ECP funding linked to use of voting machines

Minister says parliament has passed law and commission is bound to implement its decision


Rizwan Shehzad   November 30, 2021
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The federal cabinet on Tuesday linked the release of funds for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to the use of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) for all the polls held in the country.

“The ECP is bound to conduct all the elections using EVMs as the parliament has passed it into law,” Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry told the media at a post-cabinet meeting briefing.

“If the elections are not held through EVMs, then the government would not be able to release funds to the ECP… and the law minister is of the same view. The law permits holding elections only using the EVMs,” he added.

The PTI-led government had amended the Elections Act, 2017 in a joint session of parliament earlier this month, allowing the use of EVMs and e-voting right to overseas Pakistanis amid fervent protest by the opposition.

“That is why we want the ECP to quickly move ahead in this direction.”

Subsequently, Fawad said, the cabinet had formed a committee and directed the law ministry to give its legal opinion on the issue.

In addition, the minister said that the science and technology minister briefed the cabinet about the procurement of the total number of EVMs, training of staff, responsibilities of the agencies concerned, public awareness campaign and timely delivery.

Talking to The Express Tribune after the briefing, the information minister said roughly Rs27 billion rupees would be required for holding the next general elections.

“Around 400,000 machines with 800,000 voting pads would be enough to hold the provincial and national assembly elections in 2023,” he added.

“However, the ECP says that 800,000 EVMs would be needed to hold the next general elections.”
While reducing the number of machines to half of the ECP’s demand, he did not rule out the possibility of holding the provincial and national assemblies’ elections on separate days.

Fawad said a five-member committee would deliberate further on the issue and give its recommendations to the cabinet.To a question in the briefing if the government was “blackmailing” the ECP by linking the funds to the holding elections via EVMs, the minister responded that whether or not the entire parliament was being called a “blackmailer”.

Also read: Legislation bonanza

“The parliament has passed the bills and the ECP is bound to implement its decision.” The information minister also spoke about the depleting gas reserves in the country and its load management plan for the winter, the purported vote-buying video clips for the NA-133 by-election in Lahore as well the statement of ex-Gilgit Baltistan chief judge Rana Shamim expressing ‘ignorance’ about his affidavit.

“It seems that [former premier] Nawaz Sharif provided the affidavit to the newspaper,” Fawad alleged.
He hoped that the court would take notice of the manner in which the PML-N allegedly sponsored a campaign against the judiciary and the army and bring it to a logical conclusion.
The minister said the cabinet had expressed its grave concerns over the video clips showing vote-buying for the NA 133 by-election.

“Such illegal actions are anti-democratic. Things now would have been different now had the ECP taken action after vote-buying videos had emerged during Senate elections.” He said it was crucial that the ECP was strengthened and it acted as an effective body.

On the load management plan for the winter 2021-22, the minister said that gas would be reserved for domestic consumers only because of its low cost and the CNG sector would be closed from December 1, 2021, to February 15. 2022.

He added that gas supply to the independent power producers, fertiliser factories and export-sector industries would continue.

“Power plants running on LNG will be provided 5% additional gas.”
In addition, he said, electricity prices had been reduced for domestic consumers in winter to meet the gas shortage.

“The gas saved from CNG, cement and captive power will be used for domestic consumption. He said that a public awareness campaign is also being launched to save gas.”

During the meeting, federal industries and production minister gave a detailed briefing to the cabinet on the current stock and prices of fertilisers in the country.

The meeting was informed that this year, the companies released 53% more fertiliser to the dealers in Sindh against previous year, causing a shortage of urea in Punjab and jacking up its prices.

However, on the directions of the prime minister, measures were taken to reduce this disparity and a crackdown was launched on hoarders.

This resulted in an average reduction of Rs400 per sack. At present, a sack of urea is available in Gujranwala for Rs1,850.

There is a surplus of 200,000 tons of fertiliser against the domestic demand. The cabinet was informed that an online portal had been set up to monitor the supply of fertilisers.

On the recommendation of the aviation ministry, the cabinet approved the renewal of aviation licences of Serene Air, Airblue, PIACL and Princely Jets under the National Aviation Policy 2019.

On the commerce ministry's suggestions, the cabinet allowed the staff stationed at the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran to import personal vehicles on repatriation under the “Hardship Policy”. The cabinet approved to increase the visa period from 120 days to 150 days for those coming to Pakistan from Tablighi Jamaat from abroad. It also gave the nod to granting a 45-day on-arrival visa for Tablighi Jamaat.

The cabinet postponed the approval to issue overseas employment promoter licences It directed that a procedure be worked out within a week to review the work of these promoters. The cabinet also approved the holding of a special meeting of OIC foreign ministers in Pakistan as well as sending 50,000 tons of wheat in aid to Afghanistan.

Planning Minister Asad Umar briefed the cabinet on the new variant of Covid-19, Omicron.
The meeting was informed that the new variant originated in Africa. According to initial reports, the rate of its spread is very high.

The cabinet called for the implementation of Covid-19 SOPs such as use of masks in public places, social distancing and vaccinations for public safety.

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