'Supreme Court not concerned about money being spent on Covid-19 but the quality of services being provided'

Updated 19 May 2020

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Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed says quarantine centres lack basic facilities, regrets the wasting of money. — SC website/File
Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed says quarantine centres lack basic facilities, regrets the wasting of money. — SC website/File

Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Tuesday said that the top court was not concerned with the money being spent to cope with the coronavirus pandemic but the "quality of services" being provided across the country.

The top judge was hearing a suo motu case regarding measures taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis — being heard by a five-member bench comprising the CJP, Justices Mushir Alam, Sardar Tariq Masood, Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed. Initially, the bench included Justices Umar Ata Bandial and Sajjad Ali Shah but they were later replaced by Justices Masood and Alam.

The remarks come a day after the bench, in a written order issued after Monday's hearing, had said that it was "not at all satisfied" by the report presented by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), saying that it could "find no reason why so much money is being spent on this coronavirus".

"There are other serious ailments prevailing in the country, from which people are dying daily and those ailments are not being catered and the coronavirus (Covid-19), which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing huge money," the written order had said.

During today's hearing, the chairperson of the NDMA appeared before the court in order to give an explanation of the money being spent to deal with the pandemic. The bench summoned NDMA chief Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal on the rostrum and discussed the report submitted by the body. The chief justice noted that the report mentioned a company that manufactured personal protective equipment.

"What is Desto Pakistan Army? Is this a private company?" Justice Ahmed asked, adding: "The machinery for this company has been brought through a special plane."

The NDMA chief explained that Desto (Defence Science & Technology Organisation) was a subsidiary company of Strategic Plans Division Force (SPD).

The chief justice inquired if the machinery for Desto was being ordered from a single Chinese company and said that Pakistan only received "third class" material from China. The bench, after questioning NDMA chief, said termed yesterday's report as "very useful".

Justice Ahmed raised questions over the condition of quarantine centres saying that "10 people are sitting side by side".

"What kind of quarantining is this?" he inquired, saying that centres did not have clean bathrooms and there was also no water.

The chief justice said that "videos of quarantine centres' poor conditions are being circulated on social media" with residents telling expatriates who wished to return "to die abroad but don't come to Pakistan".

He noted that Pakistan was a poor country, saying "We are playing with money and don't care for the people."

"Graduates are not being utilised in our country," Justice Ahmed lamented. "Pakistan has a lot of talent, it should be used."

The attorney general of Pakistan told the court that Pakistan now had the capability to make ventilators. The chief justice said that the country should be self-sufficient in everything, warning that "there will be a time when nothing, including medicines, will be available from abroad". He further said that all surgical instruments could be made in Pakistan.

'Court didn't say anything to Sindh govt'

During the course of the hearing, Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin told the court that the lockdown was no longer as effective as it was before.

"Beauty salons and barbershops are opening," he said. The Sindh government had earlier imposed a strict lockdown, that included the closure of all businesses and activities that might lead to gatherings of people.

"They are not opening because of us," the chief justice insisted in today's proceedings. "Your inspectors are giving permission after taking money."

The top judge went on to say that the "court had not said anything to Sindh government."

In its order yesterday, the court had directed the Sindh government to obtain permission from National Health Services and Research Centre to open shopping malls across the province. It had noted that Punjab and Islamabad had done the same.

"If such can be done by the biggest province of Pakistan, i.e. Punjab, why the similar cannot be done by Sindh and apparently, we find no valid reason or justification for the same," the order had read.

In today's hearing, Justice Masood said that administrations of Punjab and Islamabad had decided to open malls and the court's order was "limited to Sindh".

"Do not blame the court for the opening of malls," he said.

"Malls were being opened in the rest of the country so there should be no prejudice against Sindh [in this regard]," Justice Masood observed. He said that the court's order issued yesterday was "completely clear" and added: "Malls are situated in limited spaces where precautions can be taken. There is a lot of rush at Raja Bazar, Moti Bazar, Tariq Road."

The top judge noted: "Sindh government has opened all government offices. You have opened the sub-registrar's office." He added that the sub-registrar's office was a "corrupt institute".

"Government offices have been opened, not those of public service."

The chief justice further said that the order to keep markets open on Saturday and Sunday was only applicable until Eid. When asked to "clarify" that the restrictions had only been relaxed until Eid, the chief justice said that it will be done in the next hearing.

The court directed the federal and provincial governments to submit their reports on the progress made so far and adjourned the hearing until June 8.