With general elections scheduled for 25th July 2018, the Pakistani political machinery is in full preparation for what is set to be the country’s most important elections in its history. As the country reaches the end of a historic 3rd consecutive peaceful transfer of power from one government to the next, all eyes are on the nation of over 190 million citizens to see who they elect as their next set of representatives.

As expected, little else dominates our local media than stories of political parties, interviews of their leaders and their election campaigning. Page to page coverage ensures that every meeting held, every forehead kissed and every promise made is recorded to give voters as much information as possible for them to make an informed decision come Election Day.

Despite such a spate of media coverage and enhanced public awareness, it is incredibly unfortunate that certain candidates whose nomination credentials were found significantly wanting have not only passed scrutiny from the media and have evaded the public eye, but have been given the green light to participate in the elections with nary a peep or objection from concerned authorities.

In numerous instances, candidates who have been determined by different banking and other financial institutions to be loan defaulters or to have not cleared outstanding dues on their loans have been cleared to participate in the upcoming general elections. As per ECP criteria, a candidate who has had a loan exceeding PKR 2 million written-off and/or a loan whose payment is overdue for a period exceeding one year is ineligible to contest the elections. Yet, we find candidates who are defaulters of loans of millions of rupees cleared by the Appellate Tribunal.

Initially, there was limited media coverage about former NA speaker Fahmida Mirza and her husband Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza being loan defaulters of multiple banks. They availed loan facilities from multiple banks in the capacity of directors of their companies, but have been finally cleared and are now running in the elections despite their position of default.

Apparently, neither has made any significant attempt to clear their outstanding dues or settle their loans. Both candidates come from strong political and socioeconomic backgrounds and there is no reason why they cannot make good on what they owe to financial institutions. This is a blow to the electoral process and reflects poorly on the electoral scrutiny procedure. Indeed, this is also against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s Orders to hold loan defaulters accountable for their outstanding liabilities.

The list of such instances of flawed scrutiny includes many other powerful names that have managed to get cleared and are now contesting the elections. In this regard, media reports include names of candidates such as Zaigham Abbas (PP 30), Abdul Sattar Bachani (NA 224), Zulfiqar Bachani (NA 224), Anwar Ahmed (NASW), Arif Mustafa Jatoi (NA 212), Danish Channa (NA 236), Ghulam Mustafa Khan Mirani (PP 285), Mian Khizer Hayat (PP 276), Muhammad Hassam Mirza (NA 229), Muhammad Ali Tarakai (PK 46), Muhammad Jamshed (NA 92), Naeem Adil Sheikh (NA 238), Muhamamd Shoaib Butt (PP 56), Rana Azhar Iqbal (NA 123), Tariq Abbas Khan Niazi (NA 237), Waqar Akhtar Paganwala (NA 244), Rana Shahbaz Ahmed (PP 130), Khalid Ghani (PP 129), Sardar Jaffar Khan Laghari (NA 193), Ahmed Shah Khagga (NA 145), Ali Nawaz Syed Kirmani (NA 143), Aloo Mal (PS 79), Asad Ullah Bhutto (NA 142), Dr. Qadir Bux Magsi (NA 213), Faiz Muhammad (NA 203), Jam Ikramullah Khan (NA 205), Pir Mujeeb Ul Haq (NA 205), Masooma Zehra (NA 194), Mian Manzoor Ahmed Watto (NA 144), Mubarak Ali (NA 218), Mushtaq Ali Jatoi (PS 85), Sajjad Hussain (NA 192), Sardar Talib Hussain Nakai (NA 140), Chaudhry Iftikhar Ahmed (PP 30) and Razza Khan (NA 193) who have defaulted and/or have outstanding long term liabilities.

The above mentioned candidates reportedly owe outstanding amounts to numerous financial institutions including Sindh Bank, Summit Bank, KASB, NBP, Al Baraka, MCB Bank, IDBL, UBL, Samba Bank, Bank of Punjab, HBL, Citi Bank, Bank Alfalah, ZTBL, BEL, ABL and SCB among others. The loan defaults and outstanding dues in some instances run into millions of rupees!

So why is there such a disconnect between the information available to the Returning Officers and the decisions that have been ultimately taken in the scrutiny process? Is this accidental or intentional? Is undue political influence being wielded to push through candidates who are so clearly short of merit to the disappointment of people?

It’s disturbing that the Supreme Court is expending significant effort to hold bank defaulters accountable for their liabilities, whereas ROs and the Appellate Tribunal are giving clean chits to suspect candidates to contest in the general elections where they’ll become lawmakers. Is this not against the interest of justice and providing all candidates a level playing field? Unless these candidates are held accountable for their outstanding commitments to the banking sector there is a low possibility that these funds will be recovered from them once they rise to power.

The quantum of NPLs is alarmingly high in Pakistan’s Banking Industry, i.e. approximately over PKR 600 billion. With the country already in dire economic circumstances ahead of the elections, it is the need of the hour to have honest and reliable candidates to take the country forward in the next five years. Pakistan’s economic woes are only going to go from bad to worse if the system allows incompetent and corrupt politicians to enter into power. This election will be a turning point for the fate of this country and it’s important that only the most suitable candidates are eligible to contest for the vote of all Pakistanis. But who cares about full and equal application of scrutiny criteria to candidates?

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.