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Monthly Archive February 2017

Public Monies & Disclosure

Govts being custodian of the public monies are entrusted and expected to spend the monies in an efficient and transparent manner ensuring level playing field for all the market players who intend to engage in business with Govt entities. Govt shall proactively disclose the information about its engagement in matters involving spending of public money. Public procurement rules aim to ensure that govt engages contractors in a level playing manner. Right to information laws have been enacted to grant access to such information even if the public officers are reluctant to proactive public disclosures.

Recently there was a report that KP Govt purchased medicine at prices more than 50% lower than that of the Punjab Govt. The conclusion was drawn by Punjab Pharmacists Association after a comparison of purchase prices of Punjab & KP. I tried to find the approved rates of the medicines purchased (or selected to purchase) in bulk by Punjab & KP Govts from respective health department websites to have a more closer look in the difference. I could find only technical evaluation of the selected medicine by the Punjab govt whereas KP Health Department has uploaded the final price list for each product & the provider.

Based on the information available on KP website, any person can select a particular medicine type, note the price paid by govt and can check the selling price at his nearest pharmacy shop to compare if Govt is paying more for the same medicine or less. Providing easy access to the correct information in matters involving public money  and having ability to independently verify the market value attracts more accountability and scrutiny to the govt spending. I strongly suggest readers to have a self-test and check the prices against the given rates of govt in market. Active engagement of citizens to audit & verify govt data will keep the govt to continue and focus the provision of correct info. In similar manner Punjab’s School data is made public and that portal developed by PITB invites public to contest their data. Such an exercise increases the credibility of the govt data and public trust in state institutions.

Another program by KP Health Department involving massive amounts of public money was initiated as “Sehat Insaf Card” under “Sehat sahulat program” with aim to provide free health service to low income households. This program is now covering all districts of KP and nearly 51% of the KP population will be able to have free treatment in any registered hospital through KP. Some districts have received cards while distribution is in progress in other districts and is expected to complete by end march.

Govt has released massive amount of information on http://www.sehatsahulat.com.pk/ about this program. Given the nature and quantity of information, there is great opportunity for public health and data scientists to carry out their research. Data is available for each registered household with the union council address and is searchable by district. I suggest this search ability be further brought down to the level of Tehsil and Union council for a quick search verification of a beneficiary. Card Nos and Contact numbers with village names are also provided for each beneficiary of the scheme. While there might be an abuse of such data yet there is an opportunity to verify if card have been distributed to real and well deserved people or just to dead people and on political preferences. In Pakistan we often have observed dead people come for votes and people get salaries form govt while working abroad. So here is an opportunity for people to verify if govt is providing correct data or fabricated data.

There are summary reports available for total visits and admissions for each district by gender type and case related like surgical, delivery, C-Section etc. This website provides reports for each health facility under this program where you can find the number of patients for any given period of time by four different age groups, gender, disease type, length of stay in hospital, bed occupancy in the facility, types of procedure performed on them, cost of a procedure and total income of a health facility under this program.

The insurance provider, on same website, provides reports for each district giving the coverage of patients by gender type, age group, admissions by treatment and facility type (Govt vs Pvt) and finally the treatment costs claimed by public facilities and private facilities.  Such a comparative report, publically available, will be an important tool in public to put a pressure on public health facilities to improve their quality and service against private facilities within same districts. It is important that how health department will be using these reports as a matter of accountability for its district health staff esp when there will be a clear comparison of govt & pvt facilities available.

As these 2 projects involve a big chunk of public money, it is appreciated that the department has made all these information public proactively and has attracted more scrutiny. Likewise, govt can earn more public trust if its other departments also proactively disclose more and more info and ensure that correct and update info are released to public.

Judicial Interpretation Of The Right To Life

The right to life is a fundamental right and is protected under the Constitution in a democracy as discussed previously. Given this constitutional nature, its language is expected to be elastic so that time-relevant meanings can be given to it as lives and communities transform over time. The word “life” has gone through great exercise and in various adjudications its boundaries have been expanded and continue to expand. There are many judgments and explanations on this matter by the superior judiciary of different countries.

In the case of Shehla Zia and Others vs WAPDA, the Supreme Court of Pakistan observed that a person is to be protected from being exposed to the hazards of electromagnetic fields or any other such hazards which may be caused due to the installation of any grid station, power station, setting up of a factory or any other such industrial installation in or near a residential area which may adversely affect health. In another case regarding hazards to health, villagers in the Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh approached AP High Court against a textile company discharging poisonous chemicals into a stream. Acknowledging access to safe drinking water as within the meaning of “right to life”, the high court directed the district collector to supply 25 liters of safe water to each person in the village. In a somewhat similar civic issue regarding the sewerage system of the city of Bahawalpur, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in PLD 1996 Lahore 592 made an express use of Art. 199(1)(c) of the Constitution to enforce the fundamental right -the right to life- within the meaning of prevention of disease and inconvenience to the citizens through a functioning sewerage system. Court acknowledged the emergency of desilting and cleaning of the sewerage as well as restoring missing manholes. The court directed to immediately recruit workers on an ad hoc basis thereby ignoring the recruitment ban by the government as well as the advertisement process for recruitments, and further directed that no one including the auditors would raise any objection on the recruitment made for this purpose.

The reputation of a person is a very personal attribute and all of us deserve to have a certain degree of reputation and shall have full right to preserve and protect it against any tangible or intangible threats. This is often threatened when a person is arrested for any allegation or simply when demeaning allegations are made, especially in public. The moment a person is arrested, his or her reputation is the very first thing at stake. There are many cases where a person gets arrested and accusations are not proved even after many years. From the moment that a person is arrested till the time he or she is released, his or her life is generally affected with irreparable damage to life and reputation. The Indian Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra vs Public Concern for Governance Trust observed that if a person is sent to jail, even if he or she is subsequently released, his or her reputation may be irreparably tarnished. The court further noted that the reputation of a person is a facet of his or her right to life. Likewise, in Joginder Kumar vs State of UP, the Indian Supreme Court observed that arrest and detention of a person in a police lock-up can cause incalculable harm to his or her reputation and self-esteem.

The right to life and the prevention of any terrorist activity often come face to face when the right to life of a suspected terrorist is in question. In PLD 1998 SC 1445 the then Chief Justice Ajmal Mian observed various clauses of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to be against fundamental rights as protected under the Constitution, and declared a number of provisions of the Act to be against the Constitution. The power given to law-enforcement officers under the Act to open fire on a suspect after a warning was declared in violation to the right to life, liberty and security of a person. The provision had allowed the officer to take action in his or her own assumption, but the formation of an opinion as to the probability and likelihood of commission of an offence varies from person to person, so it was declared that the exercise of the power to fire upon a suspect, without being fired upon by the accused/suspect, was not justified. Such an action was actually taken in a similar scenario when 3 suspects about to commit a terrorist activity were killed by a special air service unit of the British army. Suspects were affiliates of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Intelligence believed that they were about to commit a terrorist activity. All three were killed and nothing relating to the terrorist activity was found in their possession as was believed in the Intelligence report. The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the right to life. Court tested this case against the principles of necessity and proportionality and concluded that it was not absolutely necessary to use force and the extent of force used was also unnecessary. In another incident, the use of force by Rangers in Karachi lead to a brutal death of Sarfraz Ahmad leading to the Supreme Court observation that, “The manner, in which the death of Sarfraz Ahmed (deceased) has occurred, clearly indicates barbarism …… he had been overpowered…..”. Relying on the explanation of CJ Ajmal Mian as noted above, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Rangers had no authority to fire upon a person.

There are many other judgments expanding the range of the meaning of “right to life”. It is a healthy sign that judiciary as the custodian of fundamental rights is expanding the meaning of right to life and it is hoped that it shall continue to do so for the people.

This piece was first published at http://courtingthelaw.com on 28-2-2017