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Court Said Nothing to Sindh Government: Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed

by Newsweek Pakistan
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File photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Supreme Court says government not providing ‘quality’ services during latest hearing on response to pandemic

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday clarified that it had not targeted the Sindh government during proceedings in which Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had questioned why the province could not reopen shopping malls if Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had decided to do so.

Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin informed the five-member bench that the nationwide lockdown was no longer as effective as it had been before easing of restrictions. He also pointed out that earlier restrictions had prevented people from gathering in any situation that could result in large crowds.

To this, the chief justice claimed that nothing had been opened because of the apex court. “They are not opening because of us,” he said. “Your inspectors are giving permission after taking money,” he alleged without providing any basis for this claim.

In addition to the Chief Justice, Justices Mushir Alam, Sardar Tariq Masood, Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel and Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed are also on the bench hearing the case.

Contrary to the chief justice’s insistence, Justice Masood said that the court’s order to reopen shopping malls was “limited to Sindh.” That order, issued on Monday, had directed the Sindh government to immediately obtain permission from the National Health Services and Research Center to open shopping malls across the province. “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.

“Do not blame the court for the opening of malls,” said Justice Masood despite stating orders had explicitly required Sindh to do the same. “Malls were being opened in the rest of the country so there should be no prejudice against Sindh,” he continued in seeming defiance of Pakistan’s status as a federation with provincial autonomy. “Malls are situated in limited spaces where precautions can be taken. There is a lot of rush at Raja Bazar, Moti Bazar, Tariq Road,” he added.

Operation hours

The chief justice said that the court’s directions to keep markets open on Saturday and Sunday was only applicable until Eidul Fitr, expected to occur around May 25. When asked to “clarify” that the restrictions had only been relaxed until Eid, he said it would be taken up in the next hearing.

The next hearing is set to take place on June 8—nearly two weeks after Eid has ended.

NDMA concerns

Earlier, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed claimed the top court was not concerned with the quantity of money being spent to cope with the coronavirus pandemic but rather the “quality of services” being provided.

Addressing National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt. Gen. Muhammad Afzal, the chief justice questioned if machinery purchased to manufacture personal protective equipment had been supplied from a single Chinese company. He claimed Pakistan only receives “third class” material from China, again without providing any basis for his beliefs.

The chief justice also questioned the condition of quarantine centers, pointing to viral videos that have shown large crowds of people sitting side-by-side, with few preventative measures. “What kind of quarantining is this?” he said, adding the centers did not have clean bathrooms or water supply.

Pakistan is a poor country, he said, and it was unfortunate that “we are playing with money and don’t care for the people.” He also claimed that Pakistan has a lot of talent that is being underutilized, echoing statements from Prime Minister Imran Khan that have yet to see any realization.

Testing issues

The chief justice also questioned the testing facilities for coronavirus, saying people often test negative with a private test and positive with government tests.

This is a misconception; multiple tests are often required to determine the exact diagnosis of all patients, as improper sampling or storage can give false positives of negatives.

According to Ahmed, everyone should be able to get tested from reliable sources without any payment.

Mixed messaging

The Attorney General of Pakistan said that the court’s order to reopen shopping malls and small markets had resulted in the public thinking the coronavirus issue was not a serious matter and had encouraged violations to social distancing guidelines.

He said officials are now facing greater difficulty in implementing preventative measures and requested the court to keep in the severity of the situation in mind before issuing any verbal or written remarks and orders.

He also told the court that Pakistan had the capability to make its own ventilators to which the chief justice said that the country should be self-sufficient in everything. “There will be a time when nothing, including medicines, will be available from abroad,” he said, again without offering any information to justify this claim.

Pakistan on Tuesday reached 43,966 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 939 deaths and 12,489 recoveries, leaving 30,538 active cases.

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