On Wednesday, the Supreme Court (SC) issued notices to the finance secretary, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Jameel Ahmad, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan, and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) regarding the government’s failure to disburse Rs21 billion in funds for elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Supreme Court has instructed the officials to appear in the judges’ chamber on April 14. In its verdict issued on April 4 by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar, the apex court had ordered the government to provide Rs21 billion in funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by April 10.
The court had also directed the ECP to provide a report on whether the government complied with the order by April 11. In a report submitted yesterday, the ECP informed the court about the government’s reluctance to release the required amount for the elections.
Meanwhile, the government has referred the matter to Parliament for decision. In a notice issued by the Supreme Court (SC) registrar today, the apex court noted that the report submitted by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) yesterday stated that “no funds have at all been released and provided to it as required by the order of the court.”
The court observed that the failure of the federal government to comply with the court’s order is prima facie disobedience, and the consequences of such defiance are well known.
The notice highlighted that the disobedience by the federal government would jeopardize the timely conduct of elections as mandated by the Constitution. The court emphasized that the provision of funds for such a vital constitutional purpose requires immediate attention and takes priority over proceeding against those who may have committed contempt of court.
Subsequently, the court issued a notice to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) governor and the next senior most official of the bank, directing them to appear before the judges’ chamber on April 14 at 11am. They were instructed to bring the record and details of money owned by the federal government that is under the control, custody, or management of the central bank.
The court also issued notices to the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP), the finance secretary, and the next most senior official in the Ministry of Finance, directing them to appear in person on the same day. They were instructed to bring all relevant records and submit a detailed report on why the court’s order has not been complied with, as stated by the commission.
Similar notices were issued to the ECP secretary and director general law, directing them to prepare and submit the full record pertaining to the general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.
ECP Report Sheds Light on Election Findings
Although the contents of the report submitted by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in court yesterday are not known, a source with knowledge of the information told that the one-page report informed the apex court about the government’s reluctance to issue the required Rs21 billion for the purpose.
The report also stated that the caretaker government of Punjab had informed the election watchdog that due to resource constraints, the government could only sanction 75,000 security personnel against the demand for 300,000 security forces.
It may be mentioned that the Supreme Court (SC) had in its verdict ordered the Punjab caretaker cabinet, and in particular, the chief secretary and the police chief, to provide a plan acceptable to the ECP for providing sufficient personnel for election duty and security purposes.
The Punjab government and its officials must, in the discharge of their constitutional and legal duties and responsibilities, proactively provide all aid and assistance to the commission for the holding and conduct of the general election, as per the judgment.
On Hold: Government’s Deliberation on Issuing Funds
The federal government’s hesitation in issuing funds for the elections is being seen as an attempt to delay the elections, possibly until October, as evidenced by the tabling of a money bill in parliament.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar presented a bill in the National Assembly and Senate, titled ‘Charged Sum for General Election (Provincial Assemblies of Punjab & Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Bill 2023’, seeking the release of funds for conducting elections in Punjab and KP.
The bill states that the funds required for conducting elections in both provinces shall be considered an expenditure charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF), which includes all revenues received by the federal government, all loans raised by the government, and all money received by it in repayment of any loan.
The bill further states that it shall “override other laws” and have effect “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules, and regulations” while it is in force. It also mentions that the proposed law will be repealed once elections for both assemblies are held, and that the general elections and polls to the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies need not be held for it to be repealed.
On the other hand, several resolutions have been passed by lawmakers advocating for simultaneous elections instead of split polls after the dissolution of KP and Punjab assemblies, as outlined by the recent judgment of the top court.
The Senate passed a resolution endorsing joint elections, while the KP caretaker cabinet also supported general elections across the country on the same day. Additionally, a resolution passed by the Balochistan Assembly cited the economic crisis and the ongoing census exercise as it advocated for a delay in elections.