ISLAMABAD: After practically blocking the restructuring of FBR, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has also asked the government to “refrain from taking any further steps including signing of an agreement”, about the privatisation of PIA or its entities till its formal clearance.

In a letter to the cabinet secretary less than a week ahead of general elections, the ECP reminded the federal government of Article 230 of the Constitution, which explains the roles and limitations of the caretaker government and sought all relevant cabinet documentation, according to sources said.

Cabinet Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal had earlier taken up the issue of “privatisation of government entities (including PIA) by the caretaker government” for clearance. The election commission has “directed that the caretaker government should refrain from taking any further steps including signing of an agreement in this regard, till a decision is made by this Commission under Section 230” of the constitution.

The ECP directed the government to “provide all relevant documents prepared for approval of the Cabinet containing comprehensive privatisation programme in relation to the privatisation of PIA” to the ECP as required under Clause 5(b) of the Privatisation Commission Ordinance, 2000 and Section 230 of the Constitution.

Reminds caretaker govt of its limitations under Article 230

Earlier, the ECP had barred the caretaker government from restructuring the FBR, despite clearance from the cabinet and the Special Investment Facilitation Council.

It had written to the prime minister on Jan 30 to leave the FBR restructuring to the incoming elected government.

“No doubt, the improvement and reformation of state-owned institutions are one of the core jobs of the government of the day to improve the overall performance of the government machinery,” but the constitutional scheme and intent of legislature had also defined the scope of functions of the caretaker government in Section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017.

It said that the constitutional provision required the caretaker government to perform day-to-day matters necessary to run the affairs of the government.

Consequently, the planned overhauling of FBR attracted the said statutory provisions and fell under major policy decision — the prerogative of an elected government.

The ECP said the caretaker prime minister “should not to go for major reforms in FBR and to keep it pending for consideration by the new to-be-elected government by virtue of the General Elections 2024”.

Sources said the cabinet division would now be required to furnish the relevant documentation on PIA privatisation to ECP which would now be pre-occupied with its fundamental responsibility of holding general elections across the country and may have limited space to focus on the day-to-day matters of the government which were similar to the FBR restructuring.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2024

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