The lack of democratic values within political parties is a perpetual weakness of our system. Dominated by individuals, parties openly defy laws concerning their affairs, both internally and externally.
Every year, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) finds that the majority of registered parties do not file their accounts in time and in the prescribed manner. Similarly, elected members are also lax in submitting declarations of assets/liabilities/expenses. This year too only eight political parties submitted their annual accounts by the deadline – August 29, 2016.
According to the ECP, the compliant parties were the Awami Muslim League-Pakistan, Islami Tehreek Pakistan, Jamaat Ahle-Hadith Pakistan, Pakistan Muslim League-J, Awami National Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaniat, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan and Pakistan Women Muslim League. None of the leading parties complied with the law.
Not submitting accounts, which have been certified by a chartered accountant containing details of income/expenses/sources of funds/details of assets and liability, is a violation of the Political Parties Order and Rules, 2002. It renders the defaulting party ineligible to get an election symbol to contest any elections for parliament or a provincial assembly. This rule has never been enforced by the ECP.
Our leading parties are not ready to introduce democracy within their ranks. Laws require them to hold intra-party elections and get their accounts audited. None of the political parties ever file tax returns or disclose details of expenses and names of donors. What makes the situations more painful is the fact that the departments to check these lapses, the ECP and the FBR, have never showed any inclination to enforce the relevant laws and regulations.
Rule 4 of the Political Parties Rules, 2002 says that “every political party shall maintain its accounts in the manner set-out in Form-I indicating its income and expenditure, sources of funds, assets and liabilities and shall, within sixty days from the close of each financial year (July-June), submit to ECP a consolidated statement of accounts of the party audited by a Chartered Accountant, accompanied by a certificate, duly signed by the Party Leader to the effect that no funds from any source prohibited under the Order were received by the party and that the statement contains an accurate financial position of the party.”
The majority of registered political parties defy Rule 4 of the Political Parties Rules, 2002. The purpose of this rule is to enable voters, political workers, media and civil society to know about transparency in the financial matters of political parties. However, the ECP is least bothered to enforce it.
Section 42A of the Representation of People Act, 1976 and Section 25A of the Senate (Election) Act, 1975 make it mandatory for the elected representatives to file in the prescribed manner details of their assets and liabilities on the closing date of each financial year. Failure to fulfil this obligation leads to disqualification.
Every year, the ECP suspends a substantial number of lawmakers for not complying with this statutory obligation in time but in the end they file and no penal action is taken.
There is also no mechanism to verify the statements of assets and liabilities submitted to the ECP as the FBR does not verify data or take any action for understatement of incomes and assets by legislators. NAB has also never bothered to check the veracity of declarations by legislators vis-à-vis the standard of living maintained by them. In their tax returns, the majority of them show emoluments received as members of parliament as the only source of income – while they enjoy palatial residences, expensive cars, foreign tours and an army of servants.
It is also a matter of record that political parties in Pakistan do not file tax returns. The FBR has never bothered to issue them notices. In India, there is a mandatory provision of law [section 13A of Income Tax Act, 1961] requiring political parties to file returns or lose exemption from taxation. The chief election commissioner of India invariably asks the Indian Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to scrutinise accounts submitted by political parties. In Pakistan, neither the ECP nor NAB/FBR has bothered to consider this vital matter.
In Pakistan, on the contrary, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992 gives a free hand to tax cheats and money launderers to whiten their billions. All public office-holders or their dependents who have taken advantage of this law to avoid paying taxes should have been disqualified for open admission of cheating the state but not a single case has been filed till today and the ECP, FBR and NAB have never taken cognizance ofthis even in the wake of the Panama Papers.
It is high time filing of tax returns became mandatory for all registered political parties, which should be scrutinised and made public extending right to citizens to question their veracity. Contributions/donations received by parties should qualify for tax credits. Political parties are treated as non-profit organizations all over the world, working for public good.
In Pakistan we have not yet promoted the idea that political parties should be exemplary non-profit organisations, fully committed to the cause of furthering public consciousness and welfare on all matters related to governance. This idea is important. Once people associate themselves with a particular party that has clear objectives and aims, they also extend financial support for their achievement, thus eliminating the influence of undesirable ‘financiers’ – people with money power taking control of parties for personal gains.
Meaningful participation of the people in democracy and the electoral process can only be ensured if they have the right to question their leaders about use of their money. This would also make the party a responsible and accountable entity when in power.
The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and adjunct faculty at LUMS.
Twitter: @drikramulhaqDr Ikramul Haq, "Democratic political parties," The News. 2016-09-07.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Election commission , Political parties , Jamaat-e-Islami , Panama leaks , Democracy , Leadership , Taxes , Pakistan , ECP , FBR