Saturday September 30, 2023

Punjab, KP polls: Give ECP Rs21bn by 17th, SC orders SBP

Supreme Court directed SBP to allocate and release Rs21 billion for holding general election to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP and ordered for completing the exercise by April 17

April 15, 2023
The Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad. The News/File
The Supreme Court of Pakistan building in Islamabad. The News/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) Friday directed the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to allocate and release Rs21 billion for holding general election to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and ordered for completing the exercise by April 17.

However, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on Friday, stating that the parliament’s prerogative of legislation cannot be usurped or interfered with, and termed the apex court order contrary to the Constitution.

The SC direction was given after the SBP acting governor confirmed to the court that the necessary transaction for transfer of funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) could be done within the shortest possible time and at the latest by the close of business on Monday, April 17, 2023.

This would be done if the court so directed and ordered, SBP Acting Governor Ms Sima Kamil told a three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsen and Justice Munib Akhtar that heard in chamber the matter relating to delay in holding of election to the Punjab and KP assemblies.

“The State Bank of Pakistan shall, from Account I, lying under its control and management (and which constitutes the principal component of the Federal Consolidated Fund), forthwith allocate and release Rs21 billion for purposes of the general election to the Punjab and KP assemblies,” says the order released by the apex court.

The court directed the SBP to send immediately an appropriate communication to the finance ministry/ division and the said ministry/ division should immediately issue a proper direction to the AGPR to increase the limit of the ceiling with respect to the Election Commission’s ID No 2826 by the said sum of Rs21 billion.

The court ordered that the position should also immediately be confirmed to the ECP by the said ministry/ division, which should also ensure that the AGPR also forthwith gives proper intimation and confirmation to the ECP. “All this must be done at the earliest and at the absolute latest not later than the close of business on Monday i.e. on April 17, 2023, and in this manner, the sum of Rs21 Billion must become available to the Election Commission in immediately releasable and utilisable funds for the purposes of holding the general election to the Punjab and KP Assemblies,” added the court order.

The court further directed that the State Bank, Finance Ministry/Division, AGPR and the Election Commission must act together and coordinate fully so that the order and direction of the court was implemented within the stipulated timeframe.

Similarly, the court also directed the State Bank and the Finance Ministry/ Division to file by April 18, 2023 compliance reports with it to the effect that its order had been complied with, and the report of the Finance Ministry/ Division should also include a confirmation in relation to AGPR. At the same time, the Election Commission was directed to file a report on April 18 with the court confirming that Rs21 billion had become available to it.

“We may also note that this order shall be deemed sufficient authority for all purposes for authorisation of expenditure on the Federal Consolidated Fund and the Federal Government shall thereupon obtain the ex post facto approval and sanction from the National Assembly for authorisation of this expenditure in terms of Article 84 and other applicable provisions of the Constitution,” the court noted down in its order. In pursuance of the court’s last order, passed on April 12, Mansoor Usman Awan, Attorney General for Pakistan, Ms Sima Kamil, Acting Governor SBP, Inayat Hussain Ch, Deputy Governor SBP, Qader Bakhsh, Director SBP, Awais Manzur Sumra, Special Secretary Finance, Amer Mehmood, Addl Secretary Tanveer Butt, Addl Secretary, Omer Hamid Khan, Secretary ECP, Muhammad Arshad, DG Law ECP, Zafar Iqbal, Special Secretary ECP Tafakhur Ali Asdi, ADG budget appeared before the court.

The court had summoned the officials after the ECP submitted a report to the apex court on April 11 regarding the non-provision of election funds as the federal government failed to release the finances to hold polls in Punjab.

On Friday, the court appreciated the assistance provided by each of the officials and adjourned the matter for the purposes of para 5 of the Order passed on April 4, 2023 with regard to provision of Rs21 billion for the elections, but held if any need arises, it will be taken up again in such terms as deemed appropriate by it.

“Insofar as the matters identified in paras 6 and 7 of the Order passed on April 4, those matters will be taken up once the report required to be filed by the Federal Government in terms of para 6 thereof has been filed and considered by the Election Commission,” the court held.

“From the figures presented to the Court, of which even the smallest ran to several hundreds of billions of rupees, it became clear that the disbursement of Rs21 billion for fulfilling the constitutional mandate of holding the general election would, at most, amount to a minuscule increase in the obligations of the Federal Government,” says the court order.

The court held that indeed, viewed from certain financial perspectives and contexts, which were stated by the team from Finance, the amount would be so insignificant as to not even amount to a rounding off error.

It was confirmed by the officials of the Finance Ministry that in terms of Article 84 of the Constitution, the Federal Government was fully authorised to make expenditures from the Federal Consolidated Fund for, inter alia, “expenditure upon some new service not included in the Annual Budget Statement” for the relevant financial year here being the year ending on 30.06.2023.

“For such expenditure the Federal Government obtains ex post facto approval and authorisation from the National Assembly in terms of the procedure laid down in the Articles of the Constitution immediately preceding Article 84,” says the order.

“On a consideration of all of the foregoing it is our view that there is absolutely no difficulty or hitch, either financially or procedurally or in terms of the relevant authorization by and under the Constitution, for the immediate release of Rs21 billion to the Election Commission for fulfilling its constitutional mandate for the holding of general elections to the Punjab and KP Assemblies,” the court further noted down in its order.

Earlier, during the course of hearing, Acting Governor State Bank presented the court a statement setting out a total funds and monies of Rs1,409,960461,897.46 of the Federation/Federal government, which are under the custody control and management of the State Bank.

The details of the Federal Government balances as on close of April 12, 2023 as follows:

Sr. Account Number and Title Balance (Amount in Rupees) 1 Account I (Non-Food). 1,392,657,303,742.80

Account II (Food). 313,127,525.00

Account V (Saudi Arab Spl. Loan) 4,124,000.00

Account VIII (Zakat) 4,325,797,446.00

Account X (Pakistan Baitul Mal Fund) 5,948.87

Account XVI (Fata Zakat Fund) 0.00

Account XII (Govt. Deposit (Escrow A/c) 5,276,000.00

Account XIV (UN Reimbursement) 3,778,458,304.00

Account XV Special Transfer Account. 10,592,210.34

Account III (Pakistan Railways Scrap & others) 449,636,509.19

Account XI (Pakistan Railways Pay) 140,346,378.00

Account XVII (Railways – Pension) 1,048,954,076.55

Account XVIII (Railways – PSDP) 6,558,091,558.71

Account XX (Pakistan Railways – Deposit Works) 657,607,308.00

Account XXI (Pakistan Railways – GP Fund) 11,140,890.00

Total 1,409,960461,897.46

The Acting Governor explained that these amounts constituted the Federal Consolidated Fund (“Fund”).

The amount lying in Account No.I (Non-Food) (“Account I”) constitutes by far the largest component of the Fund (being 98.77pc thereof as of the date for which the data was provided).

It was further explained that the amount lying in Account I is not designated for any particular or special usage whatsoever.

It was explained to the Acting Governor that as per para 5 of the order dated 4-4-2023 made in Constitution Petition a sum of Rs21 billion was required for the purposes of general elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies and it was queried as to whether this sum could be made available from the funds aforementioned of the Federal Government lying with and under the custody, control and management of the State Bank, with particular reference to Account I.

Separately, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution stating that the parliament’s prerogative of legislation cannot be usurped nor interfered with.

The resolution was moved by PPP legislators from Multan. Musa Gilani rejected what he called the aggressive attempt by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to usurp the parliament’s authority.

The resolution also voiced concern over the fixing of the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill, which is yet to be enacted, for hearing before a controversial and unilateral eight-member bench. It said this was contrary to the Constitution and legal practice, which demonstrates haste and is condemnable.