Politi­cians' as­sets

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

THE ba­sic pur­pose be­hind the an­nual dec­la­ra­tion of in­come and as­sets by politi­cians is to pro­mote pro­bity and in­tegrity in pub­lic life. This is a world­wide prac­tice which lets the pub­lic know that the legislators elected by them are hon­estly car­ry­ing out their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and not mis­us­ing their po­si­tion to amass il­le­gal wealth. But in our case, this an­nual rit­ual has lost all its mean­ing and be­come a cruel joke. Most dec­la­ra­tions are half heart­edly made, facts are con­cealed and fig­ures ma­nip­u­lated with the re­sult that the as­sets de­clared by MPs do not match their life style.

This is what is re­vealed by the de­tails of as­sets owned by the coun­try's politi­cians pasted on the of­fi­cial web­site of Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan. Start­ing with PM Nawaz Sharif, he is the coun­try's rich­est politi­cian with as­sets worth Rs2 bil­lion. In­ter­est­ingly, his in­vest­ment in a sugar mill has regis­tered a six-fold in­crease within a year. Con­trary to gen­eral belief, Pak­istan Tehreeki-In­saf chief Im­ran Khan too owns con­sid­er­able as­sets - 14 prop­er­ties across Pak­istan, in­clud­ing a gifted res­i­dence in Bani Gala, Is­lam­abad, which is spread over 300 kanals. He in­her­ited nine of the prop­er­ties while the rest were pur­chased for pal­try sums at an un­spec­i­fied time. Im­ran Khan has also cho­sen not to men­tion the mar­ket value of his prop­er­ties.

In what ap­pears to be a clear case of con­flict of in­ter­ests, Wa­ter and Power Min­is­ter Khawaja Asif owns thou­sands of shares in KElec­tric. The min­is­ter also owns two houses in DHA, La­hore, and five plots in Sialkot but in his wife's name. Shah­baz Sharif is the rich­est among the chief min­is­ters, though on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, Khy­ber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Min­is­ter Par­vaiz Khat­tak is richer than Shah­baz, with a net worth of Rs262 mil­lion. Sindh Chief Min­is­ter Qaim Ali Shah claims to be the poor­est among the provin­cial heads of gov­ern­ment, with a de­clared net worth of Rs19.4 mil­lion, even lower than Balochis­tan Chief Min­is­ter Ab­dul Ma­lik Baloch, who de­clared a net worth of Rs30 mil­lion. Qaim Ali Shah's dec­la­ra­tions in­clude the in­cred­i­ble as­ser­tion that the house he owns on Khaya­ban-e-Mu­jahid in DHA Karachi is worth only Rs3.2 mil­lion. Its real worth is 10 times more. He has also claimed that he owns no ve­hi­cle. Se­na­tor Rehman Ma­lik does pol­i­tics in Pak­istan but he has all his as­sets abroad worth mil­lions of Bri­tish Pounds. In­ter­est­ingly, he has no im­mov­able prop­erty any­where in the coun­try. Maulana Fa­zlur Rehman of the JUI-F has no car but owns three houses worth Rs4.07m in Dera Is­mail Khan. Khur­sheed Shah, though worth over 20 mil­lion, also owns no car.

Clearly, the value of as­sets in most cases is grossly un­der­stated. Sec­tion 42A of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Peo­ples Act binds the law­mak­ers to de­clare their as­sets but it does not elab­o­rate any mech­a­nism to ver­ify their claims. The law also pre­scribes pun­ish­ments for those who try to cheat. But in the ab­sence of any mech­a­nism to ver­ify the stated claims of law­mak­ers, the ECP does not go beyond pub­lish­ing them as inane rou­tine ev­ery year.

Need­less to say, as part of the elec­toral re­form process, a de­tailed scru­tiny of legislators' as­sets is a must to es­tab­lish a can­di­date's el­i­gi­bil­ity to hold high of­fice. Peo­ple whose as­sets are out of tune with their de­clared in­comes and their life­styles should be asked where the money is com­ing from, and whether tax li­a­bil­i­ties have been cleared against the in­comes from which the as­sets have been ac­cu­mu­lated. With­out ask­ing th­ese rel­e­vant ques­tions, the whole point of the an­nual ex­er­cise of as­sets dec­la­ra­tion is lost.

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