Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Monday tabled a bill in both houses of parliament seeking the release of funds for holding elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in line with the directives issued by the Supreme Court.
Last week, the apex court had fixed May 14 as the date for the polls in Punjab and directed the federal government to release election funds worth Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by April 10 (today) for elections to the assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
As the SC deadline for the release of funds drew closer, the government, in a federal cabinet meeting on Sunday, decided to refer to parliament.
The bill, titled ‘Charged Sum for General Election (Provincial Assemblies of Punjab & Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Bill 2023’, stated that funds required for conducting elections in both the provinces shall be “an expenditure charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund (FCF)”, which it said comprises all revenues received by the federal government, all loans raised by the government and all money received by it in repayment of any loan.
The bill stated that it shall “override other laws” and have effect “notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, rules and regulations” when it was in force.
It added that the proposed law would stand repealed once elections for both the assemblies were held, noting that the general elections and polls to the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies need not be held for it to be repealed.
The bill was first presented in the National Assembly and then in the Senate. Both the sessions were later adjourned.
Addressing the lower house of the parliament today, Dar lambasted the PTI government for using “unsuitable policies” that almost steered the country to the brink of default.
He recalled that when the incumbent government had assumed power in April last year, the country’s economy was in shambles. “Because of their [the PTI’s] failure, the country that was ranked as the 24th largest economy in 2017 fell to the 47th position.”
He castigated the PTI for trying to stir a constitutional crisis in the country and “constantly trying to spread unrest and despair among the nation”. He further slammed the previous government for not only failing to implement the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement but “also working against its terms and conditions”.
However, Dar assured the lower house of parliament that the government had “employed all-out efforts to complete the IMF programme and the staff-level agreement would be signed soon.”
Referring to recent prices hikes and other policy decisions introduced by the incumbent government, Dar said, “If these decisions were not introduced, the country would already have defaulted. These decisions made the government lose political capital as well […] and now, we have set out towards development.”
At one point during the session, Dar said that the PTI dissolved the Punjab and KP assemblies under a “planned conspiracy” to create a constitutional crisis in the country. He also recalled that PTI lawmakers resigned from the NA, which was akin to disrespecting the public mandate.
He maintained that holding elections in the country was a constitutional responsibility but contended that it was important to hold polls across the country simultaneously under caretaker governments.
“This will help save money and hold elections freely, fairly and in a transparent manner,” the minister stressed. “Under the Constitution of Pakistan, the sovereignty of parliament is a reality.”
He further stated that the ECP was responsible for holding free and fair elections but contended that holding polls right now was not in Pakistan’s national interest, given the current economic and security situation.
Referring to the recent “multiple orders” of the SC, Dar asserted that the top court’s verdict was a “minority” judgement and parliament, therefore, had urged the government not to implement it.
The federal cabinet, in its recent meetings, decided that the SC’s order for the release of election funds will be presented in parliament for discussion, he concluded.
Subsequently, NA Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that the bill had been referred to the relevant committee. The NA session was later adjourned till 2pm on April 13 (Thursday).
After wrapping up his speech in the NA, the finance minister headed to the Senate to table a copy of the same bill.
“I beg to lay before the senate a copy of the money bill to charge the sums upon the FCF for charging sum for general elections to the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and KP as required under Article 73 of the Constitution,” he said.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said: “The notices for the proposal to make recommendations on the money bill may be submitted by the members to the Senate Secretariat by Thursday, April 13, 2023 at 10am.
“The proposal received for making recommendations on the money bill shall be sent to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue which shall submit its report by Friday, April 14, 2023,” he said.
He said that on Friday the upper house of parliament would consider the committee’s report and make recommendations to the NA accordingly. He then adjourned the session till 10am on Friday.
Later, a joint session of parliament was held where the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 was passed amid protest by PTI senators and after a heated debate.
The bill, which is aimed at depriving the office of the chief justice of Pakistan of powers to take suo motu notice in an individual capacity, was presented by Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar.
The bill was approved by the federal cabinet on March 28 and the National Assembly passed it a day later after a few amendments suggested by the Standing Committee on Law and Justice. On March 30, it was passed by the Senate and then referred to the president for his approval.
The president, however, returned it, stating that the proposed legislation was beyond the jurisdiction of the legislative body and susceptible to challenge as a specious enactment.
While presenting it during the joint session today, Tarar read out the president’s reply, which stated that the proposed law “travels beyond the competence of parliament” and can be assailed as “colourable legislation”.
Tarar said the use of the words “colourable legislation” by the president was not appropriate, as it was a “negative comment on parliament’s independence and law-making power”.
The president, he stressed, should abstain from using such language. Tarar also alleged that the president had a discrimantory attitude in favour of “his party” while fulfilling his constitutional duties.
The law minister then went on to respond to various objections raised by the president on the bill.
Eventually, the bill was passed with one amendment proposed by PML-N MNA Shaza Fatima.
During the session, Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan also prosposed an amendment to the bill, but his amendment was rejected.
Both amendments mainly focused on changes in the language in the bill.
In her amendment, MNA Fatima suggested that:
- In sub-clause (1), after the word “two”, the word “next” shall be inserted
- The proposed sub-clause (2) shall be re-numbered as sub-clause (3) and for existing sub-clause (2), the following should be substituted, namely: “(2) Soon after the commencement of this Act, the committee constituted under sub-section (1) shall hold its first meeting to determine its procedure, including for holding meetings, and constitution of benches etc; “Provided that, till such time the procedure is determined under this sub-section, the meeting of the committee for the purpose of sub-section (1) shall be convened by the chief justice or other two members of the committee, as the case may be.”
- In clause (5), sub-clause (1), for the words “of the Supreme Court who exercised”, the word “exercising” shall be substituted.
- In clause (5), sub-clause (1), for the expression “for hearing, be fixed within a period not exceeding fourteen days”, the expression “within a period not exceeding fourteen days, be fixed for hearing” shall be substituted.
In his amendment, Senator Khan proposed that sub-clause (2) of the bill’s clause (5) shall be omitted.
Procedurally, after bills are passed by the joint sitting of the National Assembly and the Senate, they are presented to the president for his assent. If the president does not give his approval within 10 days, it will be deemed to have been given.
Apart from the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, the joint session also saw the passing of the resolution that stated that elections to the National Assembly and provincial assemblies be held on the same day.
The resolution was moved by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi.