Asset declarations

Published January 10, 2015
PM Nawaz Sharif and PPP co chairman Asif Ali Zardari.—AP/File
PM Nawaz Sharif and PPP co chairman Asif Ali Zardari.—AP/File

The Election Commission of Pakistan should tell us what the point is of asking politicians to declare their assets when no action is taken on the basis of the information collected.

Now that all politicians who won in the last election have finally declared their assets, what exactly will be done with this information other than letting it stir the news flow a bit?

Some of the numbers presented strain credulity. For example, in many of the declarations, more money has been shown as cash in hand or in bank balances than in assets.

Read: PM’s investment in mill increases six-fold in a year

Will anybody be inquiring about the source of the funds? Also, will anybody study the assets of politicians from declarations past and look at the trends? If somebody’s declarations over the years contain wide swings in the assets held, will that inspire questions?

Will the ECP liaise with the FBR to determine if the individual’s tax filings are consistent with their asset and bank balance declarations? For too long now, these asset declarations have been quietly shelved as if the whole exercise is nothing more than a ritual meant for media consumption.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to build a template that contains information from declarations past as well, so we can get a snapshot of each candidate’s declared net worth following each successful election bid.

Also read: ECP releases Parliamentarians' list of assets

Without such a template, the information is largely useless, and the fact that the ECP has done nothing to build one suggests it has no serious intention of following up on any of the data generated from the exercise.

Without a longitudinal view, how can anybody realistically reconcile the information disclosed with the taxes paid over the years?

And the failure to develop such a template shows that no meaningful attempt has been made to conduct such an exercise.

The ECP should step up its scrutiny of a candidate’s eligibility to hold high office. People whose assets are out of sync with their cash holdings or their declared incomes or even their lifestyles should be asked where the money is coming from, or what tax liabilities have been paid against the incomes from where the assets have been accumulated.

One wonders what the disclosures would need to show to prompt action. Without probing more deeply into aspects such as reconciliation against declared incomes, taxes paid and declarations past, and asking the relevant questions, the whole point of the exercise is lost.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2015

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