ISLAMABAD: The opposition parties lashed out at the government on Tuesday for allegedly threatening and putting pressure on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections and over a recent audit report that pointed out massive irregularities in Covid-19 spending.
In a statement, PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwalla said the federal cabinet’s decision to block funds to the ECP was a “direct threat” and interference in the powers of the commission, which was an independent organisation according to the Constitution.
Mr Mandviwalla issued the statement hours after federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry hinted that the government was unlikely to fund elections held without the use of EVMs.
Vows to raise the issue of alleged corruption in Covid fund in parliament
Speaking after a federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday, Mr Chaudhry said the cabinet had agreed that the ECP was bound to use EVMs in by-elections to be held in the country after the passage of the law in this regard by the parliament. He said one point of view was that the government could not provide funds for any election held without EVMs.
“This decision of the federal cabinet is ridiculous and condemnable,” said Mr Mandviwalla while recalling that the opposition parties as well as the ECP had already expressed their reservations over the use of EVMs in the elections.
The PPP senator said that under the Constitution, the ECP was responsible for conducting elections in an independent and transparent manner, and the federal government could not impose its “favourite decisions” on the commission.
PPP would stand by the ECP on the issue and would not allow anyone to put curbs on it, he said and asked the government to immediately withdraw the decision.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, while speaking at a public meeting in Peshawar, once again stated that the law regarding the use of EVMs would be challenged “on the streets and in courts”.
Meanwhile, PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui said the opposition would raise the issue of a “financial scandal amounting to Rs40 billion in coronavirus funds” in the parliament.
“This is just one example from three years of serious corruption in various fields. The claimants of transparency and the state of Madina should immediately pay back Rs40bn to the national exchequer,” he said.
Mr Siddiqui was commenting on the audit report on Covid-19 expenditures released by the finance ministry, which has pointed out irregularities of up to Rs5.24bn in purchases of sugar, ghee and wheat flour by the Utility Stores Corporation, including procurement of unfit for consumption ghee and edible oil worth Rs1.4bn.
The report on “expenditures incurred on Covid-19 by the federal government” pointed out irregularities in government interventions to ensure the availability of five essential items — sugar, wheat flour, oil and ghee, pulses and rice — in utility stores at subsidised rates during the pandemic.
“This is a huge corruption scandal,” Mr Siddiqui said. “This shameful story of corruption has been kept hidden from the public eye for the last six months.”
He alleged that the government was systematically lying and misleading the people. Now the government was compelled to release the report because the International Monetary Fund had set this as a precondition for new loan disbursement, he said.
The PML-N senator said it was claimed that Rs100bn was being given to utility stores in order to provide relief to the people. In practice, only Rs10bn was allocated, “more than half of which amounting to over Rs5bn was embezzled in corruption”, he alleged.
Besides, it was propagated by the government that Rs200bn was provided to labourers and daily wagers, but in practice only Rs16bn was distributed, he said.
“No one knows the actual level of embezzlement done under the garb of providing relief to common people,” the PML-N senator said, adding that such corruption had severely damaged the country’s reputation internationally.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2021