NAB approached against new SECP chief's appointment

ISLAMABAD: Shaukat Hussain Abbasi – who in a span of just five months got elevated as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SECP) from the position of a junior director – faces another challenge, as an application is filed against his appointment in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

An advocate of Supreme Court of Pakistan has requested NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal to order an inquiry into appointment of Abbasi as the SECP chairman, claiming that “the appointment was based on favouritism and nepotism”.

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The applicant has claimed that the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s decision to install Abbasi at the top in the SECP was also in violation of transparency and level playing field and deviation from the rules settled by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its 2013 judgment.

The federal government appointed Abbasi as the SECP chairman on May 11, 2018. On January 8 of this year, he had been promoted as the executive director of the regulatory body.

Abbasi had not yet completed his six-month probationary period when in March he was elevated as commissioner of the SECP. In less than two months, he was appointed head of one of the most important regulators of the financial and equity sectors.

His appointment has also been challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The applicant has also cited a recent order of the apex court in which it directed NAB to look into appointments where the people were getting monthly salary of over Rs1.5 million.

“This is a perfect case for the inquiry as Shaukat Hussain (Abbasi) is now drawing salary of over Rs2 million per month along with huge additional perks,” said the application.

The Supreme Court in its order in Ashraf Tawana V/s federal government case – announced on April 13, 2013 – elaborated the principles for appointment of the SECP chairman. The applicant has claimed that Hussain’s appointment was also in violation of the SC’s judgment.

In the judgement, while setting aside the appointment of M Ali as SECP chairman, the court declared that appointment of the SECP chairman can only be made” once all commissioners ie five are in place”.

It said the government after considering credentials of all the five commissioners shall appoint the most competent person as chairman.

However, in the case of Abbasi this essential principle is not followed as there were only four commissioners at the SECP and one advertised position is yet to be filled, said the applicant.

He further claimed that all the other three commissioners were more qualified, more competent and have more dynamic experience as compared to Abbasi.

Moreover, in the same judgement, the Supreme Court had directed the federal government that appointment of the SECP chairman shall meet the requirements of the SECP Act including sections 5, 6 and 7 thereof, in a credible, rigorous, transparent and open manner.

The apex court also ruled that government, while appointing new SECP chief shall adhere to Articles 8, 10A, 14 and 18 of the Constitution of Pakistan which are consistent with provisions of the SECP Act, ensuring independent and objective decision-making without fear or favour, required of an independent regulator.

The applicant claimed that the decision was also in violation of the provisions of the SECP Act, whereby he was selected merely because of his political relationship especially with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former prime minister of Pakistan.

Throughout his career, Abbasi has only served in the SECP’s company registration department. He has no exposure to other core and sensitive areas being regulated by the SECP, such as capital markets, specialised companies, insurance and enforcement departments, according to the application.

The senior most position at which he has served was In-charge, Company Registration Office, Islamabad. It was only in the middle of 2017 that he was made head of the registration department as a stop-gap arrangement, as the regular head of the department, Bushra Aslam had got seriously sick.

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The applicant alleged that Abbasi started thriving and he was promoted as executive director in January 2018. By that time, the shortlisting of candidates for the vacant positions of commissioners at the SECP was already completed.

The names of five shortlisted candidates were also published in newspapers and the record of ministry of finance would confirm this fact. The shortlisted candidates included eminent professionals in the field of finance and capital markets. Even some other candidates who had applied from within the SECP were more senior, more qualified and having more dynamic experience.

“However, on the intervention of then prime minister, the first shortlisting was annulled and couple of names were added including that of Shaukat Hussain Abbasi who was earlier not shortlisted.”

He said the finance ministry record would confirm that Abbasi had even not applied for the vacant position within the period specified in the advertisement, published in Sep 2017 to invite applications.

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