In a rare move, Speaker forwards complaint against Isaac to ethics panel

T M Thomas Issac
Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac. File photo

Thiruvananthapuram: Even as his party collegues are blaming Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac for needlessly intervening in issues, resulting in unwarranted setbacks for the CPM-led ruling dispensation, the Privileges and Ethics Committee of the Legislative Assembly is set to scrutinise his alleged procedural lapse in divulging a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan has desisted from taking action on the complaint filed by Congress MLA V D Satheesan and instead forwarded it to the House panel to take a final call, a rather unusual move.

The complaint states that Isaac disregarded the rights of the Assembly as he revealed the details of a CAG report even before it was tabled in the Legislative Assembly.

The minister's explanation over the complaint has also been forwarded for scrutiny.

Satheesan had moved a notice,under Section 159 of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, Rules of Procedure and conduct of Business against the minister for making public the details of the draft CAG report before it was tabled in the Assembly.

"Privilege and ethics committee of the Assembly will take further decision. We have handed over the breach of privilege notice and the Minister's reply to the notice to the committee," Sreeramakrishnan told the media.

The Speaker said there are certain important issues mentioned in the complaint of the opposition MLA and other serious matters pointed out by the Minister in his reply and both need to beaddressed by the committee.

"Since the formation of the state, this is probably the first time, such an issue has come up. The minister has pointed out that this was not just a matter of breach of privilege of the Assembly but there are certain unprecedented situations with regard to the CAG report. So let the committee take a decision in a democratic manner after hearing both the sides," the Speaker said.

Isaac welcomes Speaker's decision

Reacting to the development, Isaac, who had appeared before the Speaker on Monday to explain his stand, said he welcomed the decision.

"I will explain everything to the ethics committee when I appear before it and they can take a decision," he said, adding he had not violated any rules.

The CAG report is not as per rules, he claimed at Kollam.

The Privileges committee is likely to meet on Friday and the minister and complainant would be heard, committee chairman, A Pradeep Kumar, MLA, said.

The matter would be heard impartially and the report will be submitted to the speaker, Kumar told reporters at Kozhikode.

Opposition attacks Isaac

Targeting Isaac, the Opposition has alleged he had infringed on the rights of the House by disclosing details of the CAG's audit 2018-19 report of the KIIFB to the media before it was tabled in the assembly.

Demanding Isaac's resignation, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said the minister does not have the right to continue in the post as he revealed the contents of the CAG report even before it was tabled in the House and had violated Official Secrets Act.

BJP state president K Surendran also sought the minister's resignation with the Speaker forwarding the complaint to the ethics committee.

Isaac's defence

Earlier, Isaac had conceded that the CAG report he found fault with was not a "draft" but the final one. Nonetheless, he said his earlier insistence that it was a draft was based on his "absolute conviction" that it was indeed a draft.

Following the controversy, Isaac had said he was prepared to face any punishment for breach of parliamentary privilege, but ruled out resigning over the developments.

Why the row

Ministers assume office after taking the oath that they will not divulge any confidential information that comes to their notice except for official purposes. The Governor has the authority to expel those who violate this oath.

The legislature has the right to know the details of the CAG report first. Violating the rights of the Assembly can attract six types of punishment: 1. Expulsion from the Assembly in case the person is a member. 2. Jail sentence. 3. A warning. 4. Placing House's dissatisfaction on record. 5. Imposing a penalty. 6. Reprimanding by summoning to the well of the House.

A CAG report has to remain a confidential document till it is tabled in the Legislative Assembly. The allegation against Isaac is that he made its details public before the Assembly knew about it.

How CAG prepares a report

The CAG prepares a report after repeatedly asking the government questions and receiving answers for them. If the answer is satisfactory, negative references will be excluded from the report.

In some cases, on the basis of the draft report, a meeting is held with the head of the department concerned, the finance secretary and officials of the accountant general's office. If the matter being concerned is of importance, then even the Chief Secretary is called.

If the explanation given by the government during the meeting is not satisfactory, it will be given more time to give a reply. All these steps are kept strictly confidential. Only then is the final report prepared and sent to the CAG for approval. If the approval is received, the report is printed in a private press.

The report will be given for printing only after an affidavit signed on stamp paper is obtained stating that it will not be leaked.

Another complaint under consideration

The Speaker also said that the privilege complaint against the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for its reported probe against the state-run KIIFB, is also under serious consideration.

"The notice moved by M Swaraj is also a serious one and under consideration. He has pointed out that the ED has reportedly initiated a probe probe against the state-run KIIFB over borrowing from international markets on the basis of a CAG report, which is yet to be tabled in the Assembly," the Speaker said.

The Speaker has sought a report from the Finance Ministry in the matter.

Tripunithura MLA M Swaraj has alleged that launching a probe on the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India before it was tabled in the House is a violation of the privilege of the legislators.

Isaac has alleged the ED officials were leaking select information and directing media houses on how to give headlines concerning the KIIFB and asserted that the central agency would not be allowed to undermine the authority of the state government.

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