EDITORIAL: The functional democracies see to it that the elected representatives who make laws are financially as clean as they look or pretend to be. Therefore, they are expected to submit their current financial positions to the election commissions regularly and obligingly, and if these positions undergo some change, negatively or positively, they also explain why so.
It is a tool to prevent corruption, because assets and their acquisition are considered to influence their words, actions and votes in parliaments. And to this mandatory requirement Pakistan is no exception. Under Article 62 of the Constitution a person who is not “sagacious, righteous, non-proliferate and honest and ameen” is not qualified to be elected or chosen as member of any of the elected assemblies.
Under Section 137 of the Elections Act, 2017, the elected members’ statements mentioning theirs, their spouses’ and dependent children’s assets and liabilities should be submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan on yearly basis. The financial statements containing the members’ assets and liabilities during the past year have to be filed by December 31 every year; otherwise, their respective membership would be suspended.
Such suspensions are almost a regular feature in Pakistan, as quite a few members don’t take the suspension threat seriously. But at the end of the day they ultimately meet the deadlines and return to the assemblies. However, this time the offenders are not few; they are in hundreds - 271 legislators have been suspended for their failure to meet the ECP deadline of January 16, 2023. And there are quite a few big names on the suspension list.
Apart from 136 Members of National Assembly and 21 Senators, the memberships of 48 MPAs from Sindh, 54 MPAs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 12 from Balochistan MPAs have also been suspended. There is no suspension from Punjab because its provincial assembly stood dissolved on January 14 – two days prior to the ECP’s deadline (KP provincial assembly stood dissolved on January 18). Given the sword of confidence vote hanging over Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the suspension list is likely to be cut short drastically. And as for the residue it is quite likely that they would file statements about their assets and liabilities and thus steer clear of suspension. So it seems that by the end of the day the ECP would be left with no option but to withdraw the suspension list.
Be that as it may, there is a question why these leaders of people are so indifferent and casual about a mandatory provision of law. They may have nothing to hide, but as long as they don’t reveal what they have they do attract the public doubt about their financial integrity. It is difficult to believe that they are too busy to have enough time to file statements about their assets and liabilities.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023