Against the backdrop of the misuse of secret funds by the government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Ministry of Information to certify and re-submit the list of secret expenses it had incurred. The list would be displayed on the SC’s official website. A two-member bench, comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, is currently hearing a constitutional petition seeking an end to the use of tax-payer money to seek favours from journalists and big media houses. The court has also asked the Ministry to inform it about the specific law authorizing it to claim secrecy in the expenditure of money.

The use of secret funds has long been a practice of the Ministry of Information and several other ministries. Presidents and Prime Ministers have spent these funds to seek support and as a cover-up of their questionable acts. This much-abused secret fund was, probably, created during the tenure of the first military dictator Ayub Khan and the practice has continued to be followed by his successors, whether democratic leaders or military rulers. To buy personal favours is, undoubtedly, the worst kind of corruption and is against all democratic norms. The general perception is that the release of advertisements to newspapers and electronic media houses by the Information Ministry is discretionary and is tilted in favour of those who prove ‘loyal’. It was because of this negative role that independent journalists and their representative bodies have been demanding the abolition of the Ministry. It is an unfortunate fact, no longer secret, that to get support for the sitting government through the publication of news stories and columns the secret funds have come handy to the Ministry.

Reports have been appearing in the media off and on listing the names of recipients of these funds but the apex court order to make an authentic list public has sent ripples across the journalist community. One such report suggests that an electronic media house received a huge amount of Rs 700 million in two installments. It is in the fitness of things that the caretaker government should display the list without delay. The Supreme Court should seriously reflect on the sound recommendation of caretaker Information Minister Mr Arif Nizami, to abolish the Information Ministry to forestall any future misuse of funds.