a way forward on the issue, a meeting was held in the Office of Attorney General of Pakistan wherein it was agreed that post facto approval shall be sought from the federal government. Finance Division's policy and Article 84 of the Constitution of Pakistan, provide that the federal government shall have power to authorize supplementary and excess grants that may be needed in case the amount authorized for a particular service is found insufficient or a need has arisen for expenditure upon some new service not included in budget, or money has been spent in excess of amount granted for the financial year. It also provides that federal government shall cause to be laid before the National Assembly the statement of such expenditure in accordance with Articles 80 to 83 of Constitution as they apply to Annual Budget Statement.
Finance Division and Law & Justice Division were requested for comments on this matter on September 30, 2020. In its response, Law & Justice Division vide their letter stated that the Ministry has no objection, since the committee for the engagement of foreign law firms/lawyers in foreign litigation/arbitration cases on behalf of Government of Pakistan has already granted ex-post facto approval to the engagement of services of British law firm M/s Guernica International (Toby Cadman) from July 2018 till January 2019, therefore, the outstanding amount incurred during the said period may be released. Law & Justice Division has endorsed the proposal of signing the agreement with the said law firm from February 2019 till January 2020 for the purpose of regularization of the activities and expenses incurred during the said period, whereas, Finance Division in its letter of October 07, 2020 stated that due to fiscal constraints, the expenditure management has to be done in a prudent manner.
Specifically, any additional allocation through supplementary grant is discouraged during the first half of the Current Financial Year (CFY). The federal cabinet in its meeting held on June 11, 2019, decided that it was also desired that release through supplementary grants will be discouraged unless extremely critical. Therefore, it was advised that the proposed expenditure may be met either through TSG or re-appropriation from within the demand of Ministry of Interior.
In response to Ministry's summary, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on November 16, 2020 deferred consideration of the summary on the matter and directed Ministry of Interior to consult Finance Division again on the issue and re-submit the case to ECC for consideration. Accordingly, Finance Division was again consulted, who informed that the matter has been examined. Ministry of Interior is advised to make payment to the foreign law firm out of savings available within demands of Interior Division, after completing all legal and codal formalities. Finance Division has endorsed the case for additional funds beyond the available savings for placing before ECC of the Cabinet for approval of Technical Supplementary Grant/Supplementary Grant.
After explaining the case Interior Ministry has proposed that Technical Supplementary Grant (TSG) of £310,000 equivalent to Rs 67.459 million in favour of Ministry of Interior to discharge the liabilities of second engagement period, from February 2019 to January 2020 may be approved and the remaining period of first contract £75,000 will be paid by this Ministry for the period from November 2018 to January 2019, out of its own budget.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021