ISLAMABAD: The PTI financial expert who appeared before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday in connection with the foreign funding case appeared to admit that funds from the party’s central accounts were, in fact, transferred to provincial accounts that had earlier been disowned by the party.

The PTI claimed it had no official connection to these ‘unauthorised’ accounts in its parawise response to the scrutiny committee report, submitted before the ECP on March 15, 2022.

The hearing of the PTI foreign funding case resumed on Wednesday on a terse note when the CEC admonished the PTI team for appearing half an hour late.

In March, the party disowned nearly a dozen “unauthorised” bank accounts opened and operated by, among others, key leaders such as Asad Qaiser, Imran Ismail and Shah Farman. The expert who appeared on behalf of PTI on Wednesday claimed that donations received in the provincial bank accounts were not transferred to the party’s central accounts.

ECP perturbed by party’s inability to wrap up arguments, despite earlier commitment

At this, CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja wondered if the PTI was conceding it had concealed some accounts.

The PTI financial expert explained that nobody had the right to seek PTI bank statements from the State Bank of Pakistan. When an ECP member inquired that his statement implied that the scrutiny committee had no right to write to the State Bank of Pakistan, PTI lawyer Anwar Mansoor Khan interjected and stated that the expert only meant that PTI auditors were not authorised to write to the SBP to access all PTI accounts.

At this, the ECP member asked: “Wasn’t it the duty of PTI to provide bank statements of all PTI accounts to audit?”

However, the question went unanswered.

The CEC also observed that the entire presentation could have been completed in ‘ten minutes’ by presenting the summary sheet and detailing the balance instead of presenting unnecessary details.

When the CEC inquired how much more time is required by PTI to finish its arguments, lawyer Anwar Mansoor Khan retracted his earlier commitment of concluding his side on June 1. Instead, he sought more time to think how long it would take to conclude PTI arguments.

When the CEC reminded the PTI lawyer that he had committed to end his case by June 1, the lawyer stated that the case had ‘international repercussions’ and an intra-court appeal filed by PTI on the matter has yet to be decided.

The CEC then reminded the PTI lawyer that the ICA was a separate case and there was no restraint on the ECP to suspend or delay the PTI foreign funding case.

Delimitation

Later talking to reporters after administering the oath to newly appointed ECP members, Justice (retd) Ikramullah Khan and Hassan Bharwana, the CEC said it was for the government to decide the timing of next polls. “The ECP’s job is to hold fair elections.”

About the ongoing exercise of delimitation, the CEC said preliminary lists had already been published and objections invited. The process will be completed on Aug 3 with the publication of final delimitation lists.

Asked if the ECP will go for a fresh delimitation exercise if the government carries out the first-ever digital census, the CEC said it would be possible only if the final census results were notified by December. He made it clear that the next polls would have to be carried out on the basis of the 2017 census.

The CEC said the demarcation of boundaries for electoral constituencies was stopped in recent years due to the PTI-led government’s plans to conduct digital census.

In reply to a question about allegations of bias levelled by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Sikandar Sultan said the commission took all decisions in accordance with the Constitution without any fear or favour and would continue to do so. “If anyone is displeased by, or disagrees with, our decisions, it’s their problem.”

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2022

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