Acting President Sadiq Sanjrani — who has assumed the role as President Arif Alvi went on Haj — approved the amended Finance Bill 2023-24 and the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2023 on Monday.

A day ago, the said bills sailed through the National Assembly.

The Finance Bill was passed after the government had made several changes, including fiscal tightening measures, dictated by the Internat­ional Monetary Fund (IMF) in a last-ditch effort to secure critical funding.

The National Assembly had also passed the bill seeking an amendment to the Elections Act 2017, aimed at limiting the disqualification of lawmakers to five years with a retrospective effect. It also aims to empower the Election Commission of Pakistan to announce election dates unilaterally without having to consult the president.

The bills were passed during a National Assembly session that lacked quorum, with only 70 lawmakers on the treasury benches and two on the opposition benches.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, his father and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, and Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz were also absent.

Rs215bn in new taxes

The NA had on Sunday approved the next fiscal year’s budget, which was revised a day earlier to meet International Monetary Fund conditions in a last-ditch attempt by the government to secure much-needed bailout funds.

Under the changes in the budget, the government now aims to generate another Rs215bn in taxes and cut spending by Rs85bn in the next fiscal year, without reducing the federal development budget or the salaries and pensions of government employees.

This revises the government’s revenue collection target to Rs9.415tr and put total spending at Rs14.48tr. The share of the provinces would be increased to Rs5.39tr from Rs5.28tr.

The allocation for the Benazir Income Support Programme has also been revised from Rs450bn to Rs466bn for FY24. Besides, the petroleum development levy will be raised from Rs50 to Rs60 per litre.

The changes in the budget came a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on the sidelines of the Global Financing Summit in Paris.

The Fund’s ongoing loan programme agreed in 2019 is set to expire on June 30. Under the $6.5bn facility’s ninth review, negotiated earlier this year, the country has been trying to secure $1.1bn of funding stalled since November.

When Dar presented the budget on June 9, he announced new revenue measures of Rs223bn in addition to all taxes worth Rs500bn introduced in a mini-budget in mid-February. The sum of new tax measures for the coming fiscal year now stands at Rs938bn.

The government hopes to achieve a 28 per cent higher revenue target for the next fiscal year based on the projected economic growth of 3.5pc, average inflation of 21pc and revenue measures.

The autonomous growth in revenue — to come from Gross Domestic Product growth and inflation — is projected at Rs1.76tr in the next fiscal year.

Elections (Amendment) Bill 2023

After its approval from the upper house of parliament, the NA had also approved the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2023 a day earlier.

The bill, dubbed as ‘person-specific legislation’ by the opposition, would benefit PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and newly-for­med Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) patron Jahangir Khan Tareen. The two were disqualified for life more than five years ago after a Supreme Court judgement ruled that the disqualification under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution was for life.

According to the amendment to Section 232 (Qualifications and Disqualifications) of the Elections Act, a permanent bar or disqualification of a member is against “the letter and spirit of Islam” as well as the Constitution. According to the statement of objects and reasons of the bill, it was introduced to ensure a “fair trial and due process, and right of appeal and limit the period of disqualification in cases relating to a declaration referred to in paragraph (f) of clause (1) of Article 62”.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any other provision of this Act, any other law for the time being in force and judgement, order or decree of any court, including the Supreme Court and a high court, the disqualification of a person to be elected, chosen or to remain as a member of the Parliament or provincial assembly under paragraph (f) of clause (1) of Article 62 of the Constitution shall be for a period not exceeding five years from the declaration of the court of law in that regard and such declaration shall be subject to the due process of law,” it stated.

The amendment added that the procedure, manner and duration of disqualifications and qualifications should be as specifically provided for in relevant provisions of Articles 63 and 64 of the Constitution.

“Where no such procedure, manner or duration has been provided for therein, the provisions of this Act shall apply,” it added.

The proposed amendment to Section 57(1) of the Elections Act read, “The commission shall announce the date or dates of the general elections by notification in the official gazette and shall call upon the constituencies to elect their representatives.”

The amendment to Section 58 reads, “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 57, the commission may at any time after the issuance of notification under subsection (1) of that section make such alterations in the election programme announced in that notification for the different stages of the election or may issue a fresh election programme with a fresh poll date(s) as may in its opinion to be recorded in writing be necessary for the purposes of this Act.”

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