The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to reimburse the national exchequer Rs5.5 million after a Punjab government newspaper advertisement carrying his photograph was displayed in court during hearing of a suo motu case on hefty ad expenditure by provincial governments.
A three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, which was hearing the case at the Lahore registry, took exception to the extravagant sums of money doled out on advertisements by the Punjab government annually.
In a previous hearing of the case, the CJP had observed that taxpayers' money was being used for self-promotion and big ads were awarded at the nation's expense.
There is no water in state-run schools, no medicine available in public hospitals, and yet provincial government's spend taxpayers' money on massive advertisements, the CJP had said, adding that provincial governments would have to promote their work at their own expense.
The CJP also wondered whether such expenditures are equal to pre-poll rigging.
The provincial information secretary told the court today that Rs120m was spent on advertisements by the provincial government in one month.
"Rs120m in one month amounts to Rs1.5 billion worth of advertisements in a year," Justice Nisar remarked, inquiring what the procedure for issuing advertisements was.
"How much did this advertisement cost?" the CJP asked after being shown a newspaper clipping of an ad depicting Shahbaz Sharif. Upon being informed that it cost Rs5.5m, he said that the money could have been used to provide medicines to citizens instead.
The CJP was critical of the money spent on the ad and asked whether the country was someone's kingdom.
The provincial chief secretary told the court that the purpose of the advertisement in question was to show the development work completed by the government in the past five years.
The apex court ordered the Punjab government, PML-N, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society and Punjab chief minister to submit their replies in the case.