ISLAMABAD: Using legal cover, Pakistan’s foreign affairs ministry has refused to share details of expenditures incurred on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign trips, depriving the public of its right to know where and how its money has been spent.
In its written reply to a question by Islamabad-based lawyer Malik Salim Iqbal, the ministry cited Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and said information regarding money spent under different budgetary heads on the Premier’s 10 foreign trips from the date he assumed office to March 31 cannot be shared due to secrecy.
Section 8 allows the federal government to exclude any record from the purview of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 if it feels it is in the ‘public interest’ to do so.
“This raises serious questions about transparency. What is the point of this law if even the cost of air tickets for the prime minister and his entourage are considered national security secrets,” Iqbal asked while talking to The Express Tribune.
“I applied for this same information back in 2012, when Yousaf Raza Gilani was the premier, and it took me one year to extract details of the expenditures incurred on his [Gilani’s] foreign trips,” he said. “I won’t knock the federal ombudsman’s door this year because it is too lengthy a process.”
Information pertaining to Gilani’s foreign trips while he was prime minister was officially obtained by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI). The CDPI got a hold of the records only because of the federal ombudsman’s intervention as the Foreign Office was reluctant to declassify the information back then as well.
Gilani spent almost nine months, from March 2008 to 2012, abroad and had over 50 visits in the same time. Interestingly, the foreign ministry has already shared details of expenditure incurred on Sharif’s trips with the National Assembly without citing Section 8 of Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
According to the details shared in the Lower House, the premier has undertaken nine visits, from July last year to February 15 this year. Excluding his trip to Turkey, Rs194.3m have been spent on his other eight trips abroad. Seven of these trips, which took place in a span of three months last year, cost the national exchequer Rs168.1m.
“The ruling elite has ensured the subjugation of the masses by manipulating the flow of information and keeping citizens uninformed and misinformed,” said Zahid Abdullah, coordinator of CDPI’s Coalition on Right to Information. “Be it civil or military bureaucracy, or the politicians, no member of the ruling elite is willing to share information with the common people.”