The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would have to seek assistance from National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) prior to taking a decision on the petitions filed by opposition parties seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and lawmakers from his family.
“The ECP is not an investigating agency; therefore it will have to take help from NAB, FIA and FBR to generate authentic material evidence to decide on the petitions,” an official of the ECP told Business Recorder on Saturday.
He said ECP could even ask the government to constitute an independent commission to investigate all the allegations levelled by the opposition parties in their petitions.
The four opposition parties including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Awami Muslim League have filed separate petitions with the ECP for disqualification of the Prime Minister, lawmakers from his family including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, for evading taxes and hiding assets as revealed in the Panama Papers.
The ECP has clubbed all the petitions and fixed them for preliminary hearing on August 3, sending notices to petitioners to argue the maintainability of their petitions.
The petitioners have based their petitions on the Panama Papers and contend that the Prime Minister and his family never disclosed their assets held abroad in the annual statements every lawmaker has to submit to ECP.
A former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad told Business Recorder that the Prime Minister and other lawmakers from his family including Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif can be disqualified under article 42 (a) sections 82 and 94 of the Representation of the People Act 1976.
Article 42 (a) says: “Yearly submission of statements of assets and liabilities (1) Every member shall, on a form prescribed under clause (f) of sub-section (2) of section 12, submit a statement of assets and liabilities of his own, his spouse and dependents annually to the Commission by the thirtieth day of September each year.”
Section 82 says, “Penalty for corrupt practice.-Any person guilty of corrupt practice shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees, or with both.” Section 94 says, “Certain offences cognizable-(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, an offence punishable under 42[section 80A] or section 82 or section 85 or subsection (1) of section 87 shall be a cognizable offence.”
“It is high time for the ECP as an institution to prove its strength and restore its image as an independent institution by taking decision in large interest of the country,” Kanwar Dilshad said, adding it was also a test for the new ECP members to assert their legal powers and decide on the petitions without favouring any party.
Another former ECP Secretary, however, said that annual asset details of parliamentarians had been published in the Gazette of Pakistan since 1997, and no one had ever been disqualified on the basis of submitting false asset details with the ECP. He said decisions of the ECP were also not final as they could be challenged in High Court and Supreme Court for review.
A separate case against Prime Minister’s son-in-law Captain Muhammad Safdar (Retd) is already being heard by the ECP. Before these petitions were moved by political parties, Safdar’s opponent from Mansehra had submitted a petition stating that he had not mentioned those assets of his wife Maryam Nawaz disclosed in Panama Papers.