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EDITORIAL: After seeing the same cycle every year of a lot of legislators not bothering to submit their statements of assets in time and having their membership suspended by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the only conclusion that can really be drawn is that a large number of them do not feel bound by this annual requirement and only play along very unwillingly when they have no other option left.

But since this annual submission is mandated by Section 137 of the Elections Act 2017, lawmakers’ reluctance to indulge this also shows that a number of them consider themselves above the law; at least this particular law.

Also, the very fact that this practice is prevalent across all houses, from all provincial assemblies all the way to the upper house of parliament, and the threat of suspension does not force anybody to be on their toes for the next year, proves that the ECP ought to consider a stronger deterrent to whip errant lawmakers into proper shape.

The way this thing has been handled so far ends up making the Commission look toothless and frustrated just as elected lawmakers make a joke of parliamentary proceedings.

Now how do they expect ordinary citizens to take filing their own returns seriously when they see their representatives treat this exercise with such contempt? And while all parties are equally guilty of this behaviour, it ought to be a matter of greater embarrassment for PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) because of its endless sermons about expanding the tax net through personal examples of its members.

Who looks silly when every finance minister installed by the prime minister — and he’s tried four so far — begins his term with lofty promises of making more people file returns and improving tax revenue when his own colleagues do not attach any seriousness at all with such initiatives? So much for inspiring people to do the right thing by personal example.

This particular behaviour is indicative of a much deeper problem afflicting our political and ruling elite; which is that most, if not all, of them do not feel constrained by the law of the land. It’s also obvious that such matters are not considered important enough to be discussed at important party forums and no major or minor political party seems to think that these things harm their image at all. It’s also very clear that the only way to change this thinking is to make them pay more dearly whenever they cross the line.

It is a matter of following rules and regulations, after all, which is one of the core responsibilities of all governments in all corners of the globe. Yet that authority is undermined when those in power are the first ones to break the rules just because they can.

This wanton disregard of the country’s laws, especially by those who are supposed to protect and implement them, must come to an end. One big reason for so many of Pakistan’s problems is that far too many people very conveniently get away with breaking laws far too often. But who will take the first step? And even if one party does, what’s the guarantee that others will do the same? The only way to ensure compliance, at least in such cases, is to make ECP’s deterrent stronger.

Lawmakers must be made to understand that nobody, especially the people in power, is above the law. And those that take these things lightly a little too often should also have specific rules to deal with them. The people must be made to see that their representatives are held accountable in every way.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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