EU approved grant for electoral reforms but Pakistan let it lapse | Pakistan Today

EU approved grant for electoral reforms but Pakistan let it lapse

  • EU offered grant to Pakistan in 2016 as part of election reforms process to help ensure free, fair, transparent elections due in July this year

  • Pakistan accepted EU grant which carried clauses pertaining to controversial human rights conditions in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The federal government has quietly allowed lapsing of a grant of eight million Euros offered by the European Union (EU) as part of a package to bring in electoral reforms meant for the capacity-building and training of the officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Pakistan Today has reliably learnt.

Pakistan has a checkered history when it comes to holding free, fair and transparent elections. Hence, the grant was offered to Pakistan in the year 2016 as part of the election reforms process to help ensure free, fair and transparent elections due in July this year. But for unknown reasons, Pakistan allowed the grant to lapse even though another grant was accepted which carried clauses pertaining to controversial human rights conditions in Pakistan.

Official documents available with Pakistan Today reveal that three grants were agreed between Pakistan and EU i.e. support to electoral processes in Pakistan, promotion of human rights in Pakistan and improving reintegration of returnees in Pakistan.

The grant for ECP also covered imparting training and tools to ensure accuracy and transparency in polls keeping in view the anomalies in 2013 elections to help make upcoming electoral process credible and transparent.

However, in a strange way of cherry-picking, the federal government did not sign the financial agreement with the EU grant meant for the capacity building and training of the officials of the ECP despite successive failures of the election body to ensure transparent polls.

Top bureaucrats were clueless on how to provide a satisfactory explanation for allowing the grant to lapse.

EU ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain wrote a letter to Economic Affairs Division Secretary Shahid Mehmood for the signing of three financing agreements which were sent to the ministry in March 2017.

“Allow me to start with expressing my appreciation to you and your staff for the opportunity we had past Monday to discuss during the Federal Portfolio Review the cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the European Union.  I consider this meeting one of the most important fora to exchange ideas about the way the European Union can best contribute and support the Government of Pakistan in addressing developmental issues,” the ambassador wrote.

“For your convenience, I have attached a letter which was sent to your predecessor on September 29, 2016, in which several issues regarding the  Financing  Agreement  ‘ Support to Human Rights’ (ACA/2016/39500)  were discussed. The delegation never received a reply to this letter,” the ambassador wrote with concern.

“I hope to have informed you sufficiently and trust that this matter will be solved before the meeting of the Joint Commission on the 11th of October.  After this date, internal procedures will force us to cancel any unsigned Financing Agreement, which means that the appropriated funds will no longer be available for the EU cooperation with Pakistan,” the ambassador warned.

Despite the warning, the ministry failed to respond and the grant lapsed in September 2017.

However, the EU ambassador again got the financial support revived till December 31, 2017. The Economic Affairs Division sought an opinion from the Law Ministry, ECP and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) about the grant for the ECP. While the ECP welcomed the grant and the Law Division also approved the draft financing agreement, the MoFA resisted the offer.

A source in the EAD told Pakistan Today that a ruling party influential had approached relevant officials in MoFA to get the grant lapsed.

The source said it was intriguing to note that the grant which lapsed was meant for imparting modern tools to ensure transparent polls and subsequent training to the ECP Returning Officers (ROs) despite urgency in nature as the country was in an election year.

“Rather than signing the agreement for ECP grant, it is surprising that the MoFA opted to sign up the agreement for human rights which involved many sensitive and controversial clauses against which the concerned quarters had cautioned,” the source added.“Additional Secretary (Europe) MoFA Zaheer Aslam Janua played a key role in opposing the grant. I wonder what convinced the ministry officials to allow the grant for capacity building of the ECP to lapse despite the fact that there were no strings attached,” the official said.

The official said that the cancellation of the financial agreement for the ECP had raised serious questions over the credibility of the EU mission in Pakistan which fought for the human rights agreement but did not convince the government of Pakistan to also sign the agreement for the capacity building of ECP officials and for bringing transparency in electoral process.

When contacted, Charge’ d’ Affairs of EU delegation to Pakistan Anne Marchal said that the EU ambassador was the right person to speak to over the issue as he was dealing with the financial agreements with Pakistan government.

A day later, an official from Anne Marchal’s office informed Pakistan Today that the ambassador was on sick leave and couldn’t be reached. Asked to give their version on the issue, neither Ms Anne nor the spokesperson of the embassy made any comment.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Finance Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan said that the chapter of this grant has been closed since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had objections to the agreement.

“Though I had written a detailed letter to the foreign affairs ministry clearing our position on the EU grant, the ministry did not change its stance. You better ask the ministry for reasons for avoiding this grant,” Khan, who was serving as secretary Economic Affairs Division (EAD), before joining the Ministry of Finance couple of days ago, stated.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail said he was unaware of the grant. However, Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Rana Afzal promised to share details after consultation with EAD. However, no such details have thus far been disclosed.

When contacted, Zaheer Aslam Janjua said that the ministry had nothing to do with the cancellation of the grant and rather it was the EAD which deals with the subject. When Janjua was informed that the EAD had referred the matter to MoFA where he had raised objections over the financial agreement for ECP and had cleared the agreement for other two grants, Janjua stated that the grant was cancelled by EU.

“This is not something to be talked about on phone … You better talk to the spokesperson,” Janjua said, adding that the EAD was the relevant forum to raise the matter.

ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Malik told Pakistan Today that the cancellation of the grant was a decision by the federal government.

“The ECP has nothing to do with the cancellation of this grant. The federal government has allocated the ECP a hefty amount of Rs 21 billion so we are fine,” he maintained.

Since the 1960s, political parties and international observers have been finger-pointing over glaring irregularities in successive elections.

Poll rigging was a major cause which prompted Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to stage the longest sit-in in the federal capital in 2014. However, the federal government has failed to take any substantial measure to improve transparency in the electoral process.

Mian Abrar

The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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