Wed September 19, 2018
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
Must Read

Opinion

February 27, 2017

Share

Advertisement

Honest declarations

In a social democracy, taxes play an important role: parliament possesses the exclusive power to levy them and citizens pay the amount to the state for the general welfare of all under the social contract.

The elected representatives of people – legislators and role models – have the responsibility of fulfilling all the legal obligations in any democracy. The payment of taxes is one of the most important of these responsibilities. State institutions – the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) – have yet to prove their vigilance in scrutinising the declarations of assets, liabilities, incomes/ expenditures of parliamentarians.

A misdeclaration by any elected member can lead to his/her disqualification as well as the imposition of an additional punishment. The declarations filed by a majority of parliamentarians, vis-à-vis disclosure of a meagre salary income from the state as their only source of income, do not justify their standard of living.

A recent story in this newspaper: ‘PTI legislators and federal taxes’ (February 20) presents a shocking state of affairs: allegedly, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a number of PTI parliamentarians, including some ministers, did not bother to either file their income tax returns or show any income tax liability.

The issue is not confined to KP. The data available on the FBR website (Tax Directory for 2013, 2014 and 2015) and declarations filed with the ECP confirm that the majority of legislators are lax about their tax obligations.

Unfortunately, the submission of declarations by many lawmakers still remains a formality. The ECP also simply receives these in posts and publishes them in the official gazette without any verification/scrutiny. Many lawmakers conveniently ignore the requirement of submitting statements of assets of their spouses and dependents, for reasons best known to them. Many just say “as before”. It is a matter of record that in many cases, the value of assets is understated. Many parliamentarians, according to their declarations, do not own any vehicles, but are seen moving in motorcades. Many of them hold properties abroad through offshore companies but do not mention any interest outside Pakistan in any property or business.

Who should scrutinise the declaration of lawmakers? During the hearing of the Panama leaks case in the Supreme Court on February 21, 2017, the issue of dysfunctional institutions as being captive in the hands of the mighty surfaced once again. The institutions argued that they lacked effective and comprehensive legal and procedural framework that was needed for the accountability of the elected representatives. This argument was rejected by the apex court.

It is worth mentioning that on November 28, 2016 the ECP decided to reactivate its political finance wing for the purpose of random scrutiny of the declarations of assets and liabilities of legislators. This decision came when the ECP was busy dealing with the disqualification petitions against the prime minister and his son-in-law, the federal finance minister, the PTI chairperson, the PTI general secretary and others.

All members of the national as well provincial assemblies are bound under section 42A(1) of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976 (ROPA) to submit a statement of assets and liabilities of their own, along with those of their spouses and dependents to the commission by the 30th of September each year. The members of the Senate are also required to do the same under the Senate (Elections) Act 1975.

According to a press report, the ECP has scrutinised the annual declarations of assets of as many as 100 parliamentarians. This process was started on December 1, 2016 by the political finance wing of the ECP which sought assistance from the FBR, the auditor general, provincial revenue departments, the FIA and other institutions. The political finance wing and the confidential wing of the ECP have been merged into a directorate for carrying out the task of scrutiny. If any legislator is found guilty of concealing his/her assets or making any other false declarations, he/she is considered to be involved in “corrupt practices” (section 42A(4) of ROPA) to be tried under section 82 of ROPA. This section prescribes imprisonment for a term of up to three years for offenders. The ECP has not made the results of the scrutiny of declarations of 100 parliamentarians public yet even though, under Article 19A of the constitution, people have the right to know it.

Critics say that all of this is just a myth and that the SBP, the SECP, the FBR, NAB, the FIA or any other department will help the ECP in scrutinising the declarations of the legislators. The best way to scrutinise the veracity of the declaration of lawmakers and everyone in the service of Pakistan is by constituting a joint parliamentary standing committee on asset disclosures and investigation. This committee should be empowered by proper legislation to examine the declarations of lawmakers and have the power to order concerned departments to probe into their sources of acquisition of assets and expenditures.

The ongoing tug of war in the courts and the ECP, between political parties on the issue of asset declarations, should be resolved in parliament. First of all, the FBR and the ECP should be obliged by law to share with the parliamentary committee all the declarations that are filed by people who are in the service of Pakistan, elected representatives and those holding public offices. The committee can then compare the declarations filed under the Civil Servants Act 1973, the Army Act 1952 and related rules, the Representation of People Act 1976, the Senate (Election) Act 1975 and Rule 4 of the Political Parties Rules 2002 with those filed under the Income Tax Law.

In case of any discrepancies or complaints of suppression and concealment, the committee can ask the FBR, NAB, the FIA and even the military authorities – as the case may dictate – to take action under the law.

 

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and adjunct faculty at LUMS.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @drikramulhaq

 

Advertisement

Comments

Advertisement
Advertisement

Topstory

Opinion

Newspost

Editorial

National

World

Sports

Business

Karachi

Lahore

Islamabad

Peshawar