ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday observed that unfair criticism was far more tolerable than silence and one should never be shaky or nervous with criticism.
“Speaking for myself, I will always prefer even unfair criticism to silence and one should always smile and never be nervous with the criticism like we do all the time,” observed Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.
He was heading a five-judge Supreme Court implementation bench on the Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams fund formed to monitor progress of work on the two projects.
Court’s attention was drawn to criticism over award of contract for Mohmand dam in a TV talk show
The observation came when Attorney General (AG) Anwar Mansoor drew the attention of the court to a talk show hosted by Mohammad Malick of Hum News, a private television channel, which aired a programme similar to an earlier show hosted by anchorperson Gharida Farooqi of the GNN TV channel, questioning the manner in which the contract for the construction of the 700MW Mohmand dam had been awarded to Messers Descon which, according to the TV host, fell within the category of “conflict of interest”.
At the last hearing on Jan 9, the Supreme Court had called Ms Farooqi and cautioned her to be careful in future, adding that the court would not tolerate repeat of the same.
On Wednesday, the AG said the apex court had in its Jan 9 order held that it would take the matter into its own hands if a smear campaign was launched against the construction of the dams. He feared that an attempt was being made by certain media houses to discredit the project and the award of the contract through a smear campaign against Wapda and the company which had been awarded the contract.
The court asked the AG to furnish the content of the programme which would be examined before further proceeding while reminding him of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The court observed that after threadbare discussion, it would pass an order how to invest the amount and donations collected for Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams being kept in a specially created bank account.
“All the court is looking is flexibility, security and best returns of the investments,” observed Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan.
The Supreme Court also allowed an application moved by Dr Parvez Hassan, who was earlier appointed amicus curiae, to recuse himself since it might cause conflict of interest as he had a long-standing relationship with Descon, the company which also approached him in the matter.
The AG argued that allegations against the award of the contract to Descon might harm the entire project to build dams.
“We will not be shooting from the hip,” observed Justice Saeed, telling the AG that despite the temptation, the court would not be reacting in a hurry.
Justice Saeed observed that freedom of the media was a cherished goal and, therefore, they would not let the court intervene in haste. He said there were three categories — one the right to free expression, second doing a programme or a story without due diligence on the part of the journalist and the third being a deliberate policy to undermine the project.
The court would see things differently if the talk show fell in the third category, otherwise the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority would take care of it, Justice Saeed said.
The AG acknowledged that freedom of the media was paramount.
However, Justice Umar Ata Bandial pointed out that scandalising could not be ignored, whereas Justice Ahsan said that certain media groups had become mouthpieces of those elements which wished to jeopardise the project. If this thing happened then the court would certainly intervene, Justice Ahsan said.
Wapda Chairman Muzzamil Hussain and Advocate Saad Rasool, representing the authority, assured the court that everything was on track and on time.
A report furnished by Wapda said total requirement of the Mohmand dam project for the current financial year was Rs17 billion and the requirement would be met entirely through the Public Sector Development Programme grants.
The finance ministry had on April 5 approved the release of Rs17bn, whereas for the local commercial financing, the Habib Bank Limited, Muslim Commercial Bank and United Bank had told Wapda that the required funds of Rs33bn would be made available within three to four months by opening a revolving credit facility that would be repaid by Wapda by issuing a bond in the local market, the court was told.
Likewise, the funds would be arranged as per drawdown requirement of the project, the report said. The foreign currency requirement of the project is $714 million and the Economic Affairs Division is in advanced stage of discussion with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to arrange $500m to cater mainly to purchase of electro- mechanical equipment.
A memorandum of understanding had also been signed between Pakistan and the Saudi Fund for Development about provision of $80m, the report said.
According to the report, the priority land measuring 818 acres for the project was handed over to Wapda on Feb 25 by the district administration. Demarcation of access road is under process and the lease agreement for the land required for contractor camp and other requisite installations near the dam site has been signed between the contractors and the tribe concerned.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2019