The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has asked all affiliated unions of journalists (UJs) to observe March 28 as a black day to protest the non-implementation of a decision of superior courts regarding the 7th Wage Board Award.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani issued a cheque for Rs300 million to the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) on Saturday, using his discretionary powers.
In a press statement released on Sunday by the PFUJ, the UJs were asked to urge their members to wear black armbands, attend all assignments and hold meetings at unit levels apprising members of the latest position on the implementation of the wage award.
Protesting the release of Rs300 million to members of the APNS, PFUJ President Pervaiz Shaukat and Secretary General Amin Yousuf said that it was unfortunate that the government gave “illegal relief to the giant newspaper industry”.
This industry, they said, is already earning billions of rupees due to the sheer hard work of its workers; yet, nothing was done for the relief of employees.
They said the government should have first ensured that its directives and judgments by superior courts in respect to employees’ benefits are implemented in letter and spirit before giving relief to the owners.
Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said late Saturday night that the APNS would decide how to utilise this aid, adding that this grant was released after studying all legal aspects and that the association would be bound to submit details of the expenses incurred to the government.
Talking to Daily Express, she said that the government grant would be used to pull the newspaper industry out of its present financial crisis, and make it possible to pay overdue salaries to journalists.
Asked if the funds can be used to reimburse for advertisements, she said it is quite possible that it would be used for reimbursements.
Last year, Prime Minister Gilani had approved a Rs350 million grant through a ‘one-time’ suspension of rules and regulations in the established process.
However, the information ministry and the Pakistan Information Department staff had refused to be part of the illegal process and when the bills were submitted, the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue (AGPR) returned them.
The AGPR had clarified in its objections that the process of payments of millions of rupees was illegal and suspicious.
It further said that only the president could order such payments, while according to the letter the approval was given by the prime minister. The AGPR’s objections disclosed that the bills presented for payment had already been paid many times and none of the bills were supported by mandatory original documents.
According to a government document available with Daily Express, the disputed bills belong to the period between July 2000 and June 2008 and the federal government had allocated funds twice to clear dues but the parties claiming them could not provide original documents even once to substantiate their claims.
APNS President Hameed Haroon said that funds released by the prime minster would be used to bail out small newspapers and save advertising agencies that are defaulting. Haroon said these funds have no connection with the previous grant.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2012.