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ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance has unanimously rejected the bill moved to provide funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the general election in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the State Minister for Finance stating that the country being in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme has to remain within the agreed budget deficit.

The meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance was convened to consider “The Charged Sum for General Election of Punjab and KP Assemblies Bill, 2023”.

Minister of State for Finance Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha told the committee that only Rs5 billion have been allocated in the budget for the ECP in the ongoing fiscal year but the Supreme Court has asked for giving Rs21 billion to the ECP for election in two provinces. This is the reason to bring the “money bill”. She said that the country’s fiscal state is very precarious and the government is under the IMF programme.

In response to Ali Pervez Malik’s question whether the Finance Ministry can give money to the ECP or not, Pasha said, “We are in the IMF programme and cannot increase the fiscal deficit. We do not have funds.”

The Chairman of the committee wanted to have a meeting with some members ahead of the proceedings to make a plan of action but Khalid Magsi and some other members opposed separate meeting arguing that the members have been waiting for half an hour therefore; the meeting should be started at once. The Chairman of the committee also expressed displeasure over the finance minister’s absence and stated that this was decided in the previous meeting that no government bill would be taken up unless minister turns up.

Some members wanted to know why for the first time this money bill was brought to this committee as this never happened before. The Chairman of the committee also inquired that has ever money bill was brought to the National Assembly Standing Committee before.

When an official of the Law Ministry said that after being presented in the Parliament, the money bill is presented to the Standing Committee on Finance of the National Assembly, the Chairman of the committee stated that he has not seen this happening in the last 10 years.

Member of the committee Barjees Tahir also supported the Chairman and stated that the money bill is never presented in the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance.

Khalid Magsi said that if the Punjab elections are held before other provinces, their impact would be on elections in other provinces as well, therefore, the election should be held across the country on the same day.

The Minister of State for Finance blamed the previous government for the current economic situation and stated that the government is under immense stress as far as the financial situation is concerned. The national economy is under severe pressure and the growth forecast has been downgraded.

Barjees Tahir said that he received phone calls from different places to make sure presence in the committee meeting. He suggested that the government should refuse to give funds if it does not have, and stated that eight judges are only worried about Punjab’s elections. We are with the government to stop these elections, he added. Khalid Magsi also stated that we do not have money to give to the Election Commission. The secretary ECP said that the ECP has to submit a report to the Supreme Court today (Friday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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