ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a consultative forum on Tuesday called for reforming the legal framework governing political finance and bridging the loopholes besides better implementation of existing laws regulating the role of money in politics.

The forum was organised by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) in collaboration with the UNDP Pakistan.

Prominent among those who spoke at the event included Pildat President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, UNDP Chief Technical Adviser Mary Cummins, and Masood Akhtar Sherwani, director general of political finance at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

In her opening remarks, Ms Cummins said that UNDP Pakistan has been working for more inclusive, transparent and accountable political institutions in Pakistan. Through its work, she said, UNDP Pakistan facilitates political actors and stakeholders to develop common ground on policy reforms by providing a platform such as this consultative forum.

Pildat head highlights loophole that absolves candidates of expenditures made by others on their behalf

She said that the legal framework and implementation of political finance is a very important and sensitive issue not just for Pakistan but for every democracy. Democracies develop a comprehensive system of political finance to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates in any given election.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Mehboob highlighted the importance of understanding political finance in the context of Pakistan’s upcoming general election on Feb 8, 2024.

He said that political finance encompasses all income and expenditure on political activities, including elections. Within this broad category, electoral finance is a subset focusing specifically on financial aspects related directly to the electoral system, such as election spending returns.

However, elements like annual statements of assets and liabilities filed by elected legislators, while part of political finance, do not directly pertain to electoral activities.

Mr Mehboob highlighted the robust legal framework in place for regulating political finance in Pakistan, but also pointed out the challenges to its implementation.

He drew attention to a loophole in the Elections Act, 2017, which absolves candidates from financial expenditures made on their behalf by others. To enhance the legal framework for political finance, he proposed several improvements, including bridging existing loopholes and enha­ncing enforcement measures.

Mr Sherwani said that the system of political finance in Pakistan is drawn on the basis of Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

He said the ECP has scrutinised statements of assets and liabilities of all lawmakers from 2020-2021 as well as political parties’ forms of the same period. He mentioned that the political finance wing was now fully functional and working vigorously to implement political finance laws.

Senior PPP politician Farhat­ullah Babar said that the allocation of funds for the election campaign as mentioned in the law needs to be revisited. It cannot be the same for all constituencies as the size of constituencies vary significantly from one province to the other.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2023

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