ISLAMABAD - Almost all political parties in the Parliament seem to be on the same page when it comes to omission in the declaration of nomination papers for electoral candidates loan defaults/loan write-offs, non-payment of utility charges and taxes paid by the candidates.

Although Law Minister Zahid Hamid has described the changes in the nomination papers, introduced following the passage of Elections Act, 2017, and Elections (Amendment) Act, 2017, as a move to make them simple, they have deprived the Election Commission of Pakistan of its powers to hold a scrutiny of the candidates with regard to their defaults on loans as well as utility charges, information about the taxes paid by them and criminal cases pending against them.

A comparison between the two nomination papers, one prepared as a result of the Political Parties Order, 2002, and the recently passed Elections Act, 2017, shows the latter has been made so simple that loan defaulters as well as govt defaulters would also be able to contest the elections. In addition, no one would be able to ascertain how much income tax as well as revenue tax a candidate has paid as the provisions dealing with these taxes have also been deleted from nomination forms for electoral candidates. In previous nomination forms used in the general elections of 2002, 2008 and 2013, every candidate had to solemnly declare that he/she or his/her spouse and dependents were neither tax defaulters nor defaulters of government utility bills and no case of criminal offence older than six months prior to filing of nomination pending against them.

Sarwar Bari, a social activist and expert on electoral reforms, said all the parliamentary parties had compromised on the transparency of electoral process. He said now the candidates would have to submit only wealth statement as the provisions of default on loans and utility bills had been omitted from the declaration forms. Similarly, many other important declarations had been omitted from nomination papers, he said. “All efforts to bring the people with ‘clean background’ to the parliament have ended in smoke,” he asserted. However, only one important thing has been introduced through Elections Act, 2017, which has authorised the ECP to appoint a third-party evaluator or an auditor to assess the wealth statement, statement of assets and liabilities of candidates.

During the 2013 general elections, the ECP had established a special scrutiny cell comprising representatives of the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Board of Revenue, the State Bank of Pakistan and the poll body itself to scrutinise the nomination papers of the candidates with regard to their default on loans, utility bills and the written-off loans.

ECP spokesperson Haroon Khan admitted many provisions regarding tax default, default on utility bills and information about income tax as well as pending criminal cases had been deleted from the nomination papers that were part of Elections Act 2017. But the omission of such provisions did not mean that the ECP had been deprived of its powers to scrutinise the candidates, he said. “If anyone raises objections to the nomination of any electoral candidate, the returning officer has the authority to reject the nomination of the candidate, keeping in view his defaults in any area,” he argued. “The ECP has been empowered to frame rules about the forms in the light of previous laws on elections and this time the nomination papers have been made part of the Election Act 2017, so we cannot frame rules,” he said.

The earlier nomination forms, finalised as a result of Political Parties Order, 2002, stated: “I hereby solemnly declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that (i) no loan for an amount of Rs two million or more obtained from any bank, financial institution, 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 been written off.” Now this part stands omitted.

It further stated: “I, my spouse or any of my dependents or a business concern mainly owned by me or the aforesaid is not in default of payment of government dues or utility charges, including telephone, electricity, gas and water, for an amount in excess of Rs 10,000 for over six months at the time of filing of nomination papers.”

In the earlier declaration form, electoral candidates were bound to “declare on oath” the number of cases of criminal nature pending against them six months prior to the filing of their nomination forms, including the details of the names of courts. This provision has also been omitted. Similarly, previously, a candidate had to declare on oath the details of the income tax paid and the land revenue record during the last three assessment/financial years, which now stand omitted from the nomination papers.