November 28; Reform proposals on better implementation of existing legal provisions regulating the role of money in politics and improving legal flaws in the system of political finance were discussed at the Consultative Forum organized by PILDAT in collaboration with the UNDP Pakistan.
Speakers at the Consultative Forum included Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT, Ms. Mary Cummins, Chief Technical Advisor UNDP Pakistan, Mr. Masood Akhtar Sherwani, Director General Political Finance, ECP.
Ms. Mary Cummins in her welcome remarks, said that the UNDP Pakistan has been working for more inclusive, transparent and accountable political institutions in Pakistan. Through its work, UNDP Pakistan facilitates political actors and stakeholders to develop common ground on policy reforms by providing a platform such as this consultative forum. 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.
Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, setting the stage for the forum, emphasized the importance of understanding political finance in the context of Pakistan’s upcoming general election on February 08, 2024. He clarified 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 also highlighted the robust legal framework in place for regulating political finance in Pakistan but pointed out its implementation challenges. 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 closing existing loopholes and enhancing enforcement measures.
Some of the suggestions included:
- The term ‘source of funds’ in Article 17 (3) be elaborated in the Elections Act, 2017 or its Rules
- Improve enforcement of Political Finance related laws
- Trained Audit & Accounts HR for Political Finance Wing
- Technology & Data management for Political Finance Wing
- Scrutiny of at least a fixed % of randomly selected Political Finance documents submitted by the political parties as well as individuals
Mr. Masood Akhtar Sherwani, Director General, Political Finance, ECP said that as rightly pointed out by Mr. Mehboob, the system of political finance in Pakistan is drawn on the basis of Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan. The ECP has scrutinized statements of assets and liabilities of all legislators from 2020-2021 as well as political parties’ forms of the same period. He mentioned that the Political Finance wing is now fully functional and is working vigorously to implement the Political Finance laws. He talked in detail about the different forms relating to political finance and said that all contesting participants are required to submit their financial returns. He admitted that the implementation of the law has been an issue as in the last general elections there were more than 14,000 candidates and only 5,000 submitted their returns.
Mr. Farhat Ullah Babar, a senior politician from Pakistan People’s Party suggested 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 varies significantly from one province to the other. He also demanded that the statement of accounts of political parties and the individuals contesting elections should be available on the website and the public should not have to pay to get a copy of the same. He was of the opinion that it was a public document and should be available to the common man, media and civil society organizations. He emphasized that the ECP should have more authority to bar politicians who did not submit their returns in the previous election to contest again.
Participants who joined the Consultative Forum included:
Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, Former MNA, Jamat e Islami Pakistan (JI-P), Mr. Farhatullah Babar, Former Senator-Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), Senator Ms. Fauzia Arshad, Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI), Senator Mr. Zeeshan Khanzada, PTI and Senator Dr. Sania Nishtar, PTI. Among CSOs and Research Organisations, the following were present: Mr. Rasheed Chaudhry, Deputy Director Programs, FAFEN, Mr. Bilal Gilani, Executive Director, Gallup Pakistan, Mr. Khalid Rehman, Chairman, Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Brigadier (Retd) Rashid Wali Janjua, Director Research, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Mr. Zubair Abbasi, Senior Development Consultant, Centre for Policy Development and Initiative (CPDI), Mr. Raza Shah Khan, Executive Director, Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO). Among academia, the following were present: Dr. Alamzeb Khan, HOD, School of Law, Quaid e Azam University (QAU), Dr. Sumar Iqbal Babar, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), QAU, Dr Mujeeb Afzal, Associate Professor, SPIR, QAU, Dr. Yasir Hussain, Assistant Professor, Department of English, QAU, Dr. Amna Mahmood, Professor, Department of Politics and IR, International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), Dr. Mansoor Kundi, Former Vice Chancellor, Bahaudin Zikrya University, Dr. Qamar Cheema, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Mr. Mutee Ul Rehman, Chief Technical Advisor, Capacity Analytics, Ms. Tayyaba Rauf, CEO, Capacity Analytics. Among the media, the following were present: Hafiz Tahir Khalil, Bureau Chief-Islamabad, JANG, Mr. Rizwan Shahzad, Political Correspondent, Express Tribune & Ms. Sarah Zaman, Foreign Bureau Chief-Pakistan, Voice of America (VOA). Among the lawyers’ community, the following were present: Mr. Adil Aziz Qazi, Advocate Supreme Court, Mr. Sheraz Khan, Advocate Islamabad High Court, Mr. Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, Advocate Islamabad High Court, Mr. Sardar Yaqoob, Advocate Islamabad High Court & Mr. Manzoor Malik, Former Additional Secretary, ECP. From international development organisations, Mr. Muhammad Murtaza from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung & Ms. Umbreen Baig from USAID were present.