The very system of Income and Assets Declaration (IAD), necessarily requires individuals to formally and precisely declare their income and assets before an appropriate legal agency of the state. The IAD system has now become an important tool for the anti-corruption agencies to fight corruption all over the world. An effective and efficient IAD regime always goes a long way in ensuring public accountability and transparency in a particular polity. The United Nations Convention against Corruption(UNCAC) has also recognized the IAD system as an important legal instrument to combat corruption worldwide. Under Article 8 of the UNCAC, state parties are required to consider formulating policies making their public officials to reveal “to appropriate authorities…. their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits”. It also requires states to significantly evolve a legal framework for the asset deceleration of these officials.

Presently there exist no uniform international standards explaining or mandating how should an income or asset declaration be exactly made and monitored. However, there definitely are some core principles worldwide that are supposed to form the basis of a legal framework for assets declaration in any country. Firstly, the public officials from the three branches of government- executive, legislature, and judiciary- should duly declare the income and assets of their own, their spouses and dependent children. Secondly, an IAD statement should comprehensively and accurately covers individual’s entire assets, liabilities, income, and the source of such income. Thirdly, the IAD should require to be made before and after assuming any public office as well as periodically, during the office. And lastly, there should be an independent monitoring agency to verify, scrutinize and investigate the particular IAD statement made by any public officials.

The World Bank advises and assists states in effectively devising and enforcing the IAD system. Its practical assistance ranges from advising on drafting legislation and furnishing model IAD forms, to provide financial and technical support to an agency to administer this system. The Stolen Assets Recovery (STAR) initiative is another important partnership between the World Bank and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that essentially supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds, and to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption. It also facilitates systematic and timely returns of the stolen assets all over the world.

The principle goal of an IAD system is to combat corruption by preventing public officials from abusing their power for personal gains. At present, a number of countries- United States, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Thailand, India, Estonia, Latvia and Romania, are actively following the IAD system in one way or the other to ensure public accountability. In our neighborhood, even a war-torn country like Afghanistan has also tried to adopt an effective IAD system. Under Article 154 of the Afghan constitution; the President, Vice- President, cabinet ministers, legislators and judges are legally bound to duly declare their wealth before and after their term of office.

In Pakistan, under Section 12(2) (f) of The Representation of People Act, 1976, a candidate has to submit a statement of his assets and liabilities, and those of his spouse and dependents on a prescribed form at the time of filing nomination papers to contest an election on a seat of the parliament or a provincial assembly. Similarly, under Section 42A of the Act, an elected member of the parliament or a provincial assembly is also legally bound to submit a similar statement of assets and liabilities every year to the Election Commission of Pakistan. The ECP further ensures the publication of such statements made by the legislators in the official Gazette every year. Thus Pakistan also theoretically adheres to the so-called IAD system as far as the legislators are concerned. However, in actual practice, making a statement of income and assets has only become an insignificant legal formality. Generally, legislators either neglect to file such statements or simply conceal their assets through misdeclarations. Therefore, in addition to ‘representation without taxation’, now the ‘representation without deceleration’ has also become one of the most dominant characteristics of the political system in Pakistan.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is the legal body to regulate or supervise the conduct of the legislators in the country. Nevertheless, it hardly bothers to actively scrutinize, verify or otherwise investigate the statements of assets and liabilities submitted by the legislators.

Thus an important legal instrument meant to prevent legislators from misusing their powers for personal gains has deliberately been resorted to a flimsy legal ritual. Therefore, in the absence of any effective accountability mechanism, the legislators and government functionaries in Pakistan have been indulging in the corrupt practices with impunity for a long time.

For many years, the ECP has been displaying the statements of assets and liabilities submitted by the parliamentarians on its official website. But surprisingly, probably on account of obvious reasons, the ECP instantly removed the list of parliamentarians’ assets from its official website as soon as the typical Panama-leak controversies surfaced earlier this month. It is quite unfortunate that the very institution which is primarily responsible to ensure political accountability in some way, has become an equal participators in hiding the dirty skeletons in politicians’ cupboards.

Had Pakistan effectively evolved and enforced the so-called IAD system in the past, the people in the country would haven’t now made a demand for forming a judicial commission to probe the Panama paper revelations. Section 42A (4) of The Representation of People Act, 1976 provides that a legislator may be proceeded against under Section 82 for committing the offence of corrupt practice if the statement of assets and liabilities submitted by him is found to be false in material particulars. Therefore, reading Section 82 of ROPA, 1976 with Article 63(1)(h) of the constitution of Pakistan, failure to disclose or the mis-declaration of any asset to the ECP by a legislators may simply result in his disqualification as being a member of parliament or a provincial assembly.

Since PM Nawaz Sharif has never mentioned the fact of owning any offshore assets or bank account in his statement of assets and liabilities submitted to the ECP in the past, there should be serious legal implications if fact of his offshore assets is subsequently disclosed or established after a legal probe. He may also lose his seat as a member of National Assembly on the basis of this single electoral illegality.

Presently the name of PM Nawaz Sharif also appears on World Bank’s StAR website for being the alleged beneficial owner of certain off-shore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. It should certainly be another matter of great concern for the ruling political party.

Pakistan should take endeavors to repatriate the stolen money through various global stolen assets recovery initiatives after thoroughly probing the Pakistan-specific Panama-leak allegations. Pakistan also direly needs to introduce an efficient IAD regime to ensure accountability and transparency in public sector institutions. It will certainly help avoiding controversies generated by the recent Panama Papers revelations. The ECP has to proactively play its institutional role to regulate and oversee the conduct of parliamentarians by strictly enforcing the electoral laws in the country. Individuals should not be allowed to steal or plunder the scarce financial resources of the troubled nation. Nor should the ‘representation without deceleration’ be a viable political option in Pakistan.