Pictures of political leaders are published in government advertisements to acknowledge their sacrifices for the country, nothing more, the information department told the Sindh High Court on Friday.
Filing comments on a petition seeking to restrain the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government from using photographs of party leaders in government advertisements, the director information (advertisements) submitted to the court that official advertisements released by the information department to print media for placement are aimed at disseminating information to the public at large.
He said the advertisements were also issued to inform the public of accomplishments, endeavours and strategies of the government elected by them, and publishing their pictures is nothing but to acknowledge their sacrifices for the country and the nation.
He said that former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto had laid their lives for the cause of the nation and the country and they are therefore revered and admired by the entire nation and their services eulogised by the international community as well.
He submitted that the leadership of the ruling party in Sindh has been elected by the province’s people to accomplish the mission left uncompleted by the martyred leadership. There were countless precedents establishing the fact that government institutes under the control of federal and provincial governments are often obliged to pay tributes to our leaders, youth who make accomplishments to their credit in the field of sports and other sectors, he said.
The information director requested the court to dismiss the petition, stating that the petitioners had not come with “clean hands” and their allegations had no sanctity in the eyes of the law.
An SHC division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar after taking the director’s comments on record directed the other respondents to file comments and adjourned the hearing till October 4.
In a petition filed earlier this year, the petitioners Nazim Haji and Syed Mureed Ali Shah had submitted that the provincial government in order to sponsor and illegally benefit the ruling party has been displaying pictures of its leaders in government advertisements published in various newspapers.
The petitioners submitted that the advertising was done with the sole motive to promote the political party’s leaders in the eyes of the public for political, electoral and monetary gain.
They submitted that this kind of advertising carried out with the public’s money to advance political and personal status of the political party’s leaders was discriminatory to other political parties and citizens of Pakistan who have been directly and adversely affected from the commission of such offences.
As per the petitioners, the objective behind highlighting the issue in court was not only to advance a sense of vigilance among the people of Pakistan against unlawful activities, but also to assist statutory organisations and corruption watchdogs such as the National Accountability Bureau so that the public’s looted money can be recovered in the interest of the country.
The information department was unceasingly publishing advertisements in various newspapers showing pictures of unofficial persons using national money despite the fact that public funds cannot be spent for the personal promotion or political advantage of a party, the petitioners maintained.
Furthermore, the petitioners also cited NAB’s reference filed against a former information minister of the PPP and others for misusing public funds in the name of government’s awareness campaign advertisements.
They maintained that in the garb of communicating with the people, in many instances, undue political advantage and mileage is sought to be achieved by glorifying individuals and crediting them as being solely responsible for various government achievements and progressive plans.
The petitioners had stated that such practices have become rampant as the country advances towards the next general election. Such advertisements not only result in gross wastage of public funds but also constitute misusing governmental powers, besides derogating the fundamental rights of a large section of the citizens as guaranteed under the Constitution.
The court was requested to restrain the information department and its officers from misusing, wasting of public funds on government advertisements with the intention to project provincial ruling political party of Sindh’s living and deceased leaders.
The petitioner’s also requested the court to declare impugned government advertisement showing the photographs as illegal and ultra vires under Articles 4, 25 and 218(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan.
They also sought constitution of a judicial commission and or direction to NAB to probe the allocation, distribution and utilisation of funds worth billions of rupees for government advertisements published in print and electronic media from 2013 till date, and recover public funds used in such advertisements.