ISLAMABAD – The contemplated ECP-led drive to net the tax evader and bank defaulter politicians appears to be flawed as no strategy has been devised to scrutinise politicians who have assets in foreign countries and those who got their bank loans rescheduled.
“This exercise would be futile and useless unless the ECP comes up with a clear, concrete and workable strategy to go against those politicians who keep getting their bank loans rescheduled as well as those who have assets abroad,” former ECP Secretary Kanwar Dilshad pointed at the apparent shortcomings in the move. “What sense does it make even to have claimed that the tax evaders and bank defaulters would be netted when they are at liberty to get their loans rescheduled and expand their assets abroad?” he asked.
A Presidential Ordinance, Dilshad demanded, be introduced to keep the loan defaulters away from the general elections, the way it was introduced in 1997, he recalled. On November 15, 1997, the then President Farooq Leghari had issued an ordinance so as not to allow those politicians contest general elections who were declared bank defaulters or had their bank loans rescheduled. However, only a month later, on December 15, Leghari amended this ordinance to allow the bank defaulters contest the general elections, seemingly succumbing to the political pressure from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. In protest against this move, the incumbent Chief Election Commissioner, Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, who was law minister then, had stepped down.
When approached, the CEC confirmed having quit due to some ‘irreconcilable differences’ back in 1997 but avoided sharing the relevant details. “It's all past. Now what everybody wants in Pakistan is free and fair general elections. The rest is history,” he said.
Regarding the absence of specifications on the foreign assets of politicians in the draft nomination papers for the general elections, Ebrahim said that the State Bank and Federal Board of Revenue were in contact with the ECP and the related issues were being addressed. “We’ll keep meeting to solve all the problems,” he said.
State Bank of Pakistan Governor Yasin Anwar on Thursday had asked the politicians, whose cases were heard in the Supreme Court, to 'sort out' their cases with the respective banks by February 25, in an apparently implied 'advice' to the politicians to get the loans rescheduled. Presently, the SBP has no plan to take on the politicians having assets abroad or the ones getting their loans rescheduled.
SBP Chief Spokesperson Syed Wasimuddin, when contacted, refused to comment on the queries regarding the SBP policy towards the politicians' assets abroad and bank loans rescheduling. He said that the SBP governor was quoted ‘out of context’ regarding his statement on bank defaulter politicians and the State Bank had issued a clarification. The said clarification only denied that the governor had stated before a Senate panel on Thursday that the loan defaulters' list would be furnished to the Election Commission on February 26.
According to Kanwar Dilshad, politicians are not allowed to have foreign assets without the permission of the SBP. “The SBP should explain why it permits the politicians to have assets abroad or why the politicians create foreign assets in case the SBP denies them the permission?” he suggested.
The ECP has held a couple of meetings with the SBP and FBR top brass to tighten noose around the tax evading and bank defaulter politicians. The electoral body has announced forming a committee comprising representatives from SBP, FBR, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and Nadra (National Database Registration Authority) to develop a mechanism for scrutiny of nomination papers of contesting candidates within a period of two weeks. The committee would suggest amendments in the nomination forms but the inclusion of a column on the foreign assets of the politicians seems missing.
“These cosmetic steps would not work until and unless the core issues are taken care of. Without formulating a workable strategy to net the politicians having assets abroad and putting an end to the practice of rescheduling the loans, the ECPs' claims to go tough on politicians sound hollow, unfounded and baseless,” Kanwar Dilshad said. “It's time to grow out of making funnily tall claims and do something practical.”