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EDITORIAL: It’s becoming something of a trend that every now and then some surprising, and some not so surprising, bits and pieces of information hit the headlines about the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) foreign funding case. The latest is that a list has emerged out of nowhere of PTI employees who were authorised to receive party donations from within and outside Pakistan. The party has said in its clarification that a one-time permission was indeed granted to four employees by its finance board, but the amounts received in this manner from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through Western Union went to their private accounts only to be transferred to the main party account itself.

This could have very serious ramifications for the case, of course, since UAE’s laws do not allow political donations or fund-raising for political purposes and technically the practice of routing money through a third party in this way to circumvent the law can fall within the definition of money laundering. Therefore, the party’s only explanation so far does not help its own position very much. And it is only going to strengthen the opposition’s narrative that PTI has something to hide in the foreign funding case. Surely, it’s in the party’s own interest to make a clean breast of it and lay all the details about all the funding it has ever received from all sources out in the open. That would fit very nicely with what Prime Minister Imran Khan has to say about it, but even in trying to ensure more transparency the party’s actions have only raised more questions; some very uncomfortable ones. Because the prime minister was left in a very awkward position when PTI disowned itself from his public offer to end secrecy during the scrutiny of the party’s foreign funding. He looked good and appeared strong a few days ago when he suggested that the proceedings of the case should be telecast on live TV, but he didn’t look so good when PTI’s lawyer submitted a written statement while refusing access to important documents to the petitioner in the case, arguing that the statement of the party chairman had been “wrongly construed”.

Yet no matter how much longer PTI can keep important documents hidden from the rest of the world, the case will still come full circle sooner or later. And unless the opposition’s hunch is correct and there is something in the money trail to put PTI in some sort of serious trouble with the law, it would be well advised to lift the veil from all the mystery and secrecy without wasting any more time. Such a step would also go some way in pushing other parties to do the same and perhaps vindicate some of PTI’s own concerns. The main difference between funding of other main parties and PTI is that while the former rely on interest groups for the purpose, who then reap benefits when their ‘clients’ come to power, the latter has taken the donor bank route right from the start. One of the main reasons for that must be the party chairman’s good experience with the model in erecting and then running the Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital.

There is nothing wrong with this model. Rather it is followed quite widely in much of the democratic world. But that does not mean that any laws can be sidestepped at any point in the process. PTI has been making the loudest noise about accountability and transparency since long before it came to power. Therefore, it naturally loses some respect in the eyes of people when it needlessly delays a case as important as this one, especially since the party leadership insists that it is clean. This matter has already dragged on for far longer than it should have. The PTI leadership should now abandon its strategy of delaying proceedings since it is not going to defuse the situation. The sooner all the facts come out about funding sources of all political parties, the better for everybody concerned.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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