Forfeiture of funds only threat staring PTI in the face

Published January 10, 2022
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting in this file photo. — APP
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting in this file photo. — APP

• Scrutiny panel’s report says receipt of funds from prohibited sources not enough to invite ban on party
• Opposition says Imran under moral obligation to probe allegations

ISLAMABAD: As the debate sparked by recent disclosures about donations received from foreign companies and nationals by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) continues to intensify, the report of the scrutiny committee itself suggests that the ruling party faces no imminent threat of being banned.

The report says that foreign funding and funds received from prohibited sources are not one and the same, and have separate consequences, if proved.

The report, which cites relevant judgements of the Supreme Court in the Hanif Abbasi and Benazir Bhutto cases, says it was very clear from the unambiguous language of the provisions of the Political Parties Order (PPO) and the rules that the forum and penalty provided to determine whether contributions or donations are received from prohibited sources are different from the forum and penalty provided to determine whether a political party is a foreign aided political party.

“If the ECP comes to the conclusion that a case falls within the mischief of Article 6(3) of the PPO, the penalty provided is confiscation of such contributions and donations… it cannot impose a ban on the political party [as that] action is restricted to only foreign-aided political parties to be decided by the proper forum,” it points out.

In such cases, a declaration to this effect has to be made by the federal government and then a determination made by the Supreme Court before a party can be banned.

Under Article 17 (3) of the Constitution, every political party is supposed to account for the source of its funds in accordance with law.

Section 6 (3) of the PPO reads “Any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multi- national or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade or professional association shall be prohibited…”

Section 15 of the PPO enshrines the procedure for declaring a political party as foreign-aided while section 2 defines the term ‘foreign-aided political party’.

In its report, the scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) says it is the commission that has jurisdiction to determine whether a political party has received contributions or donations from prohibited sources.

This jurisdiction, the report says, can be exercise at any reasonable point of time, even after the allotment of electoral symbols to a political party, but only upon the receipt of reliable and verifiable information from a third party, or on its own motion.

It says the ECP has all the necessary authority to ask for and collect the requisite information and facts that enable it to decide and determine whether the contributions or donations accepted by a party are prohibited.

It also refers to Rule 6 of the Political Parties rules, which reads “Where the Election Commission decides that the contributions or donations, as the case may be, accepted by the political parties are prohibited under clause 3 of Article 6, it shall subject to notice to the political party concerned and after giving an opportunity of having heard, direct the same to be confiscated in favour of the state to be deposited in the Government treasury...”

It is, however, for the federal government to decide and declare, on the basis of the material before it, if a political party is foreign-funded.

In case the declaration of the federal government is upheld by the apex court, then according to section 15(3) of the PPO, the foreign-aided political party shall stand dissolved forthwith.

On the allegation that Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his capacity as PTI chairman, signed false certificates and the assertions that he should be disqualified in terms of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution, the report says that in order for this to be possible, there first must be a finding that the PTI is a foreign-aided party and/or it has received contributions and donations from prohibited sources.

This is an allegation that the party vehemently denies. Minister of State for information Farrukh Habib, who defended his party after the scrutiny committee report became public, insisted that the party had received no funding from prohibited sources.

He claimed there was no bar on receiving donations from companies abroad under section 6 of the PPO, saying that the relevant section only talks about multinational companies.

According to him, the maximum penalty for any prohibited funding, even if it was proved, was the confiscation of these funds.

He also admitted that Wooton Cricket Limited, Dubai, which donated a huge sum of $2.1 million to PTI, was owned by Arif Naqvi, founder of the UAE-based Abraaj group. “Arif Naqvi is a Pakistani and there is no harm in it,” he said.

However, the opposition has a different perspective.

PML-N leader and senator Irfan Siddiqui told Dawn it was no secret that PTI received funds from prohibited sources, adding that besides the legal ramifications, there was also a moral and ethical aspect to this issue.

He said that in such a situation, Prime Minister Imran Khan should write to the chief justice and ask him to form an independent Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe the allegations of illegal funding against the PTI.

He said the disclosures made about concealment of bank accounts and receipt of funds from prohibited sources pertained only to the period between 2009 to 2013.

He claimed more startling facts would be unearthed if a probe into PTI’s funding after 2013 – particularly during its days in power – is carried out.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2022

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