Election funds matter sent back to parliament

Election funds matter sent back to parliament


ISLAMABAD:

The matter of polls in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) continued to hang in the balance on Monday after the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue returned matters concerning funds for elections to the government.

As the time for interim setups in both provinces is reaching the defined constitutional limit, and as the date fixed for Punjab polls nears, the government-judiciary stand-off has only raised the spectre for further political turmoil.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court (SC) had declared as “unconstitutional” the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to postpone the election in Punjab, in a blow to the government that has been trying to delay the provincial election citing security issues and the economic crisis.

The three-member bench — headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan — had also fixed May 14 as the date for the poll in the province.

Further, the apex court had ordered the federal government to provide Rs21 billion in funds by April 10 to the ECP and directed the body to present a report on the issue by April 11.

Subsequently, the government missed the deadline for the release of the funds.

Read Parliament has authority to reject SC decision: Ashraf

The SC then went on to order the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to release the funds, observing that the required funds could be made available to the ECP “immediately and within a matter of a day”.

Notably, the order had come in spite of the NA adopting a resolution rejecting the earlier orders to hold polls as a ‘minority judgment’ as well as multiple other resolutions calling for general elections across the country on the same day that were rushed through the joint session of parliament, the Senate and Sindh and Balochistan assemblies.

With the impending pressure over the continued delay in the release of funds, the concerned NA standing committee conducted a special meeting under the chairmanship of PML-N lawmaker Qaiser Ahmad Sheikh.

Federal Minister for Law Azam Nazeer Tarar, Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar, Acting Governor State Bank, Auditor General of Pakistan, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan, Minister of State for Finance Ayesha Ghaus Pasha and officials of the Ministry of Finance participated in the meeting.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar skipped the crucial meeting – a matter the committee chairperson expressed displeasure over, maintaining that he has not attended the meetings for a year and that the issue had been raised multiple times before as well.

Committee member Barjees Tahir said holding elections in Punjab under the present circumstances would be synonymous with “causing damage” to the country.

Tahir argued that the apex court has “destroyed the country in an attempt to amend Article 63(A)”, adding sarcastically that the SC “should also amend Article 84” referring to the provisions of supplementary and excess grants.

“Releasing funds is at the discretion of the government,” he said, “how can the SC tell the SBP governor to release them?”

The law minister agreed with the opinion, maintaining that releasing funds to hold elections twice was not “in the interest of the country”.

“The Constitution is very clear,” said Tarar, “the SC orders are to be respected but the Constitution comes first. We have taken an oath to protect the Constitution. How can officers give money by putting the constitution behind them?”

He questioned how the SBP employees were expected to repay the amount of Rs21 billion “should the process of providing funds later be proved to be unconstitutional”.

“The issue of release of funds to the SBP by the SC should also be referred to the parliament,” he said stressing that the top court’s decision should “go to the relevant forum, as per the Constitution”.

AGP Awan said that the Ministry of Finance should send the demand to the federal cabinet and the NA in compliance with court orders. “The final approval is to come from the NA,” he said, “this process will be done according to the Constitution”.

The finance minister said that we have to follow the Constitution and the law. “The Ministry of Finance is bound to implement the rules and laws related to the release of funds and the budget. The SBP will send the summary, we will place it before the federal cabinet,” he said.

The commerce minister said that the judiciary, legislature and administration have their respective roles in the Constitution. “For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the right of budget and legislation is also being taken away,” he said.

“If officers are afraid of going to jail for contempt of court, they can be sent to jail for contempt of parliament,” he added.

Read more Legal eagles throw full weight behind SC

Later, the committee directed the central bank to send the matter to the Ministry of Finance following the constitutionally mandated procedure. It also directed the finance ministry to place the summary of the SBP before the federal cabinet.

The law minister also added that the government “does not want to clash with the judiciary”, noting that the “cabinet and NA meetings are scheduled today” and so “the summary should be sent in good faith, and the processing will be completed today.”

Subsequently, the Finance Committee once again sent the issue of election funds to the cabinet and the NA.

Earlier, a consultative meeting of the federal ministers and the economic team was held regarding the suspension of funds for the Punjab Assembly elections under the chairmanship of the federal law minister, in which the Minister of State for Finance, Special Assistant for Finance and other officials of the Ministry of Finance participated.

The meeting was also attended by the Acting Governor of SBP, Special Secretary of Finance, Chairman Finance Committee Qaiser Sheikh, Commerce Minister Naveed Qamar, Minister of State for Finance Ayesha Ghaus Pasha, AGP Mansoor Awan as well as Auditor General of Pakistan

The meeting discussed the legal points regarding stopping the release of funds for the election and a consultation was held on how the SBP can be stopped from releasing the funds.





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