KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Thursday directed the provincial government authorities to verify the bills of newspapers/members of the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) within 15 days and thereafter immediately pay the dues lying outstanding against the government advertisements.
A two-judge SHC bench, comprising Justices Mohammad Ali Mazhar and Agha Faisal, further directed that in case the dues were not paid, the Sindh government must ensure that the funds of around Rs3.9 billion did not lapse. The amount was reserved through special budget for the payment of the outstanding dues in the upcoming budget for the next fiscal year.
The bench issued the directives while disposing of a petition filed by the CPNE through its secretary general Dr Abdul Jabbar Khattak, who named the Sindh government as respondent through the chief secretary and the secretary of information and archives department.
At the outset, a representative of the information department appeared along with Additional Advocate General Jawad Dero, who filed comments on behalf of the respondents, admitting that the bills of the newspapers/CPNE members were lying outstanding as claimed by the petitioner.
In the petition, Mr Khattak submitted that the petitioner body was aggrieved by the nonfeasance and inaction of the respondents with regard to the advertisement bills. This had caused a serious economic crunch and turmoil in the newspaper industry, resulting in collapse of the newspaper industry and violation of fundamental rights of workers/employees of the newspapers.
He said the provincial government had been benefiting from the facility of newspaper advertisements, but it had failed to pay outstanding dues of the newspapers for the last several years.
Advocate Kalwar, representing the petitioner, argued that despite availing the advertisements, the respondent failed to fully satisfy their bills for the fiscal years 2005-06, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.
“The petitioner and its members have been running from pillar to post for the satisfaction of the outstanding liabilities against the respondents, but to no avail,” Mr Khattak said, adding that advertisement dues and liabilities lying outstanding against the provincial authorities had been running into billions of rupees.
Mr Kalwar said the Sindh finance department had reportedly moved a summary to the chief minister for clearing the dues of media houses as per directives of the Supreme Court, adding that the chief minister had asked the information department to carry out verification of the bills through qualified and independent auditors.
He said the auditors had reportedly verified the media houses’ bills and submitted their report to the government. However, despite the verification and inspection of the bills by different departments of the Sindh government and the independent auditors, the summary was being thrown from one department to another and the dues were still outstanding.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2019