ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has rejected the plea of a parliamentary panel for placement of lawmakers’ statements of assets on its official website.

A senior official of the ECP told Dawn that a summary based on the request of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms had been placed before the commission, comprising the chief election commissioner and four members, which rejected the request. The commission stated that the parliamentary committee should get the relevant law amended if it wanted the statements on ECP’s website, he added.

Many, however, believe that the statements of assets the lawmakers submitted to the ECP each year were public documents in nature and there was no need for any legislation for the placement of a public document on ECP’s website.

The statements of assets and liabilities of the members of the parliament and the provincial assemblies for financial years 2013 and 2014 had been there on the ECP website until recently, but were suddenly removed on April 15. They were removed at the height of Panama Papers controversy involving Pakistanis, including lawmakers, running offshore companies. And it was done just days before the release of statements of assets and liabilities for last year.

Although officially no reason had been assigned by the ECP for the sudden removal of the information from its website, an official said some members of the sub-committee of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms had expressed concern over the availability of their wealth statements with exact bank details on the website and had asked the ECP to remove the same. Some committee members had termed it ‘a breach of their privacy’.

The step not only deprived the media of the online information that could be of great use for comparative analysis of lawmakers’ wealth and expose apparent lies that come under corrupt practices, but also denied the overseas Pakistanis of the only mean to go through the statements of their elected representatives.

Talking to Dawn, a leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Dr Arif Alvi, criticised the ECP for removing assets’ details from the website. “If people want to come into politics they should be ready to show their assets, otherwise they better stay away from politics,” he said.

He said the PTI was the only party that itself presented details of assets of its legislators on the party’s official website.

Dr Alvi was of the opinion that the rulers were already in trouble due to Panama leaks and they did not want more criticism because of their wealth.

The law requires all the lawmakers to submit statements of assets and liabilities of their own and their spouses and dependants to the ECP before Sept 30 each year. The ECP is supposed to issue a notification by Oct 15 to suspend the membership of those legislators who fail to do so by the last date (Sept 30).

It has, however, become a tradition over the recent years that rules are relaxed to allow lawmakers to submit their statements between Sept 30 and Oct 15 and sometimes even beyond that. Even the names of those who fail to submit their statements of assets by the last date are not revealed.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2016

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