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EDITORIAL: The report of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP’s) scrutiny committee about Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) foreign funding discrepancies cannot be brushed under the carpet. And the ruling party will have to come up with something a lot more concrete than its spokespersons’ immediate rejoinder; that a couple of big transfers were counted more than once, hence all the trouble, and all else is perfectly fine.

Under-reporting funds to the tune of hundreds of millions of rupees and concealing dozens of accounts is a very serious matter, after all, as is the party’s refusal to share details about large transactions. The report also mentions the panel’s “helplessness” when it came to getting information about PTI’s foreign accounts as well as funds collected abroad. Then there’s also the matter of the party dragging its feet over the case and requesting repeated adjournments, which would not make any sense if the party had nothing to hide.

PTI will no doubt have to provide credible answers to all such questions; and sooner rather than later. Yet before jumping the gun it is also important to realise that it is just as natural for PTI to attract funding from all over the world as it is for accounting and auditing oversights to appear here and there.

The party has a very strong appeal outside Pakistan largely because of Imran Khan’s own charismatic personality and impressive record as a national hero; something that no other party can boast. It’s also the first Pakistani party to employ digital technology, like modern apps, to facilitate individual as well as crowd funding from all corners of the globe. However, while unintentional technical glitches can be overcome and even overlooked, there can never be any excuse for not solving serious problems as and when they appear and, much worse, deliberately putting a veil over them.

PTI must, therefore, come clean about the reasons, nature and extent of the issues highlighted in the scrutiny report. But, above all, it must also explain just why it went out of its way to put roadblocks in the way of the foreign funding case; especially if it was always clean like it’s said all along. Didn’t the party build its entire narrative, from the first day, around unflinching accountability? And wasn’t it Imran Khan who always claimed that the spotlight should, and would, be put first on him whenever he became prime minister? Considering all this, doesn’t the way PTI has behaved throughout the seven years of this case stand in very stark contrast to its own very loudly advocated principles?

Still, the main takeaway from the foreign funding case is the urgent, desperate need to streamline the matter of funding of all political parties in this country. It’s already very unfortunate that this issue hasn’t been settled in all these years? Therefore, all parties must be scrutinised in the same manner as PTI and ground rules should be established as to how much leverage any party can be given when it comes to employing old-fashioned delaying tactics. It is indeed a very serious thing that loopholes in the system allow outside forces to influence politics as well as elections inside Pakistan.

Who’s to know if the money that PTI received but cannot account for did not comprise illegal funds parked abroad and whitened through the party, as the opposition is claiming? Or, on an even more serious note, that enemies of Pakistan are not in on this charade and are able to get their money into our system and pull some strings indirectly?

These are very serious issues that will have to be settled. All parties must ensure complete transparency when it comes to their finances. This isn’t something that is too difficult to understand, nor is it a Herculean task to ensure such straight dealing in politics. All that is needed is for oversight and legal bodies to be clean themselves and up to the task.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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