Despite SC orders, NA approves summary for not releasing election funds of Rs21bn to ECP

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ISLAMABAD: Despite the Supreme Court’s orders, the National Assembly approved a summary sent by the Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue regarding non-provision of funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Earlier in the day, the NA committee, in a summary sent to the federal cabinet, recommended that funds amounting to Rs21 billion for holding the elections not be released. The cabinet, in turn, referred the matter to the National Assembly.

During the NA session, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar presented the committee’s report, which was then approved by the lower house of parliament.

Addressing the media earlier today, Tarar said the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) had “no role” in releasing the funds, adding that it was the prerogative of the National Assembly and the Ministry of Finance and Revenue.

The Supreme Court on April 14 directed the central bank to release funds worth Rs21 billion for elections in Punjab and send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry by Monday (April 17).

A special meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue was held earlier today in this regard, which decided to refer the matter to the federal cabinet.

A three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar, conducted an in-chamber hearing last week regarding the non-implementation of its April 4 order to the federal government and directed the central bank to release funds.

The directives came after the electoral body submitted a report informing the apex court that the Ministry of Finance has failed to release funds as ordered by the three-member bench on April 4.

At the outset of the meeting today, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Acting Governor Sima Kamil informed the NA panel the regulator has allocated Rs21 billion for the ECP to conduct polls in Punjab on the directives of the Supreme Court, however, it does not have the authority to release funds directly.

Law Minister Tarar informed the panel that the Ministry of Finance had already said that it does not have sufficient funds to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.

“Spending twice on elections is not in the country’s interest”, the law minister said, adding that the apex court had directed the central bank to arrange the funds.

He maintained that the trustees of government funds are elected representatives of the people.

It should be noted that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was also summoned by the NA body; however, he didn’t attend the meeting today as he was in Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, according to sources.

PML-N leader Barjees Tahir added that if the central bank releases funds directly to the electoral body it will be against the law.

“How can the Supreme Court direct the SBP to release funds?” Tahir questioned, adding that if elections are held in Punjab separately it will affect the results of the general elections of the other three provinces later.

The central bank’s acting governor, addressing the criticism it received for allocating the funds, explained to the lawmakers that by allocating the funds the amount will remain in the account.

She further added that they appeared before the Supreme Court on its directive and informed the apex court that the central bank can allocate funds; however, it cannot release the funds.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Finance and Revenue Aisha Ghaus Pasha emphasised that the SBP cannot spend money without the permission of the parliament.

“If the National Assembly allows funds can be released [to the ECP],” she said, clarifying that even the Finance Division cannot spend without seeking permission from the cabinet and the lower house.