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Supreme Court summons officials over non-provision of funds for Punjab polls

Apex court terms federal government's failure to release funds "prima facie disobedience"

By Maryam Nawaz
April 12, 2023
An undated picture of the Supreme Court. — AFP/File
An undated picture of the Supreme Court. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A day after receiving a report from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the government's failure to release funds for holding elections to the Punjab Assembly, the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notices to several officials on Wednesday.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, had directed the federal government to release Rs21 billion so the ECP could hold elections in Punjab on May 14, and directed the electoral body to submit a report in this regard on April 11.

A day earlier, the ECP submitted a report in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court, stating that funds had not yet been released.

Subsequently, the apex court issued notices today to the AGP, finance secretary, ECP secretary, ECP director general (law) and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) governor to appear for an in-chamber hearing at 11am on April 14.

The notice stated that non-provision of funds for holding the polls was "prima facie disobedience". "The consequences that can flow from such prima facie defiance of the court are well-settled and known.

"Every person who embarks upon, encourages or instigates disobedience of the court can be held liable and accountable."

The notices stated that provision of funds for holding polls was a more important matter than pursuing a contempt of court case.

The notice directed the SBP chief to come to the hearing with the record of all resources at the central bank's disposal. It also directed the finance secretary to come to the court with records.

The ECP secretary was also asked to bring all records related to polls for Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.

The government on Monday tabled a bill seeking approval of funds for the elections in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

As per the decision of the federal cabinet, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar introduced the money bill, saying that the government was laying the bill before the house in light of the Supreme Court orders to release Rs21bn to the ECP to hold a general election in the two provinces.

The financial czar said the federal cabinet, in its recent meeting, pondered over the SC orders and, in view of the house's resolution, sought Parliament's will to take a final decision regarding the allocation of funds for the Punjab and KP general elections.

The move came after the top court had declared the ECP's decision on the Punjab and KP elections null and void, while ordering it to hold snap polls — a persistent demand forced by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan after he dissolved the assemblies in both the provinces.

The apex court had given the date of May 14 for the polls in Punjab.

However, the verdict which was supposed to be a way out of the ongoing political and constitutional crisis further deepened it as the government rejected the SC ruling.

Besides, the money bill, the government also stresses holding the elections in the entire country simultaneously.