ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has sought Rs47.42 billion from the government in order to make preparations for next year’s general election.

However, the Ministry of Finance is apparently in a difficult position to earmark a major supplementary grant at least during the current quarter of the fiscal year in view of engagements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as it is grappling with expenditure overruns incurred during the first quarter.

Informed sources said the election body moved a case in September for technical supplementary grant to the ministry of finance on top of a Rs6.3bn normal budget, approved in June, to pay salaries and meet other routine expenditure.

However, the finance ministry declined the request and asked the ECP to approach the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet with a proper summary.

The ECP told the ECC late last month that as per its constitutional responsibility, it was taking all steps to conduct the general election and had already approached the finance division for allocation of funds. It sought a “rationalised” budget requirement of Rs47.42bn to make preparations for the elections.

According to a summary sent to the ECC, the ECP requested that the rationalised amount of Rs47.42bn be approved upfront and be released in two phases — Rs31.42bn during the current fiscal year and another Rs16bn during the next fiscal (2023-24).

Sources in the ECP told Dawn the ECC took up the summary for Rs47.42bn funds on Nov 14 and decided to defer the matter because there was neither any urgency nor fiscal space available at this stage to set aside Rs31bn. It was observed that the matter could be considered in the third quarter of the fiscal year, hopefully after reaching an understanding with the IMF for the next tranche.

The government has already estimated its overall expenditures to surge past FY2022-23 budget target by about Rs1trillion owing to about Rs900bn higher interest payments and almost Rs100bn revenue shortfalls that may need to be bridged through additional tax measures next month.

As a result, the government has already decided in principle to cut its development budget by almost half to just Rs350bn from a budgeted Rs727bn.

Over 100pc increase

Based on the ECP’s demand, the 2023 general election is estimated to cost the federal government almost 114pc higher than the Rs22bn spent on the 2018 elections.

The 2008 general election cost Rs1.84bn out of the federal budget. It surged to Rs4.73bn for the 2013 elections, showing an increase of almost 157 per cent.

These expenditures do not include expen­ses made by the civil administration at the provincial level, including police expenses.

Officials said that even the Rs47bn demand by ECP was on the conservative side and could go up because it was difficult at this stage to quantify the election cost as polling activities were spread over a almost a year and involve two federal budgets.

The first phase involved preparatory work, including major procurements like non-sensitive material, imported watermark paper, stationery items, printing of envelops, electoral documents and training of election officials.

The second part pertained to election allowances and honoraria, transportation of material and arrangements for actual polling.

The ministry of finance has already reported the country’s first quarter fiscal deficit at 1pc of GDP, against 0.7pc of GDP during the same period last year. The deficit in absolute numbers in three months this year was reported at Rs809bn, compared to Rs484bn of the same period last year — up 67pc.

According to the finance ministry, the country’s revenue collection had dropped during the first three months of 2022-23 and the total expenditure went up when compared to the same period last year — leading to an increase in the fiscal deficit.

The total revenue, as percentage of GDP, dropped to 2.6pc this year from 2.7pc last year as tax revenue plunged to 2.3pc of GDP. It was 2.7pc of GDP in the first quarter last year. The total expenditure, on the other hand, rose to 3.6pc of GDP, as against 3.4pc of GDP last year, mainly because of an increase in the current expenditure to 3.2pc of GDP (Rs2.75tr) this year against 2.9pc of GDP (Rs2.23tr) last year.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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