The information ministry agreed to brief the Supreme Court regarding its secret funds details during an in-camera session, as the court modified its earlier restraining order in which the funds were frozen.
Information ministry counsel Zulfikar Maluka requested a two-judge bench of the apex court to make a few changes in its earlier order because the court’s order had halted salaries of employees working in the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS), a government-funded think tank.
According to Maluka, a major chunk of the ministry’s fund was spent on Radio Pakistan with more than Rs3 billion being allocated to Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation for the current fiscal year.
He clarified that out of the total budget, Rs140 million were allocated to the special secret fund of the information ministry and not Rs4 billion. While Rs100 million were allocated for secret funds expenditure, Rs9 million were allocated for the secret service funds and Rs31 million for the IRS.
Senior journalists Absar Alam and Hamid Mir, petitioners in the case, contradicted the ministry’s statement saying that owners of media houses were being favoured by the government for its own interests. They also raised questions regarding allocation of Rs300 million to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS).
The bench asked the petitioners to brief them over the APNS during the next hearing. However, Maluka said that details regarding the expenditure of the two heads of the special secret funds could not be revealed in open court but if the court desired a briefing, it could be arranged off the record.
Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain took up a set of petitions regarding media accountability initiated at the behest of renowned television anchors and ordered the government to release the salaries of the IRS employees immediately.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2012.