SC questions legality of funds to lawmakers before elections

Tariq Ullah Wardag

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar on Tuesday  took notice of distribution of development funds among lawmakers of the ruling party and its allies.

While presiding over a case in government advertisements separate case, the chief justice remarked that the court is hearing reports that development funds are being doled out by the government.

He questioned whether giving funds worth millions so close to the general elections qualifies as pre-poll rigging, He added that under what law are the funds being distributed to lawmakers.

“Under what laws are MNAs and MPAs being given funds in the run-up to the election?” the CJP asked. “Prior to the election, money is openly distributed under the guise of development funds,” he pointed out.

The court then directed the additional attorney general to inform it of the legality of the move after consulting the government.

A Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government official told the court that the provincial government had spent Rs1.63 billion on media campaigns during its five-year tenure ending this year.

The KP information secretary made these remarks before the SC during the hearing the suo motu case of the publicity campaigns by the provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh and KP.

The information secretary stated that he had been unable to find pictures of both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran and KP Chief Minister (CM) Parvez Khattak in the advertisements published by the provincial government from December 1, 2017, till February 28, 2018.

The court had ordered the KP information secretary during the hearing on Monday to take an oath to testify that pictures of the PTI chairman and KP CM were not published anywhere.

During the hearing on Tuesday, a KP official told the apex court that the provincial government had spent Rs1.63 billion on media campaigns during its five-year tenure ending this year.

In response to a question by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar on why the KP government had spent Rs240 million on advertisements, the information secretary responded that the advertisements were for public awareness and feedback.

The KP information secretary submitted the government’s record of ad expenditures over the last three months in court. From Dec 1 to Feb 28, the KP government spent Rs240m on its own advertisements, the secretary told the court.

The additional advocate general of Punjab also submitted a report to the apex court during Tuesday’s hearing. He responded in affirmative to the CJP’s question about the pictures of political leaders placed in advertisements of the Punjab government.

“Who will pay for the personal glorification of leaders?” Justice Nisar remarked, inquiring if a prior payment of Rs5.5 million had been submitted by the chief minister for using his picture on government ads.

Justice Umar Ata Bandial pointed out that the funds used for advertisements were taken from the national kitty. The CJP said the court would order the provincial government to return such funds to the exchequer, adding that the Supreme Court does not want pictures of political leaders to be placed in government advertisements.