ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has refused the EU’s €15 million ($ 18.6 million) grant for parliamentary reforms — mainly meant for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and election monitoring bodies — fearing that this would compromise its sovereignty and national security.
“Signing of the agreement would have serious implications on the supremacy and independence of Parliament as well as sovereignty and national security,” Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed these reservations in an inter-ministerial meeting on the proposed EU financing agreement.
According to documents available to Arab News, Aqsa Nawaz, director for Europe at the ministry, also emphasized during a meeting held Dec. 19 that before signing any agreement it would be important to analyze and check whether the same is in line with the constitution of Pakistan.
“It has been a disappointment that despite the efforts from both sides that the EU and Pakistan could not come to an agreement on €15 million in support to the ECP and election monitoring bodies,” the EU ambassador to Pakistan, Jean-Francois Cautain, told Arab News.
The ambassador, however, emphasized that EU cooperation on elections with Pakistan is a decade-old story which has brought many positive results.
“The EU is currently discussing with the ECP an EU exploratory mission which would come to assess the conditions to deploy a full Election Observation Mission for the general election as we did in 2008 and 2013,” Cautain added.
The general elections are due to be held in August this year after completion of five-year term of the present government in the office.
A representative of Pakistan’s National Assembly Secretariat also shared his concern during the inter-ministerial meeting “on third-party engagement/contracting by the EU which would cause unnecessary hurdles by creating a parallel bureaucracy and extravagant overhead,” says the documents.
“The support of the EU could be more effective if projects were implemented through parliamentary institutions like the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services and project management unit of the National Assembly Secretariat,” suggested Danish Ali Bhutto, a research officer at the National Assembly, during the meeting.
This strongly worded objection to the EU’s grant both by the Foreign Office and National Assembly Secretariat has forced the government to refuse the grant.
The ECP director of public relations, Altaf Ahmad, told Arab News that the cancelation of the EU grant would not impact the electoral process as this was to be used mainly on technical assistance to the election commission and capacity building of the relevant staff.
“This EU grant was to be used through international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) on different auxiliary functions of the election commission and this could be one of the reasons behind the government’s refusal to accept it,” he said.
Ahmad, however, accepted that foreign funding like that from the EU, helps in their different operations like voter education, different computer software updates and monitoring irregularities on polling day.
Sarwar Bari, national coordinator of Pattan Development Organization and a renowned expert who has done numerous capacity-building projects for parliamentarians, believes that the government wants to cut itself off from the international community instead of improving governance.
“This refusal of the EU grant is part of the government’s policies against NGOs and INGOs, and this will definitely raise questions over transparency of the elections if their space to operate and monitor the polls is further shrunk,” he said.
Former election commission secretary and expert on election-related matters Kanwar Dilshad appreciated the government’s “bold decision” of refusing the EU grant, saying, “Pakistan is a sovereign country and it should not allow any foreign entity to interfere in its election process through a paltry financial grant.”
He said the EU or any other country that provides financial aid for the elections ultimately “tries to influence the whole election process by dictating different terms and conditions and producing controversial reports on the country’s electoral process.”
Dr. Muhammad Faisal, spokesperson for Foreign Office, told Arab News: “Why should the EU fund our parliamentary reforms? We can do it on our own.”
“The grant is bound to compromise our national security and that’s why we have objected to it,” he said.
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