Shahbaz asked to return Rs5.5m spent on a govt ad

Lahore: Chief Justice Saqib Nisar has directed Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif to pay Rs5.5 million to the public exchequer for a specific ad given in the media by the provincial government.

On Thursday, the CJP passed the directive while hearing a suo motu case at the SC’s Lahore registry on expenditure incurred on government advertisements.

During the hearing, Information Secretary told the court that in a month’s time over Rs120 million worth of advertisements were put up in the media. The CJP responded by saying, “If in a month’s time this amount of money was spent then in a year’s time the amount would sum up to Rs10.5 billion.”

The CJP then inquired about a particular ad given by the provincial government and the information secretary said that the cost of the specific ad was Rs5.5 million.

The CJP remarked that amount could have been used to buy a huge quantity of medicines for government hospitals. He said the amount would need to be returned to the public exchequer and issued directives for the CM to submit Rs5.5 million from his own pocket to the exchequer. Notices were sent to the PML-N, the Punjab CM and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society in this regard.

The Supreme Court had on February 28 took a suo motu notice of the advertising campaigns run in the national media by three provinces – Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh – to highlight their projects. The CJP had asked the provincial governments to submit details of these campaigns within a week.

Heading a three-judge bench, CJP Mian Saqib Nisar observed that taxpayers’ money was being used for self-promotion and big ads were awarded at the nation’s expense. He asked during the hearing whether spending huge amounts on media campaigns by provincial governments was not pre-poll rigging. The bench noted that the provincial governments, through such advertisements, were doing self-projection and aggrandisement under the garb of informing the public about the projects completed or undertaken by them.

“There is no water in state-run schools, no medicine available in public hospitals, and yet provincial governments are spending taxpayers’ money on massive advertisements,” the CJP had said, adding that provincial governments would have to promote their work at their own expense.

Published in Daily Times, March 9th 2018.