No transparency in govt steps to combat virus: CJP

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STAFF REPORTER
ISLAMABAD Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Monday lamented the lack of “transparency” in the steps the government has taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic so far. The observation was made during a hearing of a suo motu case pertaining to the federal and provincial governments’ response to the Covid-19 crisis. The case is being heard by a five-member bench headed by the chief justice. During the hearing, the top court examined a report submitted by the federal government on measures taken to tackle the crisis. “All governments (federal and provincial) are spending money for relief [but] there is no transparency to be seen. There is no transparency in any of the steps [taken],” the chief justice said. Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who is also part of the bench, noted that the Centre had doled out more than Rs9 billion to provinces and added: “Monitoring should be done of what the provinces are doing with the money.” “Monitoring does not affect provincial autonomy. Monitoring is also a form of an audit,” Justice Bandial said. The chief justice remarked that the Zakat and charity money given to the government by the people “is not for TA & DA (travelling allowance and dearness allowance) or foreign tours”. “Zakat money cannot be used for office expenses. How can charity money be used to give salaries of officials?” Justice Gulzar said. The government should give salaries to officials, the chief justice said, adding that the director general of the Baitul Mal was also receiving his salary from the Zakat fund. Justice Bandial said that according to the report submitted, the government had collected more than Rs9 billion in Zakat but “nothing has been mentioned about how the money is passed on to the deserving people”. The chief justice also inquired about quarantine facilities provided by the government and said that people who were isolated in these centres were being charged. “Those who cannot pay should be kept in quarantine centres free of charge.” In response to a question, Health Secretary Tanveer Ahmed Qureshi said that there were 16 quarantine centres in Islamabad, which included hotels, Haji Camp, an OGDCL building and the Pak-China Centre. “On what basis were hotels chosen to quarantine people? Why weren’t all hotels given a chance to become quarantine centres?” he asked, adding that conditions in Islamabad’s Haji Camp quarantine centre were “inhumane”. Qureshi told the court that people who arrived from other countries were kept in quarantine centres for 24 hours. “People take one Panadol tablet and go through screening undetected [for symptoms],” the chief justice regretted. Qureshi explained that this was the reason behind keeping passengers in quarantine centres for 24 hours. The chief justice asked Qureshi if he had visited Haji Camp, to which the latter replied in the negative but added that the additional health secretary had visited the centre. “Visit Haji Camp, OGDCL building and Pak-China Centre yourself today,” Justice Gulzar told Qureshi. “Make sure that food and all basic facilities are being provided in quarantine centres.” “I will pay a visit today and ensure that all facilities are being provided,” Qureshi assured the court. “Instead of making quarantine centres, why aren’t [buildings] of schools and colleges being used [for that purpose]?” Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, who is also part of the bench, asked and added: “Why is money being spent on building new quarantine centres?” “The suggestion to [use buildings of] schools is a good one, we will consider it,” Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan said. “Government is spending a lot of money but it is not clear what is happening,” the top judge remarked and added: “Staying in the quarantine centre at Taftan was a frightening dream.”

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