ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has held that honesty, integrity, probity and bona fide dealings of a legislator are matters of public interest because these standards of rectitude and propriety are the touchstones in the qualifications of lawmakers under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution.
“An honest and truthful declaration of assets and liabilities by a returned candidate in his nomination papers furnishes a benchmark for reviewing his integrity and probity in the discharge of his duties and functions as an elected legislator,” observed Justice Umar Ata Bandial.
Aggrieved at his May 12, 2015 de-seating by an election tribunal, Rai Hassan Nawaz of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, which dismissed it through a short order on May 25 this year.
Detailed verdict on MNA’s de-seating issued
The 17-page detailed verdict explained why a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, disqualified the PTI leader from NA-162, Chichawatni, for concealing details of assets and ordered re-election in the constituency. The PML-N’s Tufail Jatt won the Sept 19 by-election held for the seat.
Justice Bandial held in the judgement that the statement of assets and liabilities of a lawmaker along with other financial disclosures as contemplated by Section 12(2) of the Representation of People Act, 1976 (RoPA) provided the Election Commission of Pakistan and the general public with a picture of both his wealth and income.
Such disclosures were crucial for demonstrating the legitimacy and bona fides of the accumulation of economic resources by the candidates, the verdict said. In other words, these disclosures show the returns received from economic activities of the lawmaker and can indicate if these activities may be tainted with illegality, corruption or misuse of office and authority.
“Any plausible explanation that exonerates the mis-declaration of assets and liabilities by a contesting candidate should be confined to unintended and minor errors that do not confer any tangible benefit or advantage upon an elected or contesting candidate,” the judgement said.
“Where assets, liabilities, earnings and income of an elected or contesting candidate are camouflaged or concealed by resort to different legal devices, including benami, trustee, nominee, etc, arrangements for constituting holders of title, it would be appropriate for an election tribunal to investigate whether the beneficial interest in such assets or income or incorrect statement of declaration under Section 12(2) of RoPA was intentional or otherwise.
“It is for that reason that in a number of recent judgements, the Supreme Court has treated inaccurate disclosure of proprietary and financial resources to be fatal to the election of a returned candidate,” Justice Bandial emphasised.
The judgement noted that by incorporating Section 76A in RoPA, the legislature had invested an extraordinary jurisdiction in the election tribunal and thus vested it with a suo motu power to scrutinise false or incorrect statements by a returned candidate in respect of the assets and liabilities of himself, his spouse and dependents.
“The object of Section 76A is clearly meant to promote public interest by ensuring that elected public representatives have untainted financial credentials of integrity, probity and good faith.
“The tribunal can summon evidence on a matter to the point of its satisfaction as to whether the allegation under scrutiny is justified or not,” the verdict said, adding that against this background the power vested by Section 76A upon the tribunal was, therefore, inquisitorial rather than adversarial in nature.
Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2016