The government on Monday introduced a ‘money bill’ in parliament to settle the dispute over making Rs21 billion payments to the Election Commission of Pakistan for holding polls in two provinces – a move that may further deepen frictions between the executive and the judiciary.
Through the introduction of a new bill the government has shifted the onus of approving Rs21 billion funds on parliament besides gaining more time for releasing money that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had directed to disburse to the ECP by April 10.
However, till the deadline, the ECP did not receive the money from the government.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar introduced the “Charged Sums for General Elections (Provincial Assemblies of the Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)” Bill 2023 in both the houses of parliament.
The aim of the bill is to establish a legal means for releasing Rs21 billion funds to conduct elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Dar introduced the piece of legislation as ‘money bill’, which gives the voting right on it to the National Assembly and a maximum 14-day time to the Senate to give the recommendations on the bill.
In case of the bill, the Senate’s recommendations are non-binding on the National Assembly.
The finance minister introduce the bill the day the federal government bound under a court judgment to provide funds to the ECP.
However, the government has not accepted the Supreme Court judgment, describing it as invalid due to dispute over the number of apex court judges backing it.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the ECP to hold elections in two provinces on May 14, directing the federal government to release Rs21 billion to the ECP by April 10 (Monday). But the federal cabinet on Sunday decided to refer the matter to parliament.
The bill’s Clause 3 declares that the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF) shall bear the expense for conducting general elections in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa through payments made to the Election Commission.
The definition of the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF) is that it comprises all revenues and loans received by the federal government, along with any money received by the government for loan repayment.
The same definition is give in the Constitution.
The bill stated that the law is being made under Article 81 (e) of the Constitution. Article 81 (e) says, “Any other sums declared by the Constitution or by Act of Parliament to be charged” upon the federal consolidated fund.
Through the bill, the government has adopted the path given in Article 79 of the Constitution, which gives custody of the FCF to parliament.
Had the government not moved the bill, it would have to give the funds to the ECP under Article 84 of the Constitution that deals with the supplementary and excess grants in a fiscal year.
By moving the bill, the government has gained time, as the matter has now been referred to the Senate that will also take a few days to give its recommendations.
The finance minister also laid the bill before the upper house of parliament.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said that the notices for the proposal to make recommendations on the money bill submitted by the members to the Senate Secretariat by Thursday, April 13.
He state that the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue receive the proposal for making recommendations on the money bill, and required to submit its report by Friday, April 14.
The Senate would consider the committee’s report and make recommendations to the National Assembly.
Although charged expenditures are constitutionally obligatory, the National Assembly does not have the authority to vote them out. However, parliament’s approval is still require.
Currently, the expenses by the president, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, election commissioner, parliament, the office of the Election Commission and the auditor general for Pakistan are among the charged expenses.
The bill stated that it shall “override other laws” and have effect “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules and regulations” when it will be in force.
The statement added that the proposed legislation would become null and void after holding elections for both assemblies.
Furthermore, it note that the legislation could be repeal even if the elections for the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, as well as the general elections, not held.
Dar on Monday criticised the former PTI government, blaming it for the current economic crisis.
Once again, Dar placed the blame for the delay in the IMF deal on the PTI, asserting that his government was exerting full effort to finalize the IMF program and sign the staff-level agreement in the near future.
Lack of $6 billion financing and the petrol subsidy remain two biggest hurdles in the way of the staff-level agreement.
Dar said that the PTI dissolved the Punjab and K-P assemblies under a planned conspiracy to create a constitutional crisis in the country. He maintained that holding elections in the country was a constitutional responsibility but contended that it was important to hold polls across the country simultaneously under caretaker governments.
“This will help in saving money and holding elections freely, fairly and in a transparent manner,” the minister stressed. “Under the Constitution of Pakistan, the sovereignty of parliament is a reality,” the finance minister said.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) estimated that the cost of conducting elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa would be around Rs20.5 billion, excluding the Rs5 billion required for by-elections on National Assembly seats.
If the elections held on the same day, the government anticipated savings of Rs9.3 billion.
He stated that the ECP was responsible for holding free and fair elections but contended that holding polls right now was not in Pakistan’s national interest, given the current economic and security situation.
Dar said that the top court’s verdict was a “minority” judgment and parliament, therefore, had urged the government not to implement it.
He concluded that the federal cabinet had decided in its recent meetings to present the Supreme Court’s order for the release of election funds in parliament for discussion.
Published in the Logical Baat, April 11, 2023.