SC seeks complete record in Habib Bank privatisation
By Mohammad Kamran
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the government and other respondents to provide complete records, including the minutes of the Cabinet committee meeting, regarding the sale of Habib Bank Limited (HBL) to the Aga Khan Fund.
The bench of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Rana Bhagwan Das and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday heard two constitutional petitions challenging the privatisation of the bank on the grounds that it was against national interests.
Habib Bank was sold to the Aga Khan Fund on January 4, 2004, for a bid of Rs 22.4 billion. This bid is allegedly less than the worth of the total existing assets of the bank which are reportedly calculated to be Rs 23.7 billion.
Consequently, two constitutional petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the privatisation of the bank.
Dr Akhtar Hassan Khan, former secretary of the Planning Commission, challenged the privatisation under Article 184(3) of the Constitution through his counsel Muhammad Ikram Chaudhry.
On Tuesday, Dr Khan’s advocate told the bench that the respondents had not provided the information needed to calculate the actual worth of the bank.
Justice Chaudhry asked Attorney General of Pakistan Makhdoom Ali Khan to provide the requested information. This includes the Statement of Qualification at different stages by 19 bidders, statements of three qualified bidders, worksheet of Chartered Accountants AF Ferguson and Company on the reserved price of the bank and a copy of the agreement.
The Cabinet Committee on Privatisation, the Privatisation Commission, HBL and Aga Khan Fund were also served notices. The bench then adjourned the proceedings till a date to be fixed later.
The other petition was filed by the Watan Party. Barrister Zafarullah Khan moved the petition on behalf of the Watan Party.
He asked the court to set aside the auction of HBL and issue directions to the Aga Khan Fund not to interfere in the bank’s affairs and management until the final adjudication of the matter by the Supreme Court.
He has maintained the sale of HBL was collusive and malafide because it was not transparent.
He said the privatisation of 51 percent of the bank’s shares at such a throwaway price would allegedly result in the enslavement of the people of Pakistan because HBL was one of the banks considered to be part of Pakistan’s economic growth.
He also maintained in his petition that a Canadian company once offered Rs 60 billion to a previous government to buy HBL, but the bid was turned down by the government.