ECP body’s decision to keep PTI documents secret challenged

Published February 25, 2021
The scrutiny committee says the documents cannot be shared with the petitioner because the respondent (PTI) objects to it.  — Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File
The scrutiny committee says the documents cannot be shared with the petitioner because the respondent (PTI) objects to it. — Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File

ISLAMABAD: The petitioner in the foreign funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Akbar S. Babar, on Wednesday challenged the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s scrutiny committee to keep the party’s financial documents secret.

An application to this effect was filed with the ECP, assailing the scrutiny committee’s order of Feb 9 to keep the documents, including those of over a dozen undeclared bank accounts of the PTI revealed on the instructions of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), secret.

The scrutiny committee says the documents cannot be shared with the petitioner because the respondent (PTI) objects to it.

In the complaint, the petitioner states that the committee was formed to conduct scrutiny of foreign funding of the PTI in the “presence” of the petitioner/complainant and the PTI according to the committee’s terms of reference. The order to keep material forming part of the scrutiny process secret is unlawful and far exceeds the mandate of the scrutiny committee, which is to conduct fact finding and not fact hiding, he says.

The complaint states that without the entire record of the scrutiny being shared with him, the petitioner could not properly assist the scrutiny committee to reach a credible conclusion.

Commission irked by Vawda’s absence from hearing of dual nationality case

It states that conducting scrutiny in secrecy led to the ECP declaring the initial report of the committee filed in Aug 2020 inadequate as the said order states that the scrutiny committee “neither scrutinised the record nor evaluated the evidence from the documents and failed to form definite opinion. It was the duty and responsibility of the Committee to scrutinise the authenticity, reliability and credibility of each and every document (s)… It is painful to say that above directions were not followed in strict sense. Since no proper/substantial opinion has been drawn in spite of lapse of more than 28/29 months, therefore, we are constrained to refer the matter back to the Scrutiny Committee…”.

He says that a scrutiny conducted in secrecy would continue to raise concerns regarding credibility of the process and would fall far short of meeting the minimum standards of transparency.

The complaint also states that access to PTI documents is a right of the petitioner “in light of Article 5(4) of the Political Parties Order, 2002 … as well as Section 203(5) of the Election Act, 2017”. Besides, the petitioner is entitled to receive copies of all documents forming part of the scrutiny process according to the TORs of the scrutiny committee. The complaint emphasises that transparent and fruitful scrutiny would not be possible without meaningful participation of the petitioner whose comments are indispensable and necessary for transparent and fair scrutiny.

Mr Babar also challenges the secrecy order of the scrutiny committee in the light of the ECP order of May 30, 2018, in which it dismissed an application of the PTI to keep the scrutiny proceedings secret from the petitioner and held that the petitioner can participate in the scrutiny process because the record being scrutinised is “public” and its copies can be obtained by anyone.

In addition, he says, provisions of Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984, and Article 19A of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, mandated that all record and documents submitted to the scrutiny committee by the PTI and/or procured through the SBP would be provided to him.

Dual nationality case

A four-member bench of the ECP took exception to the continued absence of federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda before it during the hearing of dual nationality case against him.

ECP member from Punjab retired Justice Altaf Ibrahim during Wednesday’s hearing asked Mr Vawda’s counsel Mohammad Bin Mohsin if the commission’s orders of personal appearance had been conveyed to Mr Vawda. When the counsel replied in affirmative, Mr Qureshi asked if the minister was above the law.

“He tells so many lies and could have told another that air ticket was not available. We do not want to set a tradition that gradually empties the parliament. He should have come here to explain when he got his US citizenship revoked,” an angry Justice Qureshi remarked.

He noted that the minister should have respect for the ECP. Mr Mohsin said he could not come as her mother was not feeling well. The lawyer also challenged the ECP’s jurisdiction to hear the dual nationality case against Mr Vawda, but the plea was rejected by the bench.

The counsel deposited an amount of Rs50,000 in fine imposed on Mr Vawda during the last hearing and the ECP ordered that the amount be donated to Pakistan Sweet Home, a welfare organisation striving to support orphans.

Mr Mohsin said the commission had asked some questions during the hearing on Jan 20 but the ECP secretariat had not provided him a copy of Jan 20’s order. He said he had been told that the order would be emailed, but it was not done.

The hearing of the case was adjourned till March 10.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2021

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