ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will take up for hearing the foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Jan 4.

The ECP has issued notices to PTI GM (Finance) Mohammad Arshad and the party’s s counsel Shah Khawar. Notices have also been issued to petitioner Akbar S. Babar and his counsel Ahmad Hassan Shah.

A scrutiny committee of the ECP constituted in March 2019 to audit foreign funds of the PTI had finally submitted its report to the commission on Nov 26, about six months after the last deadline it was given.

The PTI foreign funding case continues to linger since November 2014 when it was filed by Mr Babar, the party’s founding member.

ECP sets March 27 for next phase of KP LG polls

In his petition, Mr Babar alleged financial irregularities in the party’s accounts, including illegal sources of funding, concealment of bank accounts in the country and abroad, money laundering and use of private bank accounts of party employees as a front to receive illegal donations from the Middle East.

The ECP in January this year had said that its scrutiny committee enjoyed the power and status of a joint investigation team and could not hold an open hearing in the foreign funding case it was seized with.

“The committee will face difficulties in proceeding with the case if it happens,” the ECP said in a statement.

The statement came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan proposed public hearing in the foreign funding case and said it should be aired live. “Foreign funding case proceedings should be aired live on TV so that everything is known to the general public,” the prime minister said while addressing a public gathering in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The ECP statement, however, said the commission would hold open hearings in the foreign funding case after receiving recommendations from the scrutiny committee, which would be shared with the parties.

In an order passed on April 14 this year, the ECP had directed its co­m­mittee to conclude scrutiny of the PTI’s foreign funding by the end of May.

In its order issued on a complaint filed by the petitioner against the scrutiny committee’s decision to keep the party’s financial documents secret, the ECP stated: “We are of the considered view at this stage we cannot pass any remarks/on the instant application because the matter is sub judice before the Scrutiny Committee and ultimately the matter would be decided by the Commission after hearing arguments of both parties and in the light of the available record.”

The ECP in its order reiterated the petitioner’s claim of access to all PTI accounts, stating: “The Commission vide order dated 30.05.2016 turned down/dismissed the respondent’s [PTI] applications seeking security, secrecy and sanctity of the Scrutiny Committee proceedings of the respondent’s funds and held that record being scrutinised is a public document, the copies whereof can be obtained by anyone.”

However, the ECP said: “We have informed the petitioner that ultimately the Scrutiny Committee will send its report along with all the records to the Commission and then we will have to decide the case of foreign funding. When the matter will come before the Commission, at that time all the parties can take copies or peruse documents.”

LG polls in KP

The ECP has deferred the second phase of local government elections in KP for over two months, setting March 27 as the new date for the exercise.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja heard the case. The provincial chief secretary appeared before the bench.

The chief secretary said that the KP government had requested the ECP to hold the first phase of LG elections in December 2021 and the second phase in May 2022.

The CEC however recalled that the provincial government had agreed that the second phase of the LG polls would be held before Ramazan.

“Since the month of Ramazan will begin from April 3 or 4, it will be too late if elections are held in May,” the CEC noted. To this, the secretary requested the commission to hold LG elections by the end of March 2022.

“The last Sunday of that month would fall on March 27,” the CEC said and set the same as the new date for the electoral exercise.

Earlier, the second phase of the LG polls was scheduled for January 16. The KP government has been pleading for deferment of the second phase citing inclement weather and snowfall as the reasons.

The PTI has suffered an embarrassing defeat in the first phase of LG polls in KP.

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2021

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