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Pakistani Politicians Change Election Law to Escape Accountability

Pakistan Elections Act 2017 passed by the National Assembly has removed the requirements for key disclosures relating to the ownership of assets, income taxes paid or owed, bank loan defaults, foreign residency (iqama) and  educational qualifications of the candidates for national and provincial legislatures in the upcoming elections. This came in October 2017 after several members of the national parliament were caught lying and subsequently disqualified by the courts under Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan's constitution. Those disqualified include top politicians like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PMLN party and PTI leader and parliamentarian Jahangir Tareen.

Politicians Dominate Off-shore Company Owners in Panama Leaks 

Nomination Disclosures:

The nomination forms of candidates for national and provincial assemblies in Pakistan have been redesigned this year to remove all questions on assets, income taxes paid or owed, bank loan defaults, foreign residency (iqama) and  educational qualifications.  This was done based on Pakistan Elections Act 2017 that became law on October 2, 2017 in the wake of several disqualifications from holding office or being a legislator. 

Many legislators from across the political spectrum have  been caught lying on their nomination forms filed in prior elections. Some have been disqualified for false financial declarations while others have been removed for lying about their foreign residency visas (iqama), dual nationality or education. 

Corrupt Politicians:

A study by Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan (CIRP) identified 461 members in national and provincial assemblies who did not pay income taxes in 2015. This figure includes ministers and other prominent political leaders. Federal Board of Revenue found that many of the 550 lawmakers (54%) falsely claimed they paid taxes.

Switzerland-based World Economic Forum estimates that Pakistan loses over $10 billion in tax revenue every year. The country's lost tax revenue puts it at number 8 among the top 10 countries with biggest tax losses.

 

Recent British National Crime Agency (NCA) report identified politicians from developing countries and their families as the biggest culprits of money laundering.  The report listed Pakistan, Nigeria and Russia as the top source countries for money laundering in the United Kingdom, according to British media reports. The NCA report says the UK is a prime destination for foreign corrupt and politically exposed people (politicians and their families) to launder money.

Evidence from a number of recent reports released in the West suggests that politicians in developing nations engage in massive corruption to siphon money out of their countries to build family fortunes in the West.

One indication of it came with the Panama Papers leak that was dominated by politicians.  Mossack Fonseca's 11.5 million leaked internal files contained information on more than 214,000 offshore entities tied to 12 current or former heads of state, 140 politicians, including Pakistan's now ex Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family.  Icelandic Prime Minister resigned voluntarily and Pakistani Prime Minister was forced out by the country's Supreme Court.

The Panama list included showbiz and sports celebrities, lawyers, entrepreneurs,  businessmen, generals, journalists and other occupations but it was heavily dominated by politicians.

The multi-trillion dollar massive net outflow of money from the poor to the rich countries has been documented by the US-based Global Financial Integrity (GFI). This flow of capital has been described as "aid in reverse". It has made big headlines in Pakistan and elsewhere since the release of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Leaks which revealed true owners of offshore assets held by anonymous shell companies. Bloomberg has reported that Pakistanis alone own as much as $150 billion worth of undeclared assets offshore.

Conspiracy Theories:

Pakistani politicians' response to evidence of financial corruption and money laundering has been essentially to distract attention and to cover up. While ex Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party are spinning conspiracy theories to distract attention from their misdeeds, the Pakistani parliament is passing laws to reduce transparency and increase opacity by eliminating financial and other disclosure requirements as part of election process.

Summary:

Pakistani politicians have responded to disqualifications for lying on their nomination papers by passing laws to do away with the requirement for financial and other disclosures. Such a move further reinforces the public distrust in the political class to govern honestly and put the interest of the people above their own interest. Such laws to reduce transparency do not augur well for the future of democracy in Pakistan. 

  

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 1, 2018 at 4:29pm

LHC orders ECP to revise nomination forms after crucial information is found omitted

https://www.dawn.com/news/1411364/lhc-orders-ecp-to-revise-nominati...

The court in its judgement noted that the impugned forms do not contain the following information and declarations that were a part of the 2013 nomination forms:

Educational qualifications of the candidate
Current occupation/job/profession/business of the candidate
Dual nationality, if any
National Tax Number/Income tax returns/ and payment of income tax
Agriculture tax returns and payment of agriculture tax
Criminal record, if any
Assets and liabilities of dependents
Declaration pertaining to election expenses
Declaration pertaining to any default in loan or government dues by dependents
Declaration that the candidate will abide by the code of conduct issued by ECP
"The impugned forms do not provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the Constitution and the law," Justice Malik wrote in the 39-page judgement.

"The lack of disclosure and information [in Forms A and B] essentially means that a voter will not have the required information on the basis of which an informed decision can be made."

In support of his arguments, the petitioner's counsel had attached a comparative chart showing the difference between the 2008, 2013 and 2018 nomination forms which he claimed showed that vital information was missing from the new forms.

While partially allowing the petitions, the court ruled that the ECP is empowered to add to or improve Form A and B "so as to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring honest, just and fair elections".

The judge dismissed the petitioner's challenge to the drafting of the nomination form by the parliament for having no merit.

Justice Malik, however, wrote that while the parliament can make laws to regulate the conduct of elections, "the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure free and fair elections is of the ECP. Hence ECP is responsible to ensure that a voter is able to make an informed decision and that the nomination forms achieve this objective."

ECP halts issuance of nomination forms
Hours after the LHC judgement was issued, ECP issued a press release saying it has called an emergency meeting at its secretariat on Saturday to make decisions about improving Forms A and B in light of the court order.

It also directed returning officers across the country not to receive nomination forms tomorrow.

The press release said that the high court's order reaffirms ECP's stance which was presented before the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms that the nomination form should be a part of election rules and drafted by the commission.

During the hearing of the petition, ECP's legal director had supported the arguments of the petitioner's counsel, saying mandatory provisions of the law have been ignored and vital information has not been provided for in the forms.

He had informed the court that the commission in a letter to the Parliamentary Committee for Electoral Reforms requested that the ECP, in the very least, be heard by the committee before any draft is prepared. However, the request was not adhered to.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 6, 2018 at 8:26pm

SC restores ‘omitted’ affidavits in nomination forms for 2018 polls
By Irfan GhauriPublished: June 6, 2018

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1729088/1-sc-orders-candidates-submit-...

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has directed all candidates of the July 25 elections to attach approved affidavits along with their applications, after the Supreme Court on Wednesday practically restored almost all information omitted in the nomination forms approved by parliament last year.

These affidavits include declarations by the candidate about not defaulting on a bank loan or utility charges, details about candidate’s spouse (s) and dependents and their businesses, details of any criminal charges, education credentials, taxes paid in the last three years, contribution to community’s welfare, donations to the party or sums received from the party and net assets with annual increase/decrease in them.

Candidates will also need to declare information about their travels abroad during the last three years and cost incurred on these visits. They will permit Foreign Office to obtain information if they had been citizen of any other country, or applied for that.

Hearing a petition filed by National Assembly’s former speaker Ayaz Sadiq against the Lahore High Court (LHC) decision to redraft nomination forms, the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench earlier in the day directed the ECP to prepare draft of missing affidavits and submit to the court immediately for approbation.

After receiving the drafts, the court released written orders later in the evening with direction for the ECP to inform all candidates of the national and provincial legislatures to file these affidavits along with their nomination papers.

Polls schedule issued on June 1 fixed five days from June 2 to 6 for submission of nomination papers. However, the schedule was amended after the LHC ordered restoration of the omitted information from the nomination forms.

A number of affidavits that were part of nomination papers in the last general election were omitted when parliament made these forms part of Elections Act in October 2017, despite reservations of the ECP. The ECP wanted these matters be left to it.

Since these forms had become part of law, many legal experts believed that these could not be changed without the parliament’s approval. However, the court order has given legal cover to the changes made in the new nomination forms being used for next month’s elections.

The Supreme Court order said candidates who had already filed their nomination papers should file the said affidavit with the returning officers by or before June 11, 2018. It warned that failure to file such affidavit would render the nomination papers incomplete and liable to rejection.

“If the affidavit or any part thereof is found false then it shall have consequences, as contemplated by the Constitution and the law. Since the Affidavit is required to be filed in pursuance of the orders of this court, therefore, if any false statement is made therein, it would also entail such penalty as is of filing a false affidavit before this court,” said the SC order.

The court also directed the ECP to put these affidavits on its official website; communicate to all the returning officers; and publicise them in all the leading newspapers. It also asked the ECP to inform the public through the electronic media in this regard.

“With regard to the information omitted from the Nomination Papers and Form A & B, as issued in terms of Elections Act, 2017, when examined in juxtaposition with the requirement of the Nomination Forms previously in vogue under the ROPA, 1976, it appears that the information, no longer required to be disclosed, prima facie, would facilitate the determination of the qualification or disqualification of a candidate and would lead to greater transparency regarding the credentials of a candidate facilitating the electorate in making a more informative choice,” the order said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 12, 2018 at 7:33am

More than 100 election candidates' particulars declared 'extremely dubious'
Fahad Chaudhry Updated June 12, 2018 


https://www.dawn.com/news/1413663

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), during its scrutiny of candidates for the 2018 general elections, has so far found that more than 100 candidates are bank defaulters, DawnNewsTV reported on Tuesday citing sources in the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The SBP has declared the particulars submitted by these candidates as "extremely dubious".

According to the SBP report, which has reportedly been sent to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), PPP's Hina Rabbani Khar and Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo — a hopeful from NA-143, NA-144 and PP-186 — have their names on the list.

Ahmed Shah Khagga (PP-193), Ghulam Ahmed Shah (PP-193), Asim Irshad Khan (NA-124), Ameer Ahmed Siyal (NA-116), Khalid Masood (NA-30), Abdul Sattar Bachani and Zulfiqar Bachani (both from NA-224), Ameer Waliuddin Chishti (NA-256), Ayaz Khan (NA-257) and Changez Khan (NA-258) are also among the defaulters, as per DawnNewsTV's sources.


Azhar Khokhar (NA-52), Zainab Ahsan (PP-109), Umar Farooq (PP-113), Mushtaq Ahmed (PP-136), Ali Asim Shah (PP-185), Muhammad Ali Tarkai (PK-46) and Chaudhry Shakeel Gulzar (PP-66) are also among those who owe money to banks.

The scrutiny of nomination papers to exclude ineligible candidates from the election race started today, a day after returning officers (ROs) completed the process of receiving nomination papers from prospective candidates.

According to ECP spokesman Altaf Ahmad Khan, particulars of 12,000 candidates have so far been sent to the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Bureau of Revenue, SBP and other relevant institutions — out of which 7,500 had been verified with the help of an online system.

1,514 candidates are PTCL defaulters
Over 1,500 candidates who filed their nomination papers for various provincial and national assembly seats with the ECP are defaulters of Pakistan Telecommunication Limited (PTCL), a report sent by the company to ECP said on Tuesday.

The defaulters include Murad Saeed (Rs14,000), Faisal Kareem Kundi (Rs21,000), Ejaz Chaudhry (Rs33,521) and Syed Zafar Ali Shah (Rs18,000) among others.

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