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By News Desk
ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to hold Senate elections in February instead of March 2021, sources told Geo News.
The decision was taken on Tuesday during a federal cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The government has decided to use “open voting” for the elections, added the sources.
Addressing a post-cabinet meeting press conference, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government was striving to make the Senate elections free and fair. “Controversies have always surrounded the Senate elections. It is such an old practice that it is assumed that in the elections, [horse trading] will surely take place,” he said. Reminding the people of the PTI promise to bring about reforms in the electoral process, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had dismissed 20 members of provincial assemblies on the issue. He said the Supreme Court had issued a short order regarding free and fair elections, following which the government had introduced a bill in the National Assembly. He said that the government mulled over getting the bill ratified through several means, either through a constitutional amendment, executive order, or the election commission. After pondering over the matter, the government decided to move the apex court regarding the matter, he said, adding that the government seeks an election that is conducted through “show of hands”.
Faraz said that the government expects to get guidance from the Supreme Court long before the Senate elections. “This is in favour of all parties,” he said. The move to hold elections early was proposed by Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, according to sources, which was agreed to by the prime minister and other members of the cabinet. Through the open voting process, everyone will know who voted for whom in the Senate elections. The government, according to sources, has decided to approach the Supreme Court to ensure the polls are held in February. However, the Chaudhry opposed the move, saying that the government should consult the opposition instead for any electoral reforms. “We are ready to talk to the opposition on electoral reforms,” answered the prime minister. “[However] Whenever we try to talk to the opposition, they tell us to throw out their [corruption] cases,” he said.
During the meeting, Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan put forth his legal opinion on holding of elections early while Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan briefed members of the cabinet on the legal and political angles of the move. Later, the federal government decided it would file a reference under Article 186 of the Constitution in the Supreme Court (SC) to get its legal opinion on holding of Senate elections through show of hands or open vote, sources told The News on Tuesday.
The finance ministry gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet regarding the funds allocated to the provinces by the federation. The cabinet was also briefed about the financial resources of the provinces. The information minister said the cabinet members and prime minister also discussed the merits and demerits of the NFC Award mechanism, under which funds are provided to provinces according to, mainly their population size, while some other factors were also taken into account. He said that it emerged during the discussion that there was a fundamental gap between the money that the centre gives to the provinces and the revenues generated by the provinces due to which provincial governments don’t have any incentive or motivation to increase their own revenues locally, knowing they will get a certain amount from the federal government under the NFC.
Quoting the related figures, he said provinces tended to raise funds locally that were less than half of the amount given to them under the NFC Award and he noted that there was no mechanism to decide how the NFC funds would be spent and the money was seen to have been previously used to pay provincial salaries and for personal use such as purchasing cars, etc. The minister said some issues had emerged following the 18th Constitutional Amendment that were important to be resolved and that provinces needed to be held accountable for their spending of the NFC funds. In an apparent reference to Sindh, he said it was not visible where billions of rupees given to a certain province were spent, without naming one. He said the cabinet noted spending of funds should be visited on education, health and provision of clean drinking water, while majority of departments had already been transferred to the provinces under the 18th Amendment.
Shibli noted that besides the NFC Award, the federal government also had to spend its funds after natural disasters, during periods like the Covid-19 pandemic, and on development packages and the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). As a result, he said, the centre was left with not a lot and was hence forced to take loans for its expenses.
Therefore, the cabinet decided that “we will have to improve this mechanism if we want the money to be spent in the right places and on right people through a transparent manner.”
The cabinet was informed that under the 7th National Financial Commission Award, 42.5% was given to the federation and 57.5% was distributed among the provinces. It was informed that Rs2.4 trillion was given to the provinces by the federation in the financial year 2018-19. And in the same financial year, the provinces got Rs496 billion from their own resources. Similarly, in the financial year 2019-20, the federation gave Rs2.6 trillion to the provinces and the provinces got Rs524 billion from their own resources.
In the first five months of the financial year 2020-21, the federation has so far disbursed Rs1.06 trillion among the provinces, while in the same period, the provinces received Rs226 billion from their own resources. The cabinet was informed that the federation provided electricity and gas to the provinces for social security as well as subsidises on essential commodities in addition to paying back loans and interest thereon from its own resources. The minister said that while Punjab got Rs1.441 trillion under the NFC in 2021, while its own share of revenue was Rs306 billion, Sindh received Rs763-64 billion and its own receipt stood at Rs313-14 billion, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was given Rs602 billion and its own share was about Rs50 billion and Balochistan got Rs282 billion and its own share was Rs51 billion.
About a mechanism and looking into related lacunae, the minister emphasised that that did not mean he wanted the repeal of the 18th Amendment, instead there was a need to improve the areas that needed correction over a decade after the amendment was passed.
One of the suggestions given was that to improve the system the amount given to the provinces under the award be linked to the funds raised by the provinces on their own. He said that some provinces would be at an advantage [under this proposal], while some would be at a disadvantage like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where there is poverty and no industry.
The cabinet was briefed in detail by the attorney general for Pakistan on the Senate election law. The cabinet was informed that there was no apparent prohibition on open ballot in the Constitution of Pakistan.
Replying to a question, the Shibli said that there would be no impact even if Sindh Assembly was dissolved in view of resignations, as Senate election could be held after the conduct of assembly election. He also said that the PTI and its allied parties had minimum required strength to keep the assemblies, the Parliament running and ensuring quorum. About the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) pubic meeting in Lahore on Dec 13, he said that despite creating a big hype, the event was a total failure and the main reason was that people were politically conscious enough not to be used for someone’s personal war but were always ready for any national cause.
He said Achakzai spoke against people of Lahore in Lahore, Noorani spoke in Balochistan, MNS [Muhammad Nawaz Sharif] in Gujranwala public meeting and Safdar desecrated the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi.
The minister strongly condemned what he called the threats hurled at the media by the opposition leaders. He added they were in the habit of election results of their liking and court judgements of their choice and wished the media to also function as they wished it to.
The cabinet was given a detailed briefing on the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the shortage of petroleum products in the country this year. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Babar made hectic efforts to reply hard-hitting queries by the cabinet members about the petroleum shortage crisis, occurring in the country in the near past. The cabinet approved the setting up of a committee comprising federal ministers Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood, Dr Shirin Mazari and Mohammad Azam Khan Swati, which will present its recommendations to the cabinet in its next meeting on action to be taken against the oil companies, involved in the crisis.
The PM said that strict action, including cancellation of licences of the oil companies, would be taken after receiving the report of the committee. Special Assistant for Social Security and Poverty Alleviation Dr Sania Nishtar briefed the cabinet on the details of payments under the Ehsas Kiflat programme, Ehsas National Socio-Economic Survey and the Prime Minister’s Quaid Relief Fund.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Ehsas programme was the biggest achievement of the government which is supported by international organisations. He said that eradication of poverty from the country was his mission. The PM directed the provincial governments and the Islamabad administration to consider setting up a wheelbarrow market for the poor wheelbarrow owners in view of the coronavirus pandemic so that the employment of these poor people would not be affected.
The cabinet approved appointment of Asim Shahriar Hussain as Chief Executive Officer National Technology Fund on three-year contract.
The cabinet approved appointment of Imran Manyar as Managing Director of Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) on contract for three years. The forum also approved the appointment of Ali Javed Hamdani as the Managing Director of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) on a three-year contract. The cabinet approved appointment of members to Board of Directors of Public Private Partnership Authority. The cabinet approved reorganisation of Board of Trustees of Employees Old Age Benefits Institution.
The cabinet also approved appointment of five community welfare attaches in Pakistani embassies in different countries. The cabinet approved publication of advertisements for appointment of CEOs of power distribution companies (Discos). It approved appointment of Lt-Gen Akhtar Nawaz as chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
The cabinet approved the outstanding adjustment in electricity rates by NEPRA for the second and third quarters of the financial year 2019-20. This approval will not impose any additional burden on the consumers.
Meanwhile, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Tuesday rejected the idea of before time elections.
JUI-F General Secretary Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said in a statement that his party would oppose holding of Senate elections before March 2021. He said Senate was a constitutional institution and its elections could not be held before time.