The government on Wednesday refused to share with the Supreme Court details of a secret fund allocated to the information ministry.
A two-judge bench of the apex court was hearing petitions filed by journalists Hamid Mir, Absar Alam Haider, Mazhar Abbas, Asma Sherazi and Arshad Sharif.
Absar Alam and Hamid Mir told the court that the information ministry did not contradict a media report a few months ago about the alleged misuse of the secret fund.
“The ‘Secret Expenditure Fund’ is un-auditable and was approved by parliament in the annual budget,” read the concise statement of the information ministry submitted before the court on Wednesday.
The government also opposed the suggestion of forming a commission to probe such issues, saying the ministry was not answerable to anyone about its secret fund that is utilised for the welfare of journalists.
Interestingly, the government’s counsel Abid Saqi initially claimed before the bench no secret fund existed and the allegations were baseless.
Then Saqi denied the petitioners’ claims that the fund, allegedly amounting to billions of rupees, was being misused. However, after the bench probed into the matter, the government’s counsel conceded that during 2011-12 the total amount of the secret fund was not more than Rs153.5 million, while, for the ongoing year, it did not exceed Rs100-120 million.
Separately, the court also issued notices to the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and advertising agency Midas (Pvt) Ltd to appear before the court and adjourned the hearing for September 22.
The agency, which was blacklisted, was accused by the Punjab government of embezzling funds worth Rs632.59 million through fake invoices.
The alleged scam was unearthed during an audit of the accounts of Punjab’s director general public relations (DGPR) in the tenure of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) regime.
Earlier, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) had issued a press release in August stating that the action being taken against Midas and its chief Inam Akbar was unilateral. The Punjab government’s information department then issued a statement clarifying that some APNS officials themselves were present during a meeting in August 2009 where it was agreed to let the auditor general of Pakistan to look through records.
The provincial information department’s statement also pointed out that the APNS had been asked to persuade Midas to pay back the embezzled funds, but to no avail. It added that the matter was sub judice and assured that it could not interfere in the matter, denying any ‘political victimisation’.
The statement rejected the accusation of unilateral action against the agency, saying both DGPR officials and the chief executive of Midas were being investigated by the Anti Corruption Establishment.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2012.
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