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June 4, 2018

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Freedom from information

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to suspend the Lahore High Court decision regarding the revision of nomination papers has brought the much-desired relief to the election candidates but at the cost of transparency and accountability.

In a rare display of consensus October last year, all the parliamentary parties had deleted as many as 19 declarations from the nomination papers which required key information about their finances, loan default, tax-evasion, criminal proceedings and business interests. Earlier, change in the nomination paper was the prerogative of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Habib Akram, a journalist, moved the LHC in November last year challenging these amendments. Seven months later, the apex court directed the revision of nomination form late Friday. “The impugned form doesn’t provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the Constitution and the law,” Justice Ayesha A. Malik wrote in her verdict.

This lack of disclosure and information, she wrote, essentially means that a voter will not have the required information on the basis of which an information decision can be made. As the stay has been granted by the SC and decisions will be made after a detailed discussion on this issue and whether parliament can usurp the power of ECP to hold fair elections which are not possible by denying voters’ access to information about candidates, below is the information a candidate doesn’t have to furnish for contesting elections which was required in the 2013 elections. No declaration about default: According to the changes made to the nomination papers by Parliament, an election candidate doesn’t have to declare whether or not he is a loan or utility bills defaulter. This exemption will be a radical departure from the past requirement.

In 2013 elections, there was a mandatory oath a candidate had to sign. That oath read:

“I hereby solemnly declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that….

(i) no loan for an amount of two million rupees or more obtained from any bank, financial institutions, cooperative society or corporate body in my own name or in the name of my spouse or any of my dependents or any business concern mainly owned by me or the aforesaid, stands unpaid for more than one year from the due date, or has got such loan written off, and

(ii) I, my spouse or any of my daughters or a business concern mainly owned by me or the aforesaid, is not in default payment of government dues or utility charges, including telephone, electricity, gas and water charges of an amount in excess of ten thousand rupees, for over six months, at the time of filing of nomination.”

No information about spouses, dependents and business interest: There is no more requirements for a candidate to declare about his/her spouse and dependents. There are instances where contestants had been found having more than one wives. Any mis-declaration would lead them to disqualification. Likewise, the businesses owned by the dependents were to be declared through an oath that reads:

“I, hereby solemnly affirm that,…

(i) The list containing the names of my spouse(s) and dependents is correct and no name has been left (List attached)

(ii) Neither I nor my spouse(s) nor any of my dependents mainly owns any company except the following…………………………………………………………………………………………………”

No information about criminal proceeding:

A candidate is not under requirement to share information about his shady past. In 2013 elections, candidates were to sign an oath and provide relevant information. That oath demanded the following:

“I, hereby, declare on oath that no case of criminal offences was pending against me, six months prior to filing of this nomination papers.”

OR

“I, hereby, declare on oath that following cases of criminal offences were pending against me, six months prior to filing of this nomination: …………………………………………….”

No information about education:

A candidate doesn’t have to declare whether or not he possesses any education. This declaration was mandatory in the past and candidates were required to deposit the degrees they claimed to have earned. This clause led to disqualification of scores of lawmakers for wrong declaration.

No declaration of present occupation:

Like education, a candidate is also exempted from sharing information about their occupation like whether he is a doctor, engineer, scientist, lawyer, journalist or businessman.

No information about NTN and income tax:

One can’t buy a new vehicle or property if one is not filer of tax returns, according to new finance bill approved last month. However, there is no scrutiny in this regard when one contests for an assembly which approves finance bill and levy taxes.

The new nomination paper has deleted the requirement of giving details of National Tax Number as well as declared income of past three years and income taxes paid on it.

The nomination paper of 2013 required declaration of the following:

The income tax paid by me during the last three years is given hereunder………………………(attached copies of income tax returns of the years mentioned above).”

Likewise, information about agriculture income tax has also been exempted.

No information about foreign travelling:

Candidates in the past were required to declare how many time they traveled abroad during last three years and cost incurred thereon. Attaching passport copy and expenditure details was mandatory in 2013. It is no more.

No need to explain contribution for the constituency:

A candidate who had served as an MPA or MNA used to be asked to explain what was his contribution for the constituency.

The question in past nomination paper reads: “If you have been elected Member of National Assembly/Provincial Assembly, what, according to you, was the single most important contribution you have made for the benefit of your constitutency? It is no more there.

No declaration of political donation: Whether you have paid any sum by way of contribution or otherwise to the political party which has awarded you party ticket for this election, was the question in the 2013 nomination papers. Details were to be submitted if the answer is in affirmative.

Likewise, a candidate used to be asked whether he has received any financial support from the party. Both questions have been deleted from the latest nomination paper.

No declaration of net assets: The candidates were required to submit details of their net assets as on June 30th of current financial year as well as net assets as on June 30th of previous financial year and differential (if any) between the current and past year. This information is required no more.

No declaration of foreign passport: There used to be a requirement asking candidates to declare if they have any passport and provide its detail and name of the country in case the answer of first question is in affirmative.

Likewise a declaration had to be signed that one has not acquired any foreign nationality. It would read:

“……………………………. state on oath that I have not ceased to be a citizen of Pakistan nor have I acquired or applied for the citizenship of a foreign state.”

Also, an NOC used to be signed by the candidate that he wouldn’t mind if information about his likely citizenship is acquired from any other country. Its draft would read:

(a) I, Mr/Ms/Mrs…………………..S/o,W/o, D/o……………state that I have no objection if information concerning myself in relation to acquisition of citizenship of foreign state or application of such citizenship is provided by any foreign state to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of Pakistan or Election Commission of Pakistan.

(b) I, Mr/Ms/Mrs…………………..S/o,W/o, D/o……………state that failure to give details regarding any item of this Form shall render my nomination to contest election invalid or if any information given herein above are found incorrect at any time, my election shall stand void ab initio.

These details have also been removed from the new nomination papers.

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