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March 9, 2018

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Provincial govt ads: SC orders Shahbaz to pay Rs5.5m from his pocket

LAHORE: A three-member Supreme Court bench on Thursday ordered Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to reimburse an amount of Rs5.5 million given to different media houses from the national exchequer for running an advertisement carrying his picture and showing the provincial government’s performance.

Punjab Secretary Information Raja Jahangir told the bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar that Shahbaz was ready to pay the amount from his own pocket. He said the chief minister was informed about the observations made by the bench during the last hearing against running the media campaign at the expense of national kitty.

He said Shahbaz had great respect for the judges and observations made by them, and volunteered to pay Rs5.5 million from his own pocket. The said the amount was distributed among 12 TV channels for a one-day broadcast of the advertisement.

Chief Justice Nisar accepted the undertaking and directed him to submit a receipt of the payment on next hearing. The court took an exception to the extravagant sums of money doled out for advertisements by the Punjab government annually.

A three-judge bench was hearing a suo motu case into hefty ad expenditure by provincial governments. In the previous hearing of the case, the chief justice had observed that taxpayers' money was being used for self-promotion and big ads were awarded at the nation's expense.

“There is no water in state-run schools, no medicine available in public hospitals, and yet the provincial government spends taxpayers' money on massive advertisements,” he had said, adding that provincial governments would have to promote their work at their own expense.

The chief justice also wondered whether such expenditures were tantamount to pre-poll rigging. Earlier, the provincial information secretary told the court that an amount of Rs129 million was spent on advertisements by the provincial government in one month.

"Rs129 million in one month amounts to Rs1.5 billion worth of advertisements in a year," Justice Nisar remarked, inquiring what the procedure for issuing advertisements was. The four-minute-long ad was also shown in the courtroom on an electronic screen projector. After watching the advertisement, the chief justice got furious and observed that there was nothing worth watching in it except the budgetary allocation spent by the government in different sectors.

“The chief minister could have shared all this information during his speech to a public meeting,” the chief justice told the secretary. "How much did this advertisement cost?" he asked. Upon being informed that it cost Rs5.5m, he said that the money could have been used to provide medicines to citizens instead.

The chief justice was critical of the money spent on the ad and asked whether the country was someone's kingdom. The provincial information secretary told the court that the purpose of the advertisement in question was to show the development work completed by the government in the past five years.

The bench ordered all the provinces to submit record of government advertisements, showing pictures of the respective chief ministers. The bench would resume further hearing at Islamabad on a date to be fixed by office.

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