ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Wednesday noted that the advertisements highlighting the provincial governments’ achievements in the electronic and print media paid for by the taxpayers, tantamount to “pre-poll rigging”.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing contempt of court notice against the federal and provincial governments for not empowering the local bodies.

The chief justice taking suo motu notice of advertisements, said a huge amount was spent on such advertisements, adding; “This is done for aggrandisement and amounts to pre-poll rigging.”

“Billions of rupees are spent on such advertisements,” he added.

The chief justice said that the government [Sindh], which was giving advertisements on media highlighting its accomplishments in the health sector, should rather spend this money on hospitals in the province as in many state-run hospitals even medicines were not available.

Justice Nisar said that if the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, wanted to run such advertisements then it should be done with the funds provided by the parties ruling those provinces.

The chief justice said that in a recorded statement the education secretary of Sindh stated that in 4,000 public schools there was no water available.

The short order issued said: “It has come to our notice that the governments of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are running advertisements in various print and electronic media forums. Through such advertisements they are indulging in self projection and aggrandizement under the garb of informing the public about the projects completed or being undertaken by them in their respective provinces during their tenure as the provincial government in power.” The court said that such advertisements and paid content contain photographs of prominent politicians and leaders of the political parties in power. Such profligacy, which is obviously undertaken at government expense and taxpayers’ money, should not be burdening the public exchequer.

It not only causes wastage of public funds, which could otherwise be allocated and utilised for welfare of the public, it also results in providing an unfair advantage to the ruling party in the forthcoming elections. Moreover, in the present circumstances being an election year this may tantamount to pre-poll rigging, the short order said.

The court directed to submit details about all the expenditures/amounts incurred/used on such advertisements with separate details relating to electronic and print media. Identity of print and electronic media houses/ groups who have been paid to publish/telecast/broadcast such advertisements. Names/identification of newspapers/magazines/TV channels/radio stations, which have run such advertisements/paid content and aggregate amounts paid/payable to each in the last three months.

The names of government departments, semi-government entities, government companies other departments/entities/organizations, who have been directed to pay such amounts or through which such amounts have been paid, the court directed.

A summary of the aggregate amount that each province has spent so far in such extravagant displays and self-projection by the respective provincial governments, it added.

The order directed submission of a detailed report containing the above information under the signatures of the respective secretaries information of each province, countersigned by the chief secretary of each province.

The chief secretaries shall also submit sworn affidavits with each report confirming that all information has been checked and rechecked, it is accurate and supported by the relevant record and no information has been concealed/misstated or withheld for any reason.

Such report shall be filed within a period of one-week from Wednesday, the order said. The office shall transmit copies of this order through courier service/fax/email to the chief secretaries of all provinces for compliance. The case was adjourned till March 12, 2018.