Zakat, Baitul Mal funds come under SC scrutiny

Updated April 21, 2020

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Apex court seeks religious authorities’ opinion whether such funds can be used for administrative purposes. — SC website/File
Apex court seeks religious authorities’ opinion whether such funds can be used for administrative purposes. — SC website/File

ISLAMABAD: Lack of transparency in distribution of Zakat and Baitul Mal funds came under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court on Monday. The court sought opinion of religious authorities whether such funds could be used for administrative purposes of paying salaries and meeting day-to-day expenses.

A five-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, had taken up a suo motu case about measures taken by the federal and provincial governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It ordered the authorities to seek advice from the Council of Islamic Ideology as well as Mufti Taqi Usmani, an Islamic scholar and former judge of the Shariat Appellate bench of the apex court, if such funds could be used for paying salaries and meeting day-to-day expenses.

“We are not getting information about how the Zakat and Baitul Mal funds are deducted and how the needy are provided the funds,” the chief justice said, adding that the court was not satisfied with the distribution of funds.

The court sought a report explaining the criteria for selecting families and the breakdown of the amount paid to them, as well as administrative expenses incurred for the purpose. How the amount collected through people’s contribution could be used for foreign trips, TA/DA or salaries, the court wondered, adding that there should be transparency in distribution of funds.

Apex court seeks religious authorities’ opinion whether such funds can be used for administrative purposes

The health secretary informed the court that though the government had been approached by pharmaceutical companies, it had not yet determined the efficacy and usefulness of “convalescent plasma” for treatment of Covid-19.

The explanation came when Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed wondered whether the treatment through plasma infusion was a myth or an efficacious remedy that should be applied for treatment of the virus-affected people.

The apex court expressed the confidence that though the pandemic had not reached its peak and cases were continuing in the country and increasing day by day, the government functionaries in this moment of crises would cooperate with each other, make a consolidated effort and take decisions with consensus for mutual benefit of the nation and its citizens.

There should be no lapse in this regard, the court said, adding that “we expect that both the federal and provincial governments will ensure that all facilities are made available”.

The court sought comprehensive reports from the governments before the next date of hearing which will be held after two weeks.

Referring to the Sindh government’s decision to allow opening of certain industrial units with standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed by such factories, the chief justice ordered the provincial government to strictly enforce the Factories Act, which envisages provision of substantial facilities to industrial workers.

“There will be a revolutionary change and the factories will become safer if such requirements are adhered to,” the chief justice observed, recalling how the Factories Act required proper toilets, canteens, availability of food at subsidised rates, recreational area, dispensaries or hospital facilities, schools or residential facilities.

The court asked the Sindh government to ensure that all labour laws were followed by the factories in letter and spirit and directed the departments dealing with the affairs of factories to submit a detailed report in this regard.

When Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin contended that the directives should not be applicable to Sindh only, the chief justice dictated that these observations would strictly be applicable to the entire country without any distinction.

The advocate general informed the court that the Sindh government had allowed certain factories to function twice a week, but sealed three of them for violating SOPs.

Referring to the apprehensions about distribution of funds and ration among the needy people, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah regretted that it pained “us to hear stories about our province [Sindh]” and stressed the need for introducing systematic procedures in a transparent manner to reach out the people.

About the 11 union councils (UCs) in Karachi sealed by the Sindh government, the advocate general said 234 positive cases of Covid-19 had come out of a total population of 670,000 people. Out of this, he added, 45 were admitted to quarantine centres, 116 quarantined at homes and the rest isolated at a field hospital.

The court expressed concern over the construction of a 100-bed makeshift quarantine centre in Islamabad and said its fibre glass might not prove to be an ideal place to isolate the sick people in the upcoming hot weather.

Justice Qazi Amin suggested that instead of constructing the makeshift centre, the buildings of public schools should be converted into quarantine centres until the schools reopened.

The court reiterated that doctors and paramedical staff as well as ancillary workers, including janitorial staff, were carrying out tremendous job, which had also been acknowledged through appreciations, but the respective governments should take care of these healthcare providers by ensuring that their salaries were paid on time.

The court also highlighted the complaints about lack of basic facilities at the Haji Camp, which was recently converted into a quarantine centre, and asked the health secretary to visit the centre and ensure that all facilities, including proper accommodation, food supply, clean toilets and bed sheets, were available there.

The issue was raised in the media and the Islamabad High Court is also seized with a petition about inhuman conditions at the Haji Camp.

The court noted that Senator A. Rehman Malik had also filed a report showing the efforts made by the Senate to deal with the pandemic. The same had been taken on record, the order said.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2020