Election Commission is passive in action against violation of code of conduct But active in removing every info of transparency. Ahmad Jawad
In the midst of the Panama Papers scandal, and under immense pressure of the federal government, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday removed from its website the huge data of nomination papers and annexures of thousands of politicians who contested the 2013 general elections containing details of their ‘declared’ local and foreign properties and accounts and useful information which was being used by journalists to counter-check the facts with the details provided in the Panama Leaks.
After the Panama Papers’ revelations, only a few days earlier, the ECP removed the details of yearly ‘statements of and liabilities’ of all the parliamentarians which has attracted national and international criticism against the government and the ECP. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has even mentioned in his speech that he has asked the parliamentary committee to ask the ECP to upload the assets information once again. Prime Minister in his address to the nation has claimed, “These assets statements have been uploaded again”. Prime Minister was wrong here. However, now another major development has taken place.
The nomination papers of all contestants of 2013 general elections and nomination papers along with all annexures of all returned candidates of national assembly as well as provincial assemblies were present on ECP website which was great source of information for the voters, citizens as well as the media which was probing the Panama Papers disclosures and was comparing assets information with the details given in the nomination papers of the politicians. However, ECP was asked by a parliamentary committee headed by a federal minister and having majority of government legislators to remove all such assets information from ECP website. Interestingly, ECP was asked to do only after the government came to know about Panama Papers.
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed while talking to The News however said, “The ECP is an independent constitutional institution and in no way the government can order it do something including removing information about assets of the parliamentarians from its website.”
Documented facts prove information minister’s statement wrong. As a matter fact, only some time back, the ECP was asked to remove this information of assets of parliamentarians from its website. No one was available from ECP to comment on the record; however a source in ECP explained that when ECP was initially asked to remove assets information, it was not done. The ECP source added, “However, later when ECP was again asked by giving reference of section 42A of Representation of People’s Act (ROPA) 1976, the assets information was removed from the website.” According to the source, yet another request of the government to upload the assets statements was not entertained and it was asked to legislate.
However, the reference of section 42A of ROPA as given by ECP source is absolutely misleading. Instead sub-section 2 of the section 42A of ROPA calls for making assets statements public. The complete section of law is reproduced at the end of the story. Many government departments and even ECP upload many of official notifications and letter on their websites though no law provides for such uploading. In case of assets statements, the concerned law, Ropa 1976, binds ECP to make the information public. However, ECP came under government pressure only after Panama Papers’ disclosures and removed these assets statements and now has even removed all nomination papers of around 15,000 politicians as well as nomination papers and annexures in case of MNA and MPAs.
In addition to details of declared local and foreign assets, properties, bank accounts, vehicles etc, the nominations papers also contain information like CNIC and NTN numbers of the politicians using which any voter or citizen can check the taxes paid by leaders during any financial year and other details of their investment locally or abroad. After going through the nomination papers, also having details of immoveable and moveable assets, filed by different politicians contested elections from a certain constituency, any voter of that constituency will not only come to know about details of assets of leaders in his area but can also highlight that one or more leaders from his constituency have not declared certain assets which could have been in his knowledge. The voters can held their leader accountable in way and this was an automatic mechanism of accountability but ECP has finally accepted government’s pressure and removed whole information violating basic principles of transparency and fairness.
Not only this, many journalists were working on the nomination papers having complete details of assets of more than 15,000 politicians who contested elections from 849 national and provincial constituencies and on 221 reserved seats. In case of 1070 legislators including 342 MNA, 65 MPAs from Balochistan Assembly, 124 MPAs from KPK assembly, 371 MPAs from Punjab Assembly and 168 MPAs from Sindh Assembly, the nomination papers also contained complete annexures having more details of companies owned by the individuals, complete details of shares, properties, bank accounts, vehicles, ornaments etc. Only recently, after obtaining official documents of UK government’s land registry of the properties owned by ex-dictator General Musharraf, The News compared the information with the nomination papers he submitted with ECP for contesting 2013 general elections and proved that Musharraf paid more than Rs400 million to purchase different foreign properties in 2009 whereas he received merely Rs20 million from army after his retirement and his nomination papers show that he contained all properties and residential and commercial plots bestowed on him during his service. Musharraf is still unable to respond as to how he arranged hundreds of millions of rupees to purchase these foreign properties though his media team is responding to each and every story.
Tuesday marked a black day in Pakistan’s history regarding transparency, access to information and freedom to information. It is also a fact that the parliamentary committee which was used by the federal government to communicate with ECP on this count comprises members from the government as well as from opposition parties. It is also a fact that all of them were uneasy because of the availability of this data on ECP web after Panama Papers revelations as offshore leaks contain names of big wigs from both sides. Apparently, the government and opposition have joined hands against transparency and access to information to deprive the Pakistani and journalists from basic information of their politician and parliamentarians. Information minister Pervaiz Rasheed explained it in very simple terms and tried to shift the responsibility from him government to the ECP however, documentary evidences establish that it was the government which made the move and pressured ECP members to deprive Pakistan from their basic right to access the information about their own representatives.
Section 42A of ROPA:
42A. Yearly submission of statements of assets and liabilities.—
(1) Every member shall, on a form prescribed under clause (f) of sub-section (2) of section 12, submit a statement of assets and liabilities of his own, his spouse and dependents annually to the Commission by the thirtieth day of September each year.
(2) The statements of assets and liabilities submitted under sub-section (1) shall be published in the official Gazette and copies thereof may be obtained on payment of prescribed fee.
(3) The Commissioner shall, by the fifteenth day of October each year, notify the names of the members who fail to file statements of assets and liabilities within the period specified in sub-section (1) and by an order, direct that such member shall cease to function till such statement is submitted.
(4) Where 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.