The Democ­racy Trail

The road to true democ­racy lies through an ef­fi­cient and hon­est in­sti­tu­tion whose job should al­ways be to scru­ti­nize elec­tion con­tes­tants and en­sure trans­parency.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Muham­mad Ali Eh­san

Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (ECP) has been un­der the spot­light since the time the last elec­tions were held. There have been a num­ber of ac­cu­sa­tions and counter ac­cu­sa­tions with the op­po­si­tion par­ties, es­pe­cially Tehreek-e-In­saf ac­cus­ing the ECP for act­ing as a fa­cil­i­tat­ing body that sees noth­ing wrong with the elected leg­is­la­tors of the gov­ern­ment and pur­sues all cases per­tain­ing to the op­po­si­tion with deep in­ter­est and vis­i­ble in­tent. Given the Panama Pa­pers scan­dal, pol­i­tics in Pak­istan is in great tur­moil and the ECP finds it­self in the mid­dle of a po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment that show­cases it as a bi­ased in­sti­tu­tion. With politi­cians vy­ing for in­flu­ence, the main ques­tion that arises is – what does ECP stand for? Who it stands with is also some­thing that is very much in play. What is cer­tain is that the elec­tions watch­dog has not been treat­ing all stake­hold­ers with the same stick, forc­ing many peo­ple to ques­tion the very na­ture of in­de­pen­dence, free­dom, trans­parency and un­ques­tion­able ac­count­abil­ity that the ECP en­joys as one of the most im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions of the state.

In mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, Modi made good his stated cam­paign pledge of fight­ing “black money” the il­licit pro­ceeds – of­ten held in cash – of tax eva­sion, crime and cor­rup­tion. He has now ap­proved the cre­ation of a depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Fi­nance – a new tool to make the leg­is­la­tors ac­count­able. The depart­ment will au­dit the state­ments of as­sets and li­a­bil­i­ties of the leg­is­la­tors. Armed with the sword of bring­ing un­der its am­bit law­mak­ers, it would not be an easy job to per­form. Ide­ally, ECP’s depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance would war­rant the ap­point­ment of the Di­rec­tor, man­age­rial staff and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tants. Their se­lec­tion and ap­point­ment should have noth­ing to do with the in­ter­fer­ence of politi­cians. If their pur­pose is to act as a check on the leg­is­la­tors, then they must not and can­not have any association with a po­lit­i­cal party and must be non-par­ti­san in all po­lit­i­cal mat­ters. The cre­ation of the depart­ment would ob­vi­ously re­quire a func­tional di­rec­torate and a huge bu­reau­cratic

ap­pa­ra­tus. The num­ber of leg­is­la­tors that presently sit in the na­tional and pro­vin­cial as­sem­blies are more than 1500. Add to this those who are elected for lo­cal bod­ies. Would the ECP be able to scru­ti­nize in time the as­sets of thou­sands of leg­is­la­tors? For that it would have to be not only em­pow­ered but prop­erly re­sourced.

So far what the ECP has done is con­sis­tently widen the gap be­tween its ca­pa­bil­ity and credibility. Un­less all po­lit­i­cal par­ties re-tool and take the di­rec­torate of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance in the ECP se­ri­ously and as a cen­ter­piece of cre­at­ing a nec­es­sary check and bal­ance for de­ter­min­ing who gets to do pol­i­tics in Pak­istan, the whole ex­er­cise may just cave in. The depart­ment should be based on a sound and work­able method­ol­ogy that con­trib­utes to the ECP work­ing ef­fi­ciently and not just beat­ing around the theme of en­sur­ing ac­count­abil­ity with lit­tle or no re­sources. The pub­lic in Pak­istan is al­ready amused at the level of tax dec­la­ra­tions of the leg­is­la­tors against their ac­cu­mu­lated heaps of wealth. The pub­lic has the right to know the true fi­nan­cial stand­ing of the peo­ple they vote for and ECP is the in­sti­tu­tion that does the job for them. In the ap­par­ent change in the na­ture of democ­racy that is hard to miss in Pak­istan these days, the ECP also holds a great re­spon­si­bil­ity in demon­strat­ing that it be­lieves more in the val­ues that democ­racy brings along rather the typ­i­cal rule of ma­jor­ity (tyranny of the ma­jor­ity). No won­der it would con­tinue to re­tain the job that is most dif­fi­cult and emo­tional to per­form – check­mat­ing the law­mak­ers.

Ex­am­in­ing all state­ments of as­sets and de­ter­min­ing that they don’t in­clude dis­crep­an­cies or false in­for­ma­tion would be an up­hill task. It would not only be the sub­mit­ted state­ments but a com­par­i­son would have to be drawn with those sub­mit­ted ear­lier to be able to come to a def­i­nite and mean­ing­ful con­clu­sion. The in­crease or de­crease in value of the in­come/as­sets of any leg­is­la­tor would only be pos­si­ble if such a com­par­i­son were made. The other in­sti­tu­tions of the state would also have to come for­ward to as­sist in de­ter­min­ing this value and if the mat­ter needs any in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the law en­force­ment agen­cies would also be in­volved. In a sense, the di­rec­torate would have to es­tab­lish a net­work and work hand in hand with other in­sti­tu­tions to man­age its job in a given time line – some­thing that we hardly see hap­pen­ing in our coun­try.

To have a rules based so­ci­ety the coun­try needs strong and com­pe­tent leg­is­la­tors who them­selves abide by and re­spect the law. It is only then that a re­formed in­sti­tu­tion like the ECP can con­trib­ute in bring­ing in change by send­ing to the par­lia­ment only those rep­re­sen­ta­tives who don’t flout the rules. No mean­ing­ful change will take place if the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance does not en­force its laws. In fu­ture, laws will have to be more strin­gent to com­bat po­lit­i­cal black­mail­ing as well as mount­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sures. It is for this depart­ment to see that the gap be­tween the for­tunes of those who con­test elec­tions and the rest of the peo­ple has been grow­ing for over two gen­er­a­tions. As a re­sult, the strong are be­com­ing stronger and the weak weaker. It is not ram­pant cor­rup­tion in Pak­istani pol­i­tics but the re­silience of the free that con­tin­ues to ex­pose. This shocks the po­lit­i­cal elite and brings them out of their com­pla­cency. Now they need to ac­knowl­edge that it is time to fol­low the law which can­not con­tinue to deny, fight against or ig­nore.

Seen in this con­text, if only the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance does its job – and does it prop­erly, it would def­i­nitely help in de­gen­er­at­ing the huge in­equal­ity that has eaten into so­ci­ety. Only when the “as­sets con­ceal­ers” are pun­ished that Pak­istan would wit­ness real law mak­ers in the mak­ing and those who cheat and tell lies would be barred from do­ing pol­i­tics. If noth­ing else, it would at least the dis­qual­i­fied and dis­hon­est from con­test­ing elec­tions.

There are dis­crep­an­cies and ex­cesses com­mit­ted by the leg­is­la­tors be­cause the ECP is not do­ing its job. If the po­lit­i­cal fi­nance depart­ment of the ECP could es­tab­lish a net­work of scru­ti­niz­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of as­sets with the help of the FBR, rev­enue de­part­ments of the prov­inces, FIA and other in­sti­tu­tions, it would lead to huge re­forms in the elec­toral sys­tem. Then leg­is­la­tors would only reach the par­lia­ment through a sys­tem of fil­tra­tion.

For the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance to be suc­cess­ful, the ECP would have to re­tain its in­de­pen­dence, au­ton­omy and the abil­ity to func­tion in­de­pen­dently. It is only if the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance can com­bat in­ter­fer­ence from the gov­ern­ment that it may be ex­pected to per­form its func­tions prop­erly and with­out any let or hin­drance. The onus will al­ways be on the ECP.

So far what the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (ECP) has done is con­sis­tently widen the gap be­tween its ca­pa­bil­ity and credibility.

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