Fate of polls fund in limbo as NA votes against supplementary grant demand

  • Based on NA body recommendations, cabinet sent summary to National Assembly
  • SC had ordered SBP to ‘allocate and release’ Rs21b to ECP by April 17

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday rejected a motion, seeking release of Rs21 billion in supplementary grant for elections to Punjab Assembly, making the fate of the Supreme Court’s deadline for the funds more uncertain.

According to details, State minister for Finance and Revenue Ayesha Pasha moved the motion to grant a supplementary sum not exceeding Rs21 billion to the federal government to meet the expenditure during the financial year but the members voted against the motion.

Last week, the Supreme Court had directed the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to “allocate and release” Rs21 billion by April 17 (Monday) for elections in two provinces from the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF) “lying under its control and management”. The court had also ordered the central bank to send an “appropriate communication” to this effect to the finance ministry in this regard.

Earlier in the day, a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue was convened to discuss the apex court order regarding the disbursement of the funds.

A press release issued after the meeting stated that the body had unanimously recommended to the Finance Division that the matter of funds release be placed before the NA “in the form of a bill through the federal cabinet” in order to comply with the top court’s orders.

Later in the day, a meeting of the federal cabinet was held wherein the government decided that the summary sent by the finance ministry, based on the recommendations made by the NA body, would be referred to back to Parliament.

“The federal cabinet has referred a summary by the finance ministry, based on recommendations made by the NA Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue on provision of funds to the election commission for elections in Punjab and KP, to Parliament,” a handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Earlier, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Finance and Revenue also discussed election fund matters under the chair of Qaisar Ahmad Sheikh.

Acting Governor State Bank Seema Kamil informed the committee that the Supreme Court through its notice had questioned the State Bank about the money in the accounts of the federal government.

The SBP in its reply informed the Apex court that “we can only allocate funds, not release to ECP,” adding that funds will remain in the account after allocation and the Election Commission can use these funds after the approval of the Ministry of Finance.

Member of the Assembly Khalid Magsi said that who is the authority to spend the tax money of the people other than the Parliament.

Committee member Musa Gilani told the SBP officials that you will be accountable if you spend money without the approval of the parliament.

Minister of State for Finance, Ayesha Ghos Pasha in a briefing to the Standing Committee on Finance, said that the State Bank does not have the authority to spend money without the approval of the Parliament and that the issue of the funds release will be placed before the federal cabinet today, from where after the approval, the case will be taken to the national assembly.

She said that the decision to present the summary on the issue of releasing funds of Rs21 billion to the federal cabinet on Monday itself.

Member of committee Barjees Tahir stopped Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar from giving a briefing on orders of the Supreme Court to hold elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Barjees Tahir said that elections in Punjab will be harmful for the country because those who wins in Punjab, will win in other three provinces and the same party will rule in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan too.

Barjees Tahir said that if you want to harm the country, then first hold an election in Punjab.

He asked the officials of the State Bank and the Ministry of Finance that how can the Supreme Court direct the State Bank to provide funds? Should the State Bank and the Finance Secretary give funds from their own pockets? He posed a question.

On this, Prime Minister Nazir Tarar said that the federal government keeps an account of every penny of the federal consolidated fund and the finance ministry has informed that no additional funds have been kept in the budget for elections.

The Law Minister said that spending twice for the sake of elections is not in the interest of the country, while the National Assembly has already rejected the demand for release of the funds.

Barjees Tahir said that it would be against the law for the State Bank to release funds for conducting elections.

On the occasion, the Law Minister said “the issue of release of funds through a court order should be placed before the National Assembly because the constitutional method for disbursement of funds will have to be adopted, otherwise who will be held accountable for the funds of Rs21 billion tomorrow.”

He said that if the State Bank releases the funds, will it (State Bank) be deducted from the officers’ salaries in the future or will the Governor give the State Bank?

Because the question may arise tomorrow that the constitutional procedure for the release of funds has not been adopted or perhaps the legal matter has been overlooked in the court orders.

The law minister said: “We say that the expenses should be transparent and in accordance with the constitution.”

Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan, while briefing the meeting, said that one method can be that the election expenses are deducted from other expenses.

The Attorney General informed that the Supreme Court has said that ex post facto approval should be taken after releasing the funds. However, the problem is that if the National Assembly does not approve the funds by June 30, then who will be responsible for Rs21 billion.

The Attorney General said that if this situation happens, a serious problem may arise in this regard. He said that one option is to take ex post facto approval of the funds from the National Assembly as the final approval of the funds is with the National Assembly.

On the occasion, the Minister of State for Finance said that they respect the instructions of the Supreme Court, saying but all institutions are bound to implement the rules.

The Law Minister said that the Supreme Court has said that ex post facto permission should be taken.

On this, the Attorney General said that if the National Assembly does not approve, then its ex post facto approval will become difficult.

The Attorney General suggested that it would be better if approval is taken from the National Assembly.

The Minister of State for Finance said that we will send the summary to the federal cabinet in this regard.

Federal Trade Minister Naveed Qamar said, on this occasion, he does not agree with the Law Minister and the AGP that the Standing Committee should send the issue of the release of funds to the National Assembly again because the Parliament has given its decision on the matter.

Chairman of the committee Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh said that the consensus in the committee is that this issue should be taken to the National Assembly through the Ministry of Finance.

Later, the Standing Committee on Finance has directed the Ministry of Finance to send the summary to the Federal Cabinet for approval and the Federal Cabinet to send the summary to the National Assembly as per the order of the Supreme Court.

‘No authenticity without Parliament’s approval’

In a brief conversation with reporters after the NA committee meeting wrapped up today, Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha said that neither the SBP nor the Finance Division had the authority to release funds from the FCF.

She explained that the process of the allocation required approval from the Parliament. “Without the approval of the Parliament, no bill or budget has any legal authenticity.

“Hence, we leave the entire matter on the Parliament now. The Parliament is supreme for us because this is what is written in the Constitution,” Pasha said.

She elaborated that the SBP can only allocate the money but cannot release it until and unless a proper indication was given by the Finance Division.

“The Finance Division can only act on the orders of the federal cabinet. Now, it is the federal cabinet’s will to take the matter to the Parliament … if the Parliament says yes, we will disburse the funds today,” Pasha added.

SC order

In its order on April 4, a three-member SC bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar had directed the government to provide Rs21bn to the ECP to conduct elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by April 10 and instructed the ECP to provide a report to the court on whether or not the government complied with the order on April 11.

However, the government referred the matter to the parliament which defied the SC orders and refused to issue the funds.

The court then issued notices to the finance secretary, SBP governor, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan and the ECP, directing them to appear before the judges’ chamber on April 14. It also directed the SBP to submit the record and details of all monies whatsoever of the federal government lying with or under the control, custody or management of the bank.

After the in-chamber hearing, the court issued an order in which it directed the SBP to release Rs21 billion from the FCF for elections.

“The sum of Rs21bn shall be and become available to and with the election commission in immediately releasable and utilisable funds for the purposes of holding the general elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies,” the court order read.

The court also observed that the required funds could be made available to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) “immediately and within a matter of a day”. It also noted that there was “absolutely no difficulty or hitch, either financially or procedurally or in terms of the relevant authorisation by and under the Constitution” in the immediate release of the funds in question.

 

 

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