Islamabad, October 19, 2018 (PPI-OT): A constitutional petition filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has sought details of the budget of Pakistani embassy in the US and funds spent on case of Pakistani woman scientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui. According to details, petitioners Chaudhary Hassan Sarfaraz Bhalli Advocate and Muhammad Azam Minhas of Pasban Democratic Party through their a write petition, filed by Muhammad Dawood Pervez Ghaznavi, making Government of Pakistan through secretary, Ministry of law, justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pakistan through Secretary; Ministry of Finance through Finance Secretary, and Auditor General of Pakistan, through Additional Auditor General, respondents maintained that they are Pakistani citizens, whose fundamental right under Article 19 and 19A of the constitution of Pakistan has been abridged due to not providing Access to Information on matter of Public Importance by the Pakistan public bodies/ministries.
They said that the petitioners wrote letters of request dated 24th September 2018 to Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Foreign office for access to information about the public disclosure of budget allocation and detailed expenditure of financial transactions of Pakistan embassy to Washington DC from year 2008-2011.They also sought minute detail of expenditures incurred upon legal remunerations in Dr. Aafia Siddiqui trial in USA; detail of budget allocated for legal remuneration, plus receipts of approved quotations of funds, and the details of funds released for defense counsels contesting the Dr. Aafia Siddiqui trial in USA.
They said that they requested access to this information under Right of Access to Information Act 2017. There is a procedure under this Act to follow, in case of no reply by the public bodies within 10 days of information request. But unfortunately, major sections of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017, are still not operational, hence this constitutional petition is filed. The petitioners said that on 23rd May 2018, Pakistan Counsel General Houston, Aisha Farooqui made consular visit to Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in FMC Carswell, prison, Texas.
A report was formulated after the meeting and became public under named “A detailed report of the meeting of Consular visit to FMC CARSWELL to meet Dr. Aafia Siddiqui on 23rd May 2018”.They said that on Page 7 of the report, Dr Aafia Siddiqui has made an allegation as “She accused a certain Asif Hussain, PA to former Ambassador Haqqani of siphoning off the US$ 2 Million allocated by the Government of Pakistan for her trial in 2010. She stated that this was public money of the people of Pakistan but had been taken by Asif Hussain and possibly Ambassador Hussain Haqqani also who she described as unhelpful and not at all interested in helping her case”.
The petitioners said under Article 19A of the constitution, every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance. Right of Access to Information Act 2017 is enacted to give effect to the fundamental right of access to information. They said that in 2010, a report submitted by ministry of foreign affairs to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior Affairs revealed Dr Aafia Siddiqui Attorney Trust Account and misappropriation in it. The report continued to say that the Ambassador to Pakistan Hussain Haqqani formed a committee of three officers to ensure transparency and monitor the expenditure of the Attorney’s Trust Account.
The committee directed Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir to conduct an internal audit of the money spent on the legal team and submit its detailed report at the next meeting. The report never came public. They said that the report and audit investigation was been stopped at the time and never came public. The petitioners said that the preamble of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 clearly states that “Government believes in transparency and the right to have access to information to ensure that the people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have improved access to records held by the Public Authorities and promote the purposes of making the Government more accountable to its people, of improving participation by the people in public affairs, of reducing corruption and inefficiency in Government, of promoting sound economic growth of promoting good governance and respect for human rights”.
They said that the petitioner request for access to information is to verify, whether US$ 2 Million public exchequer has been used in fair and transparent manner, hence matter of public importance. They said that in Hamid Mir Commission case supra 2013 SCMR 1880, information relating to money spent from public exchequer is a matter of public importance. The fundamental premise to be kept in mind is that all funds in the state exchequer are funds which have come out of the pockets of the people of Pakistan.
These funds are the product of the toil, sweat, tears and blood of the people. The government is at most a trustee and custodian of these funds and is accountable for the expenditure of these funds in a fiduciary capacity as envisaged in the constitution. They said that in PLD 2018 Lahore 198, the most profound interpretation of Article 19 and 19A of the constitution is as such, “People had the right to know every public act, everything that was done in public way by their public functionaries and chosen representatives. Citizens have the right to know the particulars of every public transaction, and acquire information in all matters of public importance and to disseminate it.
Freedom of information was the only vehicle of political discourse essential to democracy and it was equally important in facilitating artistic and scholarly endeavours of all sorts”. The petitioners further said that in Hamid Mir Commission case supra 2013 SCMR 1880, “any restriction on disclosure of expenses made from the exchequer, which the government imposes, or the legislator provided for, would be justiciable on the touchstone of Articles 19 and 19A of the constitution and inter alia, of Articles 168 to 171, which relate to audit of the accounts of the federation and the provinces “and the amount of any authority or body established by or under the control of the Federal or provincial government”.
They said that the information requested is not harmful to national security, relations with the friendly countries and privacy of the life, home, family and honour of the citizens of Pakistan. Moreover, the access to information is an essential pre-requisite to the people’s realization of their ideals of good and transparent governance and for which it is necessary to ensure that the citizens Pakistan should have fullest possible access to public records.
The petitioners prayed that the instant petition may kindly be accepted and respondents be directed to provide paper book document of budget allocation and detailed expenditure of financial transactions of Pakistan embassy to Washington DC from year 2008-2011.They should also be directed to provide detail of budget allocated for legal remuneration, plus receipts of approved quotations of funds.
The petitioners prayed to provide details of funds released for defense counsels contesting the Dr. Aafia Siddiqui trial in USA, and also to provide a report submitted by ministry of foreign affairs on Dr Aafia Siddiqui Attorney Trust Account and an Audit report on it. The court issued notices to the federal government and its ministries of home and external affairs to file their respective replies.
For more information, contact:
Pasban Central Secretariat
Office # 9, Five Star Center,
Block 11, University Road, Opp. Ibne Sina Hospital,