In the first objection from within Congress, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday said he is not in favour of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh appearing before the Public Accounts Committee on the 2G spectrum issue as he was accountable to the Lok Sabha and "not to any committee".
"The Prime Minister's offer to appear before the PAC was a decision taken by him without consulting us. If he had discussed it with me I would have advised him not to offer to appear before the PAC," the senior Congress leader told a special meeting of the West Bengal Congress Committee in Kolkata.
"Constitutionally, the PM is accountable to Lok Sabha and not to any committee," Mukherjee said on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's letter to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi on December 27 offering to appear before it in the 2G spectrum scam probe.
The finance minister said that he was a "conservative who believed in following rules of the House". "Why does a minister not appear before a Parliamentary Committee? The reason is simple. A minister is answerable to the House (Lok Sabha) or to the assembly... to 543 members in Lok Sabha or in case of West Bengal assembly to the 294 members."
"A person is a minister because the party he represents has the support of at least 272 Lok Sabha members.... and they are all behind the Prime Minister. They (ministers) are only accountable to whole House and not to a part of the House," Mukherjee.
He said there was only one precedence when Manmohan Singh as finance minister had appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee in the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of 1992.
On December 20, Singh, during the Congress plenary in Delhi, had said he was ready to appear before the PAC in the 2G spectrum issue as he had nothing to hide, after the opposition had stalled Parliament's Winter Session over the demand for a JPC.
PAC chairman Joshi, who belongs to the BJP, had initially not ruled out accepting the Prime Minister's offer and had later said a decision on the issue will be taken after consulting legal experts.
Despite the Prime Minister's offer, the opposition has remained unmoved on its demand for a JPC. Rejecting the JPC demand, Mukherjee asked, "What is the need for a JPC? It is not in Lok Sabha rules. JPC is not a court or an investigative agency. It does not have the power to punish the guilty. Let the opposition say why a JPC is needed but we will explain why it is not needed. The Prime Minister is not scared. He himself is open to being questioned," the finance minister said.
Following up on his public statement at the Congress plenary, the Prime Minister had sent a letter to Joshi in which he had stated that he was willing to appear before the PAC, should the committee choose to seek clarifications from him "though I believe there is no precedent of the Prime Minister appearing before a PAC".
If the PAC accepts the offer, it will be the first time that a Prime Minister would have appeared before the committee, which has MPs from both the Houses belonging to parties of the ruling coalition and the opposition.
"The PAC cannot call a minister. It can call officials, secretaries and individuals. But as I have made clear, the Prime Minister's case is different as he has himself offered to appear. We will have to discuss the issue with the constitutional experts before taking a decision," Joshi had said after receiving the letter.
According to rules and procedures governing the functioning of Parliamentary committees, no minister can appear before a Lok Sabha committee without prior sanction of the Speaker.