The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday issued notices to the finance secretary, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Jameel Ahmad, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) over the government’s failure to disburse Rs21 billion in funds for polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The top court has instructed the officials to appear in the judges’ chamber on April 14.

In its April 4 verdict — issued by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar — the apex court had ordered the government to provide Rs21bn in funds to the ECP to conduct elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by April 10, and directed the ECP to provide a report to the court on whether or not the government complied with the order on April 11.

The ECP, in a report submitted yesterday, informed the court about the government’s reluctance to issue the amount needed for elections.

The government, meanwhile, has referred the matter to Parliament to decide.

In a notice issued by the SC registrar today, the apex court noted that the report submitted by the ECP yesterday stated “no funds have at all been released and provided to it as required by the order of the court”.

“The failure of the federal government to comply with the order of the court as aforesaid is prima facie disobedience,” it observed. “The consequences that can flow from such prima facie defiance of the court are well settled and known.

“Every person who embarks upon, encourages or instigates disobedience or defiance of the court can be held liable and accountable,” the notice pointed out.

It highlighted that the “disobedience” by the federal government would put the conduct of timely elections as mandated by the Constitution in “jeopardy”.

“The question of the provision of funds for such a vital constitutional purpose is something that requires immediate attention which takes priority over proceeding against those who may have committed contempt of the court,” the SC said.

Subsequently, the court issued a notice to the SBP governor and the next senior most official of the bank, and directed them to appear before the chamber of the judges on April 14 (Friday) at 11am. It directed them to bring the record and details of money owned by the federal government lying with or under the control, custody or management of the central bank.

The court also issued notices to the AGP, the finance secretary and the “next most senior official” in the Ministry of Finance for an in-person appearance the same day. “The said officials shall bring with them all the relevant record and shall place before the court a detailed report as to why the order of the court made in para 5 of Const. P. 5/2023 has not been complied with, as stated by the commission,” it said.

Issuing similar notices to the ECP secretary and director general law, the court directed them to prepare and submit the full record pertaining to the general elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies.

ECP report

Though the contents of the report submitted by the ECP in court yesterday are not known, a source privy to the information told Dawn that the one-page report informed the apex court about the government’s reluctance to issue the Rs21 billion needed for the purpose.

The report also stated that the caretaker government of Punjab had informed the election watchdog that due to resource constraints, the government could only sanction 75,000 security personnel against the demand for 300,000 security forces.

It may be mentioned that the the SC had in its verdict ordered the Punjab caretaker cabinet and in particular, the chief secretary and the police chief, to provide a plan acceptable to the ECP for providing sufficient personnel for election duty and security purposes.

In case, the Punjab government and its officials must, in the discharge of constitutional and legal duties and responsibilities, proactively provide all aid and assistance to the commission for the holding and conduct of the general election, as per the judgement.

Govt’s hesitation in issuing funds

The federal government’s hesitation in issuing funds is being interpreted as an apparent attempt to delay elections, at least until October, which is evidenced by the tabling of the money bill in parliament.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tabled a bill in the National Assembly and Senate seeking the release of funds for holding elections in Punjab and KP.

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.

On the other hand, a number of resolutions have been passed by lawmakers seeking simultaneous elections instead of split polls after the dissolution of KP and Punjab assemblies, as envisaged by the top court in its recent judgement.

On Monday, the Senate passed a resolution endorsing joint elections whereas the KP caretaker cabinet also put its weight behind general elections across the country on the same day.

Moreover, a resolution passed by the Balochistan Assembly cited the economic crisis and the on-going census exercise as it advocated a delay in elections.

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