Consultative Forum on System of Political Finance in Pakistan


September 27; Reform proposals on better implementation of existing legal provisions regulating 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 on the subject of Political Finance.

Speakers at the Consultative Forum included Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT, Mr. Ali Al-Bayati, Chief Technical Advisor UNDP, Mr. Masood Akhtar Sherwanee, Director General Political Finance, ECP. Ms. Aasiya Riaz, PILDAT, moderated the discussion. Politically party representatives who joined the discussion forum included Mr. Mohsin Leghari, MPA and Finance Minister Punjab (PTI), Mr. Aslam Ghauri, Information Secretary JUI and Mr. Farid Ahmed Piracha, Naib Amir of the JI.

In his welcome remarks, Mr. Ali Al-Bayati said that the UNDP has been working for more inclusive, transparent and accountable political institutions in Pakistan. Through its work, UNDP facilitates political actors and stakeholders to develop a common ground on policy reforms by providing a platform such as this consultative forum. He said that legal framework and implementation of political finance is a very important and sensitive issue not just for Pakistan but also for every democracy. Democracies develop a comprehensive system of political finance to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates in any given election.

Presenting the context behind subject of the forum, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that we are in an election year in Pakistan and general election is due by October 2023. ECP order of August 2 regarding ‘Prohibited Funding’ 8 year-long case has generated debate and raised questions about the system of political finance in Pakistan. Similar cases are pending before the ECP about funding of the PML-N and the PPP also. It is important to hold informed discussion on these questions which mostly relate to political finance. He defined that all financial matters dealing with politics and political system come under the realm of Political Finance, such as Political Parties’ Funding & Spending, Candidates’ Funding & Spending, Candidates’ Nomination Form, Political Parties’ Annual Accounts, Legislators’ Annual Assets & Liabilities Statements, Political Parties’ Election Accounts and Candidates’ Election Accounts. It is said that when you don’t control money in politics, money controls politics. Which is why majority, 180 out of 193 countries have political finance laws. Legal framework of Political Finance is defined by Article 17 (3) of Constitution and Elections Act, 2017 Chapter VIII and Chapter XI. However, he said there have been limitations on effective enforcement of Public Finance system by the ECP such as on prescribed spending limits, lack of timely and sufficient scrutiny of submitted statements of accounts by candidates, legislators and political parties. Other key lingering issues are having no spending limit on Political Parties, diluting of spending limit on candidates in Elections Act, 2017, Sec. 132(5) compared to ROPA Sec. 49(1), non-placement on ECP website of the statements of Accounts, Assets & Liabilities, not making public election campaign income and spending by Political Parties and interference of Courts on Political Finance issues that delay ECP decisions on this critical issue.

Mr. Masood Akhtar Sherwanee 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. Every new party has to be enlisted by the ECP based on the constitution. The ECP has enlisted 156 political parties based on this criteria and allotted 130 symbols. The ECP has scrutinized statements of assets and liabilities of all legislators from 2020-2021 as well as political parties’ forms of same period. Scrutiny of 99 parties has begun based on their annual statements. The job of the ECP is to carry out scrutiny and not carry out audit for which there is another constitutional office. The ECP has indigenously developed a software to digitally cover the entire spectrum of information on political finance. This would allow making historical and current data on political finance and make online reporting possible to the EC and also to integrate this with other data repositories in the country. Artificial Intelligence would also be used to process, understand and scrutinize data on political finance. The ECP has also begun field monitoring of electoral expenses to feed into this data. Global Political Finance system rests on Disclosure, Enforcement and Sanction. The ECP expects parties to get, maintain and publicly make available their professional party accounts and encourage their ticket-holders/electoral candidates to do so as well. While parties hold intra-party elections to meet legal requirement, they should be encouraged to make it public and allow those to be monitored by citizens and civil society. The ECP is ready to create a portal and integrate it with FBR and other state institutions such as the SECP and provincial forums. There may be requirement for a uniform system of accounting software to be used by parties as the law is silent on a standardized form for accounts of parties and candidates. UK, for instance, has an accounting framework for parties based on their size and focus. The ECP is ready to provide advisory service to parties, candidates and legislators through public FAQs as well as provide assistance to parties if they seek it. The ECP Legal Reforms Committee has worked a great deal on preparing proposals on required electoral reforms, especially relating to political finance. He highlighted that reforms in political finance have to be based on the key requirements of transparency, accountability and integrity to facilitate equality of opportunity and level-playing field for all.

Participants who joined the Consultative Forum included:

Mohsin Khan Leghari, Provincial Finance Minister,  Shanzay Noor, Lahore college of Women, Lecturer, Bushra Ghani, LCWU, Lecturer, Maliha Rai, LCWU, Student, Hina Kayani, Women Activist, Javaria Sehar, LCWU, Lecturer, Nadia Malik, GEO News, Senior Elections Producer, GEO, Benazir Shah, Editor Geo , Humayun Babar, YPP, Businessman, Amber Jabeen, DGPR, FinanceAmjad Mahmood, Daily Dawn, Deputy Bureau Chief, Arsam Tufail Butt, YPP, Member YPP, M. Usman Janjua, YPP, Member, YPP, Zoya Shaffay, Kinnard College, Lecturer, Daniel Massey, Youth Parliamentarian, Osama Rizvi, Youth Parliamentarian, Naeem Qaiser, Express News, Wajiha, Youth Parliament, Sadaf Bilal , Youth Parliamentarian, Sadia Hanif, UNDP, Asma Awan, Knnarird College, Rashid Chaudhary, FAFEN, Aslam Ghauri, Secretary Information, JUI, Ghazanfar Aziz, JUIP, Afzal Khan, JUIP, Amanullah Malik, PU, Mahar Safdar Ali, National Party, Tahir, Dawn TV, Habib Akram, Suno TV, Farid Piracha, Naib Amir, JIP, Salman Abid, EXPRESS, Column Writer, Abdullah Malik, PPP/Adv, Sadia Shabir, Civil Society Network, Volunteer, Ayesha Tanveer, Civil Society Network, Volunteer.