ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court may on Monday decide the major question of whether a fake degree holder can be considered a person having a ‘good character’ as per the requirement of article 62(1)(d) of the Constitution, writes Ahmad Noorani
Such a person can be declared a fake degree holder if the HEC, the only legal authority of the sort in the country, declares his or her educational degree as fake.
As a consequence of this important hearing some ex and present members and officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may face proceedings for illegally giving clean chits to around 21 powerful MPs (out of total declared 54 fake degree holder MPs) and not initiating criminal proceedings against them in compliance with the apex court 2010 judgement in the Rizwan Gill case.
This was done despite the fact that the HEC and concerned universities have declared their degrees fake. The apex court may also give directions to ECP and HEC to verify degrees of those 2008 election contestants who had submitted their degrees during previous elections and are also running for the May 11, 2013 polls.
Top ECP officials confirmed to this scribe late on Sunday night that number of such candidates would be around 1,000 as degrees of more than one thousand MPs were also verified and the majority which ran for 2008 polls are not running for the May 11 polls because of the strict condition of submitting tax returns.
However, ECP officials insist that verifying degrees of merely winners of 2008 polls would be unjust and degrees of losers of previous polls also running now must be verified and this process will not take more than 24 hours if all candidates are ordered to submit all their degrees with the HEC.
Besides the stance of top ECP officials, chairman HEC is on record that if the Supreme Court ordered verification of such degrees, the HEC will verify any degree within 24 hours if submitted with inter and matriculation certificates.
The SC decision on the issue will possibly determine as to whether a person found to have used a fake, bogus and tampered document can be allowed to become a member of the parliament in presence of article 62(1)(d) which declares that possessing a “good character” is one of the basic qualifications to contest polls. Relevant clause of article 62 reads as; “62 (1) a person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Parliament unless— (d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions.”
Returning officers can disqualify any candidate if FBR or SBP declare that the information provided in nomination forms is incorrect as per their record without any trial but there is some confusion whether a returning officer or an election tribunal should reject nomination papers of a candidate if HEC declares any degree as fake.
This is true, according to legal experts, that for punishing any person who submitted a fake degree with ECP in the past, a criminal trial in a court is necessary.
However, independent legal experts have been consistently insisting that if a legal authority like HEC, the final authority to determine authenticity of an educational certificate in the country, has declared a degree of a candidate as fake, he should be disqualified from contesting elections on grounds of not possessing “good character” as per requirements of article 62(1)(d).
“Yes, criminal proceedings should be initiated against such a person to punish him as per law,” experts say. SC decision on the issue will provide guidelines to returning officers to decide on accepting or rejecting the nomination papers of the candidates holding fake degrees and those who confronted the SC by not getting their degrees verified.
Another important question, Supreme Court may decide during the hearing of this crucially important suo moto case is the role of ‘police’ in investigating authenticity of a degree issued by a university and which is declared fake by a university and HEC.
Some affectees and undeclared spokesmen of powerful political elite in media are creating confusion that in two or three cases HEC had changed its decision after initially declaring a degree fake.
However, the fact is that either complete information was not provided by the MPs or photocopies of degrees were unreadable in these cases and concerned universities had not verified the degree at the initial stage but as degrees were genuine so candidates themselves approached universities and got their degrees verified as genuine by proving correct information.
No one else dared to approach their universities or HEC to get their degrees verified as they possessed fake degrees. No such thing happened in cases of 54 declared fake degree holders, 189 MPs who confronted SC by not submitting their degrees for verification or in case of 19 MPs whose cases are pending before high courts since ‘long’.
Any court has to decide the fate of a degree on the basis of a report and record provided to it by the concerned university and HEC and there is no way out even for a court of law or “police” to declare a degree genuine if it is being declared as fake as per record of the university and the HEC.
Thus experts argue that returning officers should disqualify any candidate who is declared as fake degree holder by the HEC under article 62(1)(d) and subsequently case should be sent to concerned session judges for criminal proceedings.
It is almost apparent now that SC may proceed against those responsible for illegally giving clean chit to 21 fake degree holders.
According to credible sources in ECP, most of these powerful 21 fake degree holders were given a clean chit by ex-CEC and a present member who differed with majority decision of ECP on nomination forms and most of these deals were finalizied by a senior official who remained affiliated with this exercise.
If SC decides to give investigation of this case to some honest officials of NAB or FIA many mega stories of corruption will surface.
Regarding 189 Parliamentarians, SC, in its order while taking suo moto notice late Saturday night, has mentioned ECP’s February 7, 2013 letter in which commission has given deadline of 15 days to MPs not submitting their degrees for verification for submitting such degrees and otherwise their degrees will be considered fake and criminal proceedings would be initiated against them. The SC may give a judgement on this issue in line with the decision of ECP in this Feb 7 letter.