FIDA HUSSNAIN  - The Lahore High Court did a commendable job last week by creating a situation in which the prime minister's daughter -  Maryam - had to step down as chairperson of the Prime Minister's Youth Loan Programme. She was not qualified to hold the office and the court met the ends of justice by getting the office vacated.

But the Supreme Court has given the government a free hand to appoint any Tom, Dick or Harry against the dozens of vacant posts of heads of various state owned organizations. Before the apex court's verdict it was for a special commission to select suitable people to head the said organizations.

The common man will certainly be confused while deciding whether the federal government should have been given the kind of authority that the apex court gave.  And what will be the situation in case the government now appoints Maryam Nawaz Sharif as chairperson of some important state owned organization?

Maryam Nawaz headed the Rs 100 billion loan programme for quite some time. However, the matter was challenged before the Lahore High Court by a supporter of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party which has been engaged in an anti-government campaign for the past three months. The law officers did their best to establish that the prime minister's daughter was the best choice for the programme head.  When the court asked about her credentials, an official said she was M.A English (Literature) and had a PhD degree in Political Science. The combination of subjects by Maryam at the master's and doctorate levels was difficult for the court to digest. The judge asked the lawyer from where he had gathered the information about her educational qualifications. "Internet, sir", replied the official.

The facial expressions of the judge were clearly telling all those present in the courtroom that he was not convinced by the answer given in defence of Maryam Nawaz. 

He gave the government a couple of days to replace the chairperson of the loan programme that had been launched to help the unemployed to start their own businesses. Each applicant could seek as much as Rs 2 million to set up a source of livelihood.

But before the deadline expired, Maryam Nawaz "voluntarily" resigned.

This provided the PTI with an opportunity to celebrate the government's humiliation. At public meetings the PTI is holding these days, various leaders said that one resignation has come and now the nation was waiting for the resignations of the prime minister, the Punjab chief minister and son Hamza, the unofficial chief executive of the country's most populous province.

However, the rejoicing was short-lived.

Now in the light of the Supreme Court's verdict the federal government can appoint its cronies as heads of the public sector organizations. All such appointments will be legal - unchallengeable before any court of law.

The decision that heads of the public sector organizations should be appointed by a special commission had been given by former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.  The "credit" for revisiting the order goes to Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry. 

The government, through Khwaja Muhammad Asif, had submitted that it was facing administrative hurdles in implementing the previous order of the SC regarding the appointments in statutory, semi-autonomous and autonomous bodies, especially since some statutory bodies had their own procedures in place for appointments.

In a 10-page judgment, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, held that it was the exclusive prerogative of the federal government to appoint, on merit, the heads of statutory, autonomous, semi-autonomous and regulatory authorities under the acts/ordinances wherein certain criteria have been laid down.

The "merit" that the present government follows was seen by the appointments in the Punjab Advocate General's office.

An Urdu language daily carried a report a few days ago which showed that most of the law officials were relatives of the politicians, bureaucrats and other sympathisers of the rulers or other bigwigs of the ruling party. The report was never denied.

Still more deplorable was the revelation that although Rs 400 million had been allocated for the AG's office and the army of law officials working under it, most of the cases were given to other lawyers - against heavy fees.  Hopefully, a similar merit will now be observed in top positions lying vacant.