Pakistan’s top court warns government over failure to provide poll funds - GulfToday

Pakistan’s top court warns government over failure to provide poll funds


The building of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Tariq Butt, Correspondent

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan on Wednesday made it clear that it will not backtrack from its April 4 order as it issued notices to all political parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, for the hearing on Thursday.

The top court also warned the government of "serious consequences" if it failed to release the funds required for conducting polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The SC issued the warning while hearing the defence ministry's request to hold general elections across Pakistan simultaneously upon completion of the terms of the national as well as Sindh and Balochistan assemblies.

A three-member bench was hearing the defence ministry's plea against elections in Punjab, scheduled for May 14. At the very start, the chief justice said the issue has dragged on for too long and asked the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan to read the finance ministry’s report out loud in the courtroom.

He said the government had stated that the funds required for the elections would be issued via a supplementary grant, however, the "matter was sent to the parliament."

The AGP replied that the finance committee of the National Assembly had referred the matter to the cabinet and the parliament.

Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, in response to the AGP's reply that funds need to be approved or are otherwise classified as "unconstitutional," said that there was no previous instance of referring such administrative matters to the standing committee and funds spent on polls were a "necessary" expenditure.

Justice Bandial also noted that the ECP had stated that polls in the two provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) could not be conducted till October as the watchdog had stated security concerns. "Terrorism has been present in the country since 1992," said the chief justice as he observed that polls have been held in the country despite terror threats.

Giving an example of the elections in 2008, shortly after the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, Justice Bandial asked what new danger was present to not hold polls in the country.

To this, AGP Awan replied that the security forces performed election duty at one time before and now, "elections will take place in two provinces separately". "What guarantee is there that the security situation will improve by October 8?" the chief justice asked.

The apex court then sought another response from the government regarding the provision of funds and Justice Bandial said "failure to provide funds could have serious consequences.”

Justice Ijazul Ahsan observed that the court's directives were being sent from one department to another and asked if there was any guarantee that elections would be held in the coming October.

The CJP also observed that court proceedings in the matter commenced on March 27 and concluded on April 4, and added that while there was a "boycott" of the proceedings, the issue of security was not raised.

To this, the AGP replied that senior military officials had briefed the apex court judges regarding the security situation.

Justice Bandial said the request by the Ministry of Defence and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was not sufficient to withdraw the court's directives as the ECP had initially claimed that elections can be held if the funds were provided.

He further said that the report by the defence minister had a "strange" stance and asked if the "ministry of defence can request holding elections simultaneously in the country?” The chief justice said that the ministry's plea was "not maintainable.”

Referring to political dialogue, the AGP said Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto had met the premier on Tuesday and all ruling parties, apart from one, are willing to talk with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He said that the matter could be hopefully resolved if the "court gave more time."

Justice Bandial appreciated the AGP's stance and said it had "some weight" and the court could "make some room" if all political parties were united in their stance.

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