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Govt presents SC bill in joint session of parliament

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Monday tabled the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023 in the joint session of the parliament as President Arif Alvi returned the bill curtailing the chief justice’s suo motu powers last week.

Earlier, Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Ishaq Dar tabled a bill pertaining to funds for general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hours before the deadline given by the Supreme Court for disbursal of Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ends.

The bill titled “Charged Sums for General Elections of Provincial Assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bill 2023” was presented in both houses of the parliament — National Assembly and Senate — minutes after the federal cabinet approved a summary prepared by the Ministry of Finance regarding the expenditure on elections.

The Supreme Court, in its April 4 verdict, had directed the federal government to release and provide ECP with funds worth Rs21 billion in any case by April 10 for polls.

While presenting the bill in the National Assembly, the finance minister said that it is now the responsibility of the parliament to decide whether funds to ECP should be released or not.

Expressing his views in the lower house, Dar said snap polls ordered by the apex court were not in the national interest due to security, and economic situation.

“Elections in all assemblies should be held on the same date,” the finance minister said, adding that the government laid this bill before the parliament in light of the Supreme Court’s orders to release Rs21 billion to the ECP.

The finance czar recalled that the lower house had also passed a resolution that the apex court’s order into the suo motu notice regarding holding elections in Punjab is a decision of 4-3 and the judgment of 3-0 is a minority verdict and that “should not be implemented”.

He further added that the federal cabinet, in its recent meeting, pondered over the apex court’s orders and in view of this NA’s resolution, has sought the will of the parliament to take a final decision regarding the allocation of funds for general elections for the provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP.

‘Simultaneous elections will reduce expenditures’
The finance minister said the coalition government fully believes in the supremacy of the parliament and rule of law and the Constitution.

Dar maintained that conducting elections is a constitutional responsibility, but it requires that polling for national and all the provincial assemblies is held simultaneously under caretaker setups.

He said this will not only reduce expenditures but also ensure free, fair, and transparent elections.

The finance czar recalled that the PTI regime had brought the country to the verge of default by violating the sovereign commitments made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), adding that this also harmed the credibility of Pakistan.

Pakistan is in danger of defaulting on its debt, with an IMF bailout programme stalled since November, while a bruising political battle is raging between the government and former prime minister Imran Khan.

The cash-strapped nation is in dire need of funds with its foreign exchange reserves hovering around $4.2 billion which provides barely one month of import cover.

NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf referred the bill to the NA standing committee concerned while adjourning the session till Thursday (April 13) 2pm.

Following the development, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) registered strong protests against the development, calling out the coalition government for their “ill practices”.

“A year after regime change conspiracy, puppet Crime Minister [and] his gang’s strings being pulled to formalise fascism using [parliament] to stop elections [and] end [independence] of the judiciary,” former human’s rights minister and senior PTI leader Shireen Mazari wrote on Twitter.

A day earlier, the cabinet had decided to refer the funds’ disbursal issue to the parliament, while also keeping in view the National Assembly’s resolution of April 6.

Through the resolution, the house asked the government not to implement the decision taken by the three-member bench, which ordered the ECP to hold the Punjab Assembly elections on May 14, terming the same unconstitutional and against the law.

Instead, the National Assembly, through the resolution, maintained the majority decision taken by four judges would be acceptable.

The federal cabinet Sunday had directed the finance minister — who has postponed his trip to the US on the premier’s directives — to prepare a summary for the release of elections funds for the guidance of the parliament.

During Sunday’s meeting, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar briefed the cabinet on all the legal and constitutional aspects of the Supreme Court directives and the release of funds to the ECP.

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