ISLAMABAD: The staggering remuneration of Rs278 million paid to playwright and columnist Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi, charged to look after the affairs of the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV), startled the Supreme Court on Friday which issued a notice to former information minister Pervaiz Rashid and other senior government officials to explain the excessive payout.

A two-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, hearing a suo motu case in this regard, asked the government to furnish a comprehensive report explaining the salary package and amount paid to Mr Qasmi, who has been looking after the affairs of PTV as its chairperson after the three-year contract of former managing director Mohammad Malick expired on Feb 26, 2016. The post has been lying vacant since then.

On Friday, Additional Attorney General Mohammad Waqar Rana and Information Secretary Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera informed the court that Mr Qasmi had allegedly received an aggregate of Rs278m as salary and employee benefits during his two-year term.

The controversy had sparked when Mr Qasmi appointed himself PTV MD in April 2017. He was replaced by Mr Sukhera as the acting MD, who distanced himself from the establishment in December 2017.

The apex court asked under what authority or law Mr Qasmi had been paid such a large sum and observed that the money belonged to the country’s taxpayers. Noting that Pakistan was a poor country, the chief justice questioned how such large sums could be doled out so freely, and wondered on what grounds Mr Qasmi had been appointed chairperson.

The court was told that Mr Qasmi had received Rs1.5m as salary and other benefits but was allocated a special advertising budget for a programme he used to host on PTV. That amount added to other benefits had rounded up to the massive sum of Rs278m.

The information secretary explained that Mr Qasmi was a veteran playwright and author who had contributed to PTV in the past. He explained that a board of directors had referred Mr Qasmi for the post of chairperson and his appointment summary was moved by former additional information secretary Saba Mohsin Raza, that too, after a lapse of one year and seven months. The summary was then sent to then prime minister Nawaz Sharif for approval.

At this, the chief justice observed whether the court should summon the former prime minister to question him about his role in Mr Qasmi’s appointment, and then issued notices to the prime minister’s principal secretary Fawad Hasan Fawad, the establishment secretary and the former additional information secretary, as well as former information minister Pervaiz Rashid on Feb 12.

The court observed that if Mr Qasmi had been appointed in contravention of the law, the amount paid to him would have to be retrieved by those responsible for appointing him.

At the last hearing on Jan 29, the Supreme Court had regretted that the state-run television was, instead of becoming a market leader, quite rudderless.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2018

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