THE report compiled by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s scrutiny committee on the ruling PTI’s funding has once again put the spotlight on the murky fundraising of our political parties. The report says the party received funding from foreign nationals and companies, under-reported funds, concealed numerous bank accounts and refused to divulge details of large transactions.
The fact that the panel struggled to get details of PTI’s foreign accounts and its funds abroad is troubling, given that the PTI has campaigned on the pledge of ‘clean’ and ‘transparent’ governance. Also, that the party has dragged its feet to such an extent on the scrutiny of its foreign funds, resisted accountability and concealed accounts contradicts its anti-corruption mantra, which has been repeated for its political support base ad nauseam. Though there is no explicit allegation of wrongdoing in the report, the party’s resistance during the entire case raises questions.
Transparent disclosures of political finance in our country remain largely uncharted territory. Though funding is key to political campaigns, it can also muddy the landscape if political funds come from entities that aim to influence the governance process. As far as funds go, professionally audited donations and expressions of support from Pakistani nationals may well be legitimate. But secret funds coming from foreign nationals, companies registered abroad or organisations posing as fronts for influential quarters are illegal. They taint the political process and undermine democracy as it is unknown to members of the public how much money is being paid to parties, by whom and in return for what.
If, as the PM and PTI ministers say, the funds are genuine donations and the audit is welcome, then the party should provide details of the foreign accounts and funds in them. This will silence critics and set the record straight once and for all about the PTI’s funding sources and donors.
Next, the PTI’s demand that the PML-N and PPP’s accounts be audited too, should be considered. The opposition parties are right to question the ruling party’s resistance in this case, but it would be interesting to see how forthcoming they would be if it came to scrutinising their own campaign accounts.
Across-the-board transparency is a must as illicit finance cannot be allowed to taint governance. Not only does it undermine citizens’ trust in political institutions, it encourages parties to compete against each other by overspending to a point where there is no question of a level playing field. Unsavoury practices like this ensure only big players who can tap into powerful, secret donors stay in the political process. This must come to an end. The ECP, which is yet to give its final verdict on the report, should see how lasting lessons from this case can be applied across the political spectrum as the country gears up for a general election.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2022