ISLAMABAD: Holding that it has the absolute jurisdiction to scrutinise the accounts of a political party any time, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday told the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to submit relevant financial documents to it by June 22.

In a related development, the PTI filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) challenging the powers of the ECP to hear private complaints about party funds.

In a detailed judgement on the question of its jurisdiction in the PTI foreign funding case, the commission rejected the argument that it was a past and closed transaction.

“…Let us assume a scenario where a political party has received prohibited funding from foreign countries, say India, for example. When such party rendered the accounts, the prohibition got omitted to be noticed. Would that omission justify the receipt of prohibited funding from India and would it become justified with the lapse of time,” the order reads.

It observes that it is simply not imaginable and says it rather becomes the bounden duty of the ECP to scrutinise either suo motu or on the application of somebody.

The commission said it was its responsibility under Article 218 (3) of the Constitution and the Political Parties Order 2002 to see to it that a party receiving prohibited funding was not allowed to enter the (electoral) arena.

The ECP also referred to a judgement of the Supreme Court in the Ardeshir Cowasjee case where the court had categorically held that illegal action could not be treated as irrevocable or past or closed transaction.

Earlier in the day, the PTI once again failed to produce the financial documents and, instead, took the plea that since a similar matter was pending before the Supreme Court, hearing should be postponed until instructions from the apex court were received. On this the CEC adjourned hearing until June 22.

Regarding the contempt application filed against PTI chief Imran Khan for casting aspersions on the ECP in a review application of Jan 9, the party’s counsel took the plea that the matter was closed as the ECP had already accepted the junior lawyer’s unconditional apology.

But the CEC contended that its Jan 16 short order clearly stated that the respondent’s apology had not been received. Later, a short order was passed rejecting Imran Khan’s reply to the contempt application and setting the next hearing on June 7 as the last chance before legal inferences are drawn on the contempt application.

In the petition filed in the IHC, Imran Khan has challenged the locus standi (right to speak) of Akbar S. Babar who, in his application before the ECP, has questioned sources of the PTI’s foreign funds.

The PTI has been contesting that the ECP has no jurisdiction to question the party about sources of its funds and Mr Babar, as a private person, cannot file such an application before the ECP.

In his application, Mr Babar has alleged that the PTI has violated Article 6 of the Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002 by collecting funds from abroad.

The PTI says that under the PPO there is no concept of scrutiny of political parties through public at large.

Earlier this year, the PTI filed a petition in the IHC raising the question of maintainability of Mr Babar’s complaint by the ECP but the commission did not decide the maintainability and jurisdiction questions in clear terms.

An IHC bench on Feb 15 directed the ECP to decide the matter of jurisdiction and maintainability.

On May 6, the ECP decided the matters of its jurisdiction and ‘locus standi’ of Mr Babar. According to the PTI, the ECP through its subsequent order of May 8 decided that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, but did not provide detailed reasons for the order.

In the new petition before the IHC, Imran Khan has cited the ECP and Mr Babar as respondents. About the latter, the petition says that Mr Babar was a member of the PTI since 1996 but expelled in 2011. “Babar is a disgruntled ex-member and has personal vendetta against the party and its chairman,” it argues.

The petitioner has requested the court to suspend the ECP’s May 8 order and declare it illegal and void.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2017

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