ECP scrutiny committee turns to 2017 SC judgment

Tariq Butt
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The scrutiny committee of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) drew its mandate and scope of work in dissecting the funding and undeclared accounts of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) from a Supreme Court judgment, which held that the allegation of foreign funding against PTI can be levelled by the federal government only.

The verdict had been delivered on on December 16, 2017, by a three-member apex court bench headed by the then Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who had authored it, and comprised Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Faisal Arab on a petition filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) leader Hanif Abbasi against Imran Khan.

Abbasi had sought a declaration by the apex court that Imran Khan is not qualified to be a member of the National Assembly and is disqualified. Among other assertions, he said the PTI was a foreign-aided party; investigations be conducted into its chairman’s financial misdeclarations, misappropriation and evasion; and a comprehensive and detailed probe be launched to scrutinize his tax returns and assets declarations.

The report of the scrutiny committee said that it derives its mandate and scope of work from this Supreme Court judgment and the terms of references (ToRs), assigned to it by the ECP. The ruling lays down the foundation and provides the basis for the committee for the examination and analysis of the data and documents placed before it from multiple sources, the report said.

It quoted the judgment, which said the power of assessing and deciding whether a political party has received contributions or donations from any sources prohibited under Article 6(3) of the Political Parties Order (PPO), 2002, can be exercised by the ECP on its own motion based upon the facts available in the public domain or revealed by information provided to it, subject to the condition that the information emanates from a credible source, that it is reliable and verifiable and is not a mala fide fabrication meant to harass and prejudice a political party, its leaders or its members.

The report said that PTI founding member-turned-whistleblower Akbar S Babar filed a petition in the ECP in Dec 2014 under Article 6 of the PPO read with Rule 6 of the Political Parties Rules. The ECP initiated proceedings in this case in Jan 2015 but could not make any headway because of protracted delays in the submission and examination of relevant records and being the case of first impression.

Meanwhile, the report said, a similar matter was taken up in 2016 by the Supreme Court on Abbasi’s petition against Imran Khan. The ECP constituted the scrutiny committee in March 2018 in line with Babar’s complaint and the Supreme Court verdict.

The judgment concluded that the charge of PTI as a foreign-aided political party can under Article 15 of the PPO be levelled only by the federal government for its validation on a reference made to the Supreme Court. It said Abbasi has no locus standi in this behalf. Whether the PTI has received political contributions and donations from sources that are prohibited under Article 6(3) of the PPO is a matter which, for the reasons given in our opinion, is referred for determination in accordance with law by the ECP in exercise of jurisdiction conferred by the PPO and the rules framed under it.

The ruling said that it is the duty of the ECP to scrutinize accounts of political parties on the touchstone of Article 6(3) of the PPO read in the light of Article 17(3) of the Constitution. In this behalf, the ECP must act transparently, fairly and justly, without discrimination among political parties seeking election symbols to contest the elections to the constitutional legislatures of Pakistan.

For undertaking such scrutiny, it will be reasonable for the ECP to examine the accounts of a political party within five years of the objected accounts of that party having been published in the official gazette.

The judgment also concluded that the alleged falsity of the certificates issued by Imran Khan under Article 13(2) of the PPP is a secondary fact, ascertainable by a competent court of law after the ECP gives its symbols to contest the elections and gives its findings whether any prohibited funding has been received and collected by the PTI in terms of Article 6(3) of the PPO.

Article 6(3) of the PPO says any contribution made, directly or indirectly, by any foreign government, multinational or domestically incorporated public or private company, firm, trade or professional association will be prohibited and the parties may accept contributions and donations only from individuals.

While the scrutiny committee has made it clear that it acted in accordance with the apex court judgment, it has not specified any penalty for withholding details of several accounts by the PTI, undeclared bank accounts etc. It is also silent on what will happen if any undertaking given by the PTI chairman to the ECP is found to be untrue.