CJP takes federal, Sindh govts to task over Covid-19 measures; raises questions on PM's involvement

Updated 14 Apr 2020

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A five-judge bench of the top court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, was hearing the case regarding the coronavirus outbreak in the country. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File
A five-judge bench of the top court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, was hearing the case regarding the coronavirus outbreak in the country. — Photo courtesy Supreme Court website/File

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza in tackling the coronavirus outbreak and directed the federal government to remove him from his post.

The court, in its order, sought a reply from all four provincial governments and the Gilgit-Baltistan government regarding steps taken to curb the spread of the virus. The order, however, made no mention of Mirza's removal. The detailed order is expected in two days.

A five-judge bench of the top court, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, was hearing a suo motu case on the government's measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Responding to the CJP's comments regarding dismissing Mirza, Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan said removing the PM's aide at this point and time would be disastrous.

"Do not change him mid-flight," he said, urging the court to leave the matter up to the federal government.

The court also took the Sindh government to task over the decision to cordon off 11 union councils, observing that there were no arrangements in place to provide the people with food and medicines.

The court directed the Sindh government to present a report regarding ration distribution in the province.

The hearing was adjourned till Monday (April 20).

Earlier in the hearing, the SC had questioned the performance of the federal government in tackling the coronavirus situation.

"I cannot understand what kind of a team is working on the coronavirus outbreak," the CJP remarked, adding that there was an entire army of advisers and ministers but work was still not being done.

The CJP also said that corrupt people have been made advisers, and subsequently given the same status as federal ministers.

There are serious allegations against many top government officials, the CJP observed.

"Prime Minister Imran Khan's cabinet has become ineffective," CJP Gulzar remarked. "I am sorry to say this but the premier has distanced himself [from the issue]."

The Centre and provincial governments are at odds with one another while politicians are making different claims, he said.

The attorney general replied that Pakistan has gotten an honest premier for the very first time. "If the [country's] situation does not improve then we don't know what will happen," he said.

The CJP replied: "We fear that this chance may also be wasted. We don't have any doubts about the prime minister's honesty. He has the ability to choose ten worthy people to get the job done."

The CJP also questioned the attorney general about the delay in calling a session of the Parliament. "The court can't give directions to call a session of the Parliament, but parliamentarians will have to find a solution to the problems being faced," he said.

Justice Qazi Amin observed that the coronavirus outbreak also poses a threat to the country's political structure.

"Each political party is doing a press conference against the other," he said. All parties need to come together on one page, he added.

Suo motu

Last week, after seeking complete information from the federal and provincial governments about measures taken by them to contain Covid-19, the chief justice had taken suo motu notice to oversee efforts taken by authorities for combatting the pandemic.

The Supreme Court was alarmed when it came to know that the Balochistan government had to arrange personal protective equipment (PPE) urgently for doctors and paramedical staff at the exorbitant price of Rs7,200 per piece from vendors in Karachi and Lahore while the actual price of each PPE was Rs3,000 to Rs3,500 in the market.

On Saturday, the Ministry of National Health Services informed the Supreme Court that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, it was engaged with the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), seeking tax waiver on the import of essential medical equipment and supplies.