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March 14, 2018

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Aren’t development funds pre-poll rigging, asks CJP

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday questioned the allocation of development funds to the ruling party parliamentarians and allies before the general elections.

“Under what law the government sanctions development funds to the members of assemblies before general elections,” asked the chief justice while hearing a suo motu case here. The chief justice remarked that the court was hearing reports that development funds were being doled out by the government.

He questioned whether giving funds worth millions so close to the general elections qualifies as pre-poll rigging. The court directed the additional attorney general to inform it of the legality of the move after consulting the government.

The CJ also hinted that the court might ban approval of such development funds before the general elections. Earlier, the Supreme Court was informed by a two-member bench appointed by it that no political party should run a publicity campaign in print and electronic media at the cost of public exchequer.

The chief justice had constituted a two-member commission comprising advocates Munir A Malik and Babar Sattar to prepare guidelines for the government advertisements. The commission, while submitting its report/guidelines before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, stated that no government functionary or elected representative, including a local government functionary or elected representative, should announce any development scheme for a constituency after the announcement of the Election Programme of that constituency.

Similarly, there should be no arbitrary use of public funds for government advertisements aimed at projecting political leaders, political parties, partisan agendas or governments without any public purpose, says the report.

It further submitted that the purpose of government about their rights, obligations, entitlements and responsibilities, about government policies, programmes, services or initiatives.

The commission further submitted that the government advertisements’ aim is also to encourage public involvement in government decision-making, educate and inform the public about community interests and dangers or risks to public health, safety or the environment etc.

The commission further suggested that the government advertisements should be prohibited, including material that contains the name, or gives prominence to the voice or image of the head of an institution or individual, including, inter alia, a past or incumbent prime minister, chief minister, minister, member of parliament or candidate for an election to parliament or portraying or promoting the said public office holder in a manner regarded as excessive or gratuitous, except in a limited case of government advertisements involving a public awareness campaigns in pursuit of legitimate state purpose where such voice or image is essential to such information, message or campaign.

The commission also suggested that the government advertisements should not be for disparaging, ridiculing, attacking the opposition parties, political party leaders, state institutions or the government of a federating unit.

Also, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) officials informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the provincial government did not indulge in self-glorification when printing advertisements. On February 28, the chief justice had taken a suo motu notice of the ongoing publicity campaigns by the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and KP.

The KP information secretary informed the court that he had been unable to find pictures of PTI Chairman Imran Khan or Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak in the advertisements, published by the provincial government from Dec 1, 2017 till February 28, 2018.

In response to a question on why the KP government had spent Rs240 million on advertisements, the information secretary responded that the advertisements were for public awareness and feedback.

The additional advocate general of Punjab also submitted a report to the apex court on Tuesday. He responded in affirmative to the CJP question about the pictures of political leaders placed in advertisements of the Punjab government.

"Who will pay for the personal glorification of leaders?" Justice Nisar remarked, inquiring if a prior payment of Rs5.5 million had been submitted by the chief minister for using his picture on government ads.

Party leaders must return the money for the advertisements with their photos in them, the CJP ordered, adding that the Supreme Court does not want pictures of political leaders to be placed in government advertisements. The CJ observed that the case would be resolved within a day or two.

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