Information Ministry fund to be made more secret -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Information Ministry fund to be made more secret

By: Kalbe Ali

ISLAMABAD: Amid the controversy revolving around the secret fund of the information ministry, the government has decided to change the name of the head ‘Secret Service Expenditure’ in the next budget.

“We are seriously considering changing this head’s name to something like ‘discretionary fund” in the budget for 2013-14,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told Dawn.

He said he did not know how the term (Secret Service Expenditure) was coined, “but it is really odd for the ministry”. The allocation for “secret service expenditure” for the current year is Rs12 million whereas Rs100 million has been kept under another head, “special publicity fund”.

The minister said the secret service expenditure was mainly utilised to provide grants to needy journalists and bear expenses of domestic or international travel of media persons while the “special publicity fund” was for the government’s media campaigns.
“There are promotional media campaigns highlighting the achievements of the government or making massive public concern appeals in case of a natural catastrophe, etc,” he said.

While there seems to be no huge fund with the ministry to provide massive grants, question arises how the ministry was able to give a significant amount to the APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society) recently.

Clarifying his position that the amount was paid when he was not information minister, Mr Kaira said: “The APNS claimed that around Rs940 million was pending for the period between 2002 and 2008 in terms of government advertisements, but a settlement was reached at around Rs500 million. “Out of this amount around Rs300 million has been paid to the APNS and it is up to them how to spend it.”

He said the information ministry had moved a summary for the case and the amount was paid by the finance ministry.

The controversy over secret fund erupted recently after leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the government of spending billions of rupees from the fund to woo media before the general election.

Fingers have been raised also at the amount of Rs4.18 billion in the budget book of the ministry, which is higher than the budget of the ministry itself. The budget book said that the total budget of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and its subordinate departments is Rs5.57 billion and its break-up includes Rs401.23 million for the ministry and Rs139.92 million for the Directorate of Publications, Newsreels and Documentaries.

Press Information Department (PID) — mouthpiece of the government — has been allocated Rs341.58 million and Rs513.13 million has been earmarked under the head of Information Services Abroad, utilised for the propagation of government’s point of view in 24 world capitals, including the United Nations.

The break-up of the head ‘Other expenditure of the Information and Broadcasting Division’ amounting to Rs4,18 billion reveals that its major chunk of Rs3.40 billion is being used to run Radio Pakistan.

“The government has two option: one is to shut down Radio Pakistan because it cannot survive on its own (as even licence fee which was once key source of revenue for the radio network has been abolished) and the other is to provide grants to keep it floating, ” said Principal Information Officer Mohammad Azam.

The head of Other Expenditure of the Information Ministry tells that the government is providing Rs379.65 million grants to news agencies, PTV departments and NGOs.

This includes Rs381.25 million for the APP — the government-run news agency — Rs130 million to meet recurring expenses of PTV Centre at Islamabad, Rs90 million for PTV Multan, Rs31 million for the Institute of Regional Studies, Rs23 million for the Press Council of Pakistan, Rs3 million each for Online and NNI news agencies and Rs2.40 million each for Internews and ANN news agencies.