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A minister who was American when filed nomination papers

That status was intact even during the scrutiny of nomination papers he had filed for Election 2018

By Fakhar Durrani
January 20, 2020
Federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda. Photo: File

ISLAMABAD: He was a dual national at the time of filing nomination papers for general elections in 2018. He nevertheless concealed his American citizenship by falsely declaring on oath he submitted to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that he didn’t have any foreign nationality. Voted to National Assembly, he is now a federal minister.

Guess the minister? Faisal Vawda, Federal Minister for Water Resources. By the time of filing nomination papers on June 11, 2018, he was an American citizen. That status was intact even during the scrutiny of nomination papers. Instead of offering any defence, Vawda gave a “pls go ahead” remark when contacted for version.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its recent judgment has categorically directed that the candidates who previously held dual nationality shall have the renunciation certificate at the time of filing of nomination papers. Various legislators were disqualified by the top court on this count; included among them are two senators of PML-N. Both of them had applied for the renunciation of foreign citizenship much earlier but were unable to obtain the renunciation certificate at the time of filing of nomination papers because of long process.

In the case of Vawda, the last date to file nomination papers for the elections held in July 2018 was June 8 and later extended for another three days. Taking his document an evidence, Vawda submitted election papers on the last date — June 11, 2018 —along with an affidavit wherein he declared himself holding no citizenship other than that of Pakistani. The Returning Officer(RO) of NA-249 Karachi, his electoral constituency, approved his nomination papers on June 18, 2018. It was only after this approval that Vawda applied for renunciation of his US nationality in US Consulate Karachi meaning thereby he was American citizen at the time of filing.

Vawda applied for revocation of his American citizenship in US Consulate Karachi on June 22, 2018 (Friday). Normally the process of renunciation of US nationality takes a couple of weeks or even months because it requires clearance from all the concerned departments. However, the US Consulate issued the ‘Certificate of Loss of Nationality’ to Vawda on next working day i.e. June 25, 2018 (Monday), reveal the documents available with The News.

This scribe has also obtained official documents from the United States which confirm the facts about his dual nationality and renunciation of American citizenship.

Three top legal experts from Vawda’s own party are unanimous in their opinion that whoever holds dual nationality at the time of submitting nomination papers is set to not only face instant disqualification, she/he can also be penalized on the charges of perjury. His cabinet colleague, Fawad Chaudhry, former interim law minister who is now in PTI, Ali Zafar, and a key legal aide of PM Imran Khan (who doesn’t want to be named) held this view while talking to The News last month.

His dual citizenship didn’t go unchallenged. His rival candidate Abdul Qadir Mandokhel of PPP moved Sindh High Court in order to disqualify his candidature. However, after a couple of court hearings, Mandokhel withdrew his petition from the apex court. Explaining the reason of pulling out, he told The News he did so “under immense pressure” that he faced not only from certain quarters but also from the leadership of his own party.

Taking opinion of top legal minds as a guide, Vawda stands disqualified as MNA if his case is judged on the same standards which were applied when the apex court deal with the same issue relating to lawmakers of PML-N, PPP and other political parties. In past, the Supreme Court took suo motto notices instead of waiting for petitions. The then-Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had famously declared that there was no need of a petition where he came across such cases through media.

As Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry was asked about the fate of such a lawmaker (without mentioning Vawda’s name) who concealed foreign citizenship at the time of filing election papers, he said it was a straight case of disqualification. However, for this purpose, he adds, the Speaker of National Assembly has to send a reference to the ECP. Even an ordinary citizen can challenge it in the Supreme Court/High Courts or file a reference against the parliamentarian in ECP, Fawad said explaining the procedure.

One of the top legal gurus in PTI, who is very close to Prime Minister Imran Khan these days, when contacted, set a condition of knowing the lawmaker under question for giving the legal opinion. As the name of Vawda was disclosed, he gave his opinion on the condition of anonymity. His opinion: “There are three consequences for Faisal Vawda if it is proved that he initiated the process of renunciation of foreign citizenship after submission of the nomination papers. 1) He might be disqualified under Article 63 (1) (c) for concealing his dual nationality. (2) He might be de-seated, and (3) he can be penalized on the charges of perjury as former Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had added an affidavit which every candidate contesting the election has to submit with their nomination papers. In this affidavit, the candidate has to inform the ECP on oath that he doesn’t have any dual nationality. If the candidate lies on oath then he will be penalized on the charges of perjury by the Apex Court”.

Former President Supreme Court Bar Association (SBA) and now PTI leader Syed Ali Zafar while talking to The News said if proved that the said parliamentarian (Vawda’s name was not disclosed to him) had concealed his dual nationality at the time of filing of his nomination papers then he can be disqualified. Besides the ruling party’s legal experts this scribe had also contacted some well-respected jurists including Justice (R) Nasir Aslam Zahid and former president SCBA Kamran Murtaza. Both were unanimous that if it is proved through documents that the said minister has concealed his dual nationality at the time of filing his nomination papers then he will be disqualified instantly.

A source close to Faisal Vawda claims that he was not in favor of surrendering his American passport because he was unsure about winning the election. However, once he was assured of his victory only then he had applied for the revocation of US citizenship, he said.

In 2018, Supreme Court of Pakistan had disqualified Senator Saadia Abbasi and Senator Haroon Akhtar for having dual nationality at the time of filing nomination papers, no matter they had applied at that time for the renunciation of their American and Canadian citizenship respectively. Following excerpts of that judgment are pertinent: “Adverting now to the matter of Ms. Saadia Abbasi, it is an admitted fact that she had a dual nationality of United States of America. It is her case that she had renounced and surrendered such nationality. In support of her contention, she has filed a copy of the Statement of Understanding Concerning the Consequences and Ramifications of Renunciation or Relinquishment of US Nationality, attested on 08.02.2018, in the Consul of the United States of America; a copy of the certificate of loss of nationality of the United States dated 13.02.2018, approved on 20.02.2018; and also a copy of oath/affirmation of Renunciation of Nationality of United States dated 08.02.2018”.

“Obviously, Saadia Abbasi, filed her nomination papers by or before 08.02.2018 and on that date, even as per her own case, at that point of time, she was a dual national and the alleged relinquishment still under process, leaving no room for doubt that on such dates, at such point of time, even as per her own case, the renunciation of dual citizenship had not been approved. Hence, she was not qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Senate and her nomination papers were invalid, liable to be rejected and any election thereupon void. The subsequent approval of her renunciation even with retrospective effect could not cure the defect of not being qualified in terms of section 103 of the Elections Act, 2017, which existed at that point of time, when she filed her nomination papers, on the last date of nomination papers and when her nomination papers were scrutinized. In this view of matter, her election to the Senate is vitiated and liable to be annulled, as she was not qualified at the relevant point of time.”

The News contacted Faisal Vawda on March 27, 2019 and sent a questionnaire via WhatsApp to ask whether he has surrendered his US nationality or not. However, he did not answer the questions. Vawda was again sent a questionnaire on April 10, 2019 but this time he took no time to respond. Following was the text of questionnaire which this scribe sent to him;

“Hello Sir, I hope you are fine. Sir I am doing a story about your dual nationality. I will appreciate if you kindly respond to my following query. Sir you have submitted your nomination papers on June 11, 2018. In your nomination papers you declared on oath that you have no dual nationality. I have obtained the surrender certificate (renunciation letter) issued by US Consulate Karachi. According to these documents, you submitted your application for renouncing your US nationality on June 22, 2018. The US Consulate issued you the renunciation letter on June 25, 2018. Sir these documents prove that you misrepresented and misstated on oath. Isn’t it a violation of Constitution and the Elections Laws?”

The questionnaire was sent to him at 2:10 pm on April 10, 2019. At 2:12pm Vawda replied to this scribe with only three words, “Pls go ahead.”

When approached ECP spokesperson Nadeem Qasim said the Election Commission cannot take notice on the dual nationality of any parliamentarian by its own. Someone has to challenge the dual nationality of said parliamentarian in the court of ECP. “If proved that the said parliamentarian was a foreign national at the time of filing of nomination papers then he will be disqualified,” said the spokesperson.