ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday expressed its dissatisfaction over distribution of funds and rations saying that there is no mechanism to determine if the Zakat and the Bailtul Mal funds were distributed in a transparent manner. A five-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, conducted a hearing of the suo moto notice on the federal and provincial governments’ response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan said that the federal and the provincial, Islamabad Capital Territory and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) government would have to explain the distribution of money.

 

The bench examined the reports submitted by the federal, all the four provincial governments and the Islamabad Capital Territory regarding the measures taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Justice Gulzar observed that the federal and the provincial governments are spending money for relief, but there is no transparency. “The government seems to be spending money but it is not immediately clear where money is being spent, the CJP said. “There is no transparency in any of the steps taken by them.”

 

Justice Umar Ata Bandial observed that the Centre had given more than Rs9 billion to provinces, adding it should monitor what the provinces are doing with the money.

 

“Monitoring does not affect provincial autonomy. Monitoring is also a form of an audit.”

 

The CJP 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.

 

He added that while the government should give salaries to officials, the director general of the Baitul Mal was also receiving his salary from the Zakat fund. “Ensure the availability of food and other essential services at the quarantine centres around the country,” CJP Ahmed directed the officials who were present in the courtroom.

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 court expressed concern over the inhumane condition of the quarantine centre established at Haji Camp and questioned why no adequate facilities were provided. He remarked that if the condition of major quarantine centres is such, then what would be the situation of centres set-in far-flung areas. He asked from Tanveer Ahmed Qureshi, Secretary Ministry of National Health Services to visit the centre and provide all facilities to the persons quarantined there.

 

The bench also questioned the criteria for selecting hotels in Islamabad for turning them into isolation and quarantine centres. The secretary informed that quarantine centres have been set up in five hotels and in Pak-China Centre, OGDCL Building and Haji Camp. The Chief Justice said that in each quarantine centre there should be separate rooms, toilets, beds, running water, medicine and sanitizer for the person affected by coronavirus.

 

Islamabad Advocate General informed the court that another quarantine centre was being made over 32-Kanals in Chak Shehzad. Justice Qazi Amin suggested when schools and colleges are available to use for the authorities then why are quarantine centres not being established there. He said the facilities there are already available and the hot season is pending.

 

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 money. He added that those who cannot pay should be kept in quarantine centres free of charge.

 

Qureshi told the court that people who arrived from other countries were kept in quarantine centres for 24 hours. The CJP said that people take one Panadol tablet and go through screening undetected. Qureshi explained that this was the reason behind keeping passengers in quarantine centres for 24 hours.

 

“Government is spending a lot of money but it is not clear what is happening,” the top judge remarked and added that staying in the quarantine centre at Taftan was a frightening nightmare. He continued, “[Who knows] how the money given by the public and other countries is being spent. Billions of rupees have been spent and there are only 5,000 patients.”

 

Justice Gulzar said that none of the provinces or departments had submitted reports “based on transparency.”

 

Punjab Advocate General informed the court that the provincial government was distributing relief money among people whose income had been affected due to the lockdown, through EasyPaisa. Justice Gulzar pointed out that the details of the money spent were not mentioned in the report.

 

The bench grilled the Sindh Advocate General over details of the money spent on ration bags which were distributed among the lower-income people.

 

Sindh AG Salman Talibuddin informed the court that the provincial government had distributed Rs569 million from the Zakat fund among more than 94,000 people. When asked who had received the money, the AG responded, “The same people who receive Zakat every year were given the money.”

 

The court wondered how the Sindh government distributed ration bags worth Rs1 billion without anyone knowing. “Sindh government hands out pictures to media for the smallest things,” the Chief Justice said.

 

“Pictures are not being taken because [the government] does not want to do politics over coronavirus,” Talibuddin said and added that the Sindh government has been distributing ration bags since March 30. In response to a question, the AG said that the data of houses of lower-income people who qualified to receive Zakat was provided by Union Committees.

 

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said “It pains us that fingers are being pointed at our province.” “Sir, people who talk will continue to talk,” Talibuddin answered.

 

While explaining the rationale behind sealing 11 UCs in Karachi, Sindh AG said that by April 12, 234 cases had been detected from the sealed areas, which collectively house more than 600,000 people.

 

The court welcomed the decision to reopen some industries but told the government to ensure that standard operating procedures were being followed.

 

Balochistan government also presented a report on quarantine centres for people coming from Iran and relief provided to people.

 

The bench paid tribute to medical professionals and sanitary staff and instructed the provincial governments to ensure their well-being. Later, the apex court deferred the hearing for two weeks in this regard.