Revealing the numbers: PML-N wants spy agencies’ budgets made public

Published: June 9, 2011
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Information ministry also refuses to divulge details about secret fund used to ‘influence public opinion’.

Information ministry also refuses to divulge details about secret fund used to ‘influence public opinion’.

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: 

A legislator from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz on Wednesday called for an end to the secrecy surrounding the budget of the intelligence agencies.

In a speech during the National Assembly debate on the federal budget for fiscal year 2012, PML-N legislator Ayaz Amir said: “This should be told (to the parliament) that how much of the defence budget goes to the intelligence agencies. We must raise this curtain of silence now.”

But the use of military funds is not the only area where secrecy is being maintained.

Even as the PML-N called for greater transparency in the military budget, reports have emerged of secrecy in the information ministry’s budget, especially surrounding the Special Publicity Fund, which has been used in the past to make covert payments to journalists and media houses.

The budget documents for the next financial year list this funding of Rs2.97 billion under ‘other expenditure’ at the ministry of information, but provide no other details. The year before, the ministry’s ‘other expenditure’ included funding for the Pakistan Institute of National Affairs, Institute of Regional Studies, news agencies such as the Associated Press of Pakistan, Secret Service Expenditure and the Special Publicity Fund.

The Special Publicity Fund was allocated Rs40 million in 2011, but the budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 makes no mention of it. Over Rs230 million was allocated to the fund from 2000 to 2010.

According to a 2008 letter sent by the information ministry to the Federal Ombudsman, the Special Publicity Fund is “a secret fund which is discreetly utilised to support and supplement [the] ministry’s efforts for projection and wider dissemination of [the] Government’s policies and activities. It is utilised mainly to counter hostile and anti-Pakistan propaganda both within and outside the country, disclosure of which is not in the public interest and national integrity.”

The letter was sent in response to a complaint filed to the Federal Ombudsman by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives’ programme manager Zahid Abdullah in 2008. He had submitted a request to the ministry under the Freedom of Information Act 2002, asking for details of how the fund was used, specifically advertisement plans, contracts with and details of the money paid to journalists, media houses, public relations firms, consultants and individuals.

The ministry turned down the request on the grounds that it is a secret fund and part of the Secret Service Expenditure account, even though Abdullah said the 2009 budget listed the Special Publicity Fund as part of other expenses. Abdullah filed a complaint with the Federal Ombudsman. He rejected the complaint after he received the above-quoted reply from the ministry.

Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan recently told the National Assembly that the fund’s expenses could not be disclosed because it was allocated under the Secret Service Expenditure object head. The NA was told that “the allocations were fully utilised in the public interest to serve the purposes for which these were made according to the prevailing rules”.

Noted columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee delved into the Special Publicity Fund in Dawn in 1997. He quoted government memos which listed payments made to the Frontier Post on now-President Asif Ali Zardari’s instructions, and to “Chaudhry Ghulam Hussain of the publications Facts and Siasi Log of Lahore”. Other payments were made to government officials and news agencies.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Umar
    Jun 9, 2011 - 8:26AM

    Ye cheez..
    PML-N Zindabad.
    Mian Sahab is the last hope for the civilian supremacy in Pakistan..
    I wasnt PML’s supporter,but according to their stance against army n ISI my vote is for “SHER”..Recommend

  • Baloch
    Jun 9, 2011 - 8:32AM

    Agreed! There should be no sacred cow..Its time to bring corrupt Generals in the grip of Accountability..Recommend

  • Mirza
    Jun 9, 2011 - 8:48AM

    Even though I do agree that there should be transparency in all areas specially about the funding of ISI, however I have a question for PML-N supporters.
    PML-N was in power twice with a large majority. Why did they not do it then? Why are they so brave all of a sudden, when not in power?Recommend

  • Junaid Naseer Faroqui
    Jun 9, 2011 - 9:53AM

    Okay good enough! At least the somebody has broken the ice @ the right time and on right place. All political parties should second this idea and make sure that not even a single dollar of tax payers’ money goes down the drain on this already non-development expenditure.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jun 9, 2011 - 10:15AM

    Anybody on the payroll of the Government can be defined as Public servant. In any civilized nation calling itself a country expenditure to run the Government and pay salaries comes out of taxes paid. Every department is allocated a budget and subsequently the accounts are audited to evaluate slippages and leaks. For any department to claim “I am a holy cow above questioning” is preposterous. Also all departments can only receive funds from the national exchequer, not from other sources, private or public, local or foreign. If Parliament cannot control the budget of any department or audit its accounts it must absolve itself of blame by resigning and sitting at home. The Legislature has a duty to perform and if Parliamentarians suffer from fear they have no business being in Politics and representing the people. Recommend

  • Qutubdin Khan
    Jun 9, 2011 - 11:17AM

    Every penny is national ‘amanat’ and has to be spent, frugally,honestly and for effective ,useful propose.Surely,defense forces are nort immune from it and their accounts whether secret or otherwise must be audited.For very confidential nature of spending-a secret committee of senior most judges,most respected parliamentarian and public figure of high moral pedestal must be formed to know where the money is going.Is it benefiting political party in power or in opposition or who are beneficiary Recommend

  • Pardesi Insaan
    Jun 9, 2011 - 12:17PM

    Intelligence budgets are confidential in any country, as giving out a list as what amount is being spent on which challenge or effort removes confidentiality. Yes I would agree that if any resource are allocated to buy out the politicians than that should be disclosed or should not be allowed to happen like the funds which Zia Ul Haq used to create PML-N party. But at the same time I have to ask why are the politicians worried is it because they are going to miss out on some easy money for changing their loyalty or they are worried that they will not be able to make more money as they may be pushed out from the power. Guys instead of insisting where the budget is being spent why not work together to remove the poverty, bring some harmony and peace in the country think of Pakistan as a homogeneous state where people including minorities can live in peace. Do not loose what was achieved by the millions giving up their lives, land and secure livings. My father was one of those. And he died hoping that we one day will become a prosper nation.Recommend

  • Lobster
    Jun 9, 2011 - 3:04PM

    What a turn of events! Strange times, never expected it from party like PML-NRecommend

  • Javed
    Jun 9, 2011 - 5:04PM

    I agree 100% that Military and Intelligence budgets should be scrutinised. This country is supporting this huge army by paying through its nose. Scrutiny however should be for everyone and should not be used to just gain political mileage. Mian Sahib should also inform how much the Saudis have giving him (Wikileaks) and what has he given them in return. The Saudis are not dumb enough to pay him without getting anything in return.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jun 9, 2011 - 6:54PM

    its about time..rein in the agencies and the army. Make them accountable..Time for change in Pakistan…enough is enough…Recommend

  • Jun 9, 2011 - 6:59PM

    PML-N acting sensibly for a change.Recommend

  • Mehreen
    Jun 9, 2011 - 10:31PM

    I Wonder when our nation and these political leader would get real. Why would any agency promulgate its spendings?? did ever the CIA, RAW, MOSSAD, DSS etc ever reveal their budget. Shareef has gone nutsRecommend

  • Malik
    Jun 10, 2011 - 12:10AM

    All those who are praising PML-N, it’s not really PML-N it’s mostly Ayaz Amir’s own views. He is not exactly accepted in the PML-N main core. In western terminology he is a PML-N backbencher.Recommend

  • Arslan
    Jun 10, 2011 - 1:14AM

    Wow, PML-N seems more intelligent now.
    Hope they learned new tricks in how to dump the poor awaam if they’re elected
    Sher-e-Alaam Nawaaaaaaaz Sharif pain-dabad!Recommend

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