ISLAMABAD: In what might come as a nightmare for many, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to randomly scrutinise annual statements of assets and liabilities submitted to it by the lawmakers.
Informed sources told Dawn that the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza had directed the secretariat to develop standard operating procedure (SOP) for the exercise including the modus operandi and timeline and put it before the Commission for approval.
Answering a question about the fate of the legislators found to be guilty of concealing their assets or making any other false declarations, an official of the ECP said they would be proceeded under Section 82 of the Representation of Peoples Act (ROPA).
All members of the national as well provincial assemblies are bound under Section 42A (1) of ROPA to submit a statement of assets and liabilities of their own, along with those of their spouses and dependents annually to the Commission by the thirtieth day of September each year. Members of the Senate are also required to do the same under Senate (elections) Act, 1975.
He pointed out that Section 42A (4) of the Constitution reads: “[w]here a member submits the statement of assets and liabilities under sub-section (1) which is found to be false in material particulars, he may be proceeded against under Section 82 for committing the offence of corrupt practice.”
Section 82 of ROPA prescribes punishment of imprisonment for a term up to three years for a person guilty of corrupt practice.
He said the Commission would do the audit itself and if need be would refer the same to judicial, administrative or revenue authorities. Answering a question, he said Section 104 of ROPA reads “[a]nything required to be done for carrying out the purpose of this Act, for which no provision or no sufficient provision exists shall be done by such authority and in such manner as the Commission may direct”.
The decision has been taken days after the ECP reactivated its political finance wing and suspended as many as 337 lawmakers who failed to submit their statements of assets and liabilities.
For over a decade, the submission of assets and liabilities has remained a formality, with the ECP simply receiving the statements of assets and liabilities and publishing the same in the official gazette without any attempt to verify the veracity of the information submitted.
Majority of lawmakers conveniently ignore the requirement of submitting statements of assets of their spouses and dependents, knowing well that no questions would be asked. There is a common perception that the value of assets is under-declared by most of the politicians. There are many politicians including some prominent ones who declare they do not own a car, but are seen moving in motorcades.
The decision to go for audit of statements of assets comes at a time when the ECP is seized with disqualification petitions against prominent political leaders including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz, Prime Minister’s son-in-law retired Captain Muhammad Safadar, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan and Secretary General Jehangir Khan Tarin and some other PTI legislators, on the charge of concealment of assets.
Most of the parties in the case had challenged the jurisdiction of the ECP to take up the disqualification petitions directly filed with it. The ECP decided that it would settle the matter pertaining to its jurisdiction before proceeding with the petitions.