Our prospering paupers - Asif Ezdi - Monday, May 02, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=44724&Cat=9

The writer is a former member of Foreign Service

Press reports last month on the annual declaration of assets by our members of parliament contained plenty of information, but did little to provide transparency on the question of whether they have been amassing wealth by abusing their positions or through other unlawful means. It would in any case be too much to expect that someone who has been stealing public money or otherwise dishonestly enriching himself would then have the honesty to publicly disclose his illicit gains.

Still, there are some glaring cases of incomplete, if not false, declarations. If media reports are correct, Gilani has no source of income other than the salary he draws as prime minister; and his domestic expenditure is only Rs400,000 a year or less than Rs34,000 a month. That means that if he were to lose his job, he would be reduced to a pauper. If their declarations are to be believed, there are many other lawmakers just barely managing to make both ends meet. Clearly, many of them have not told the whole truth. But they do not have to fear any consequences because there is no effective provision in the law for scrutinising the declarations and prosecuting those who are found to have cheated.

The requirement of annual declaration of assets by members of parliament and their spouses and dependants was introduced in 2002 by Musharraf through amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1976, which governs elections to the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies, and to the Senate Election Act, 1975, which is about the election of senators. These amendments also provide that if a declaration is “found to be false” in material particulars, the person making it “may be proceeded against” for committing the offence of “corrupt practice,” which is punishable with imprisonment and disqualifies for election. But the law does not specify whose responsibility it is to initiate an inquiry. The Election Commission obviously does not consider it to be its job. It has never held any inquiry and not a single person has been “proceeded against” under this law. It is no wonder that our honourable elected representatives do not take it seriously.

Candidates for election to parliament are also required to state, at the time they file their nomination papers, how much income tax and land revenue they have paid for the three preceding years. But for some strange reason, they are not required to give this information once they get elected. We do not know therefore how much tax our lawmakers have been paying after their election.

From Gilani’s nomination papers for the 2008 election, we do know that he did not pay any income tax for the three preceding years. He is probably the only prime minister in the world with this unique distinction. Twenty-four of the ministers who were in his cabinet last December also did not pay any income tax. Among others political leaders in the same category are Asfandyar Wali and Fazlur Rahman. Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar paid Rs39,120 for the year preceding the 2008 election. We do not have information from the Election Commission about Nawaz Sharif because he was not a candidate in the 2008 election.

The Election Commission also does not have any information on the assets held by Zardari or the income tax paid by him, because the law does not require the president to file any such declaration. This loophole seems to have been left deliberately by Musharraf for his own benefit. But its main beneficiary today is Zardari.

Nations make progress when their citizens are prepared to give more to the country than they get out of it. But it is scandalous that in Pakistan those who get the most from the country and have been entrusted with guiding its destiny are also those who are least willing to pay back their debt to society. In most countries, it is the affluent class which bears the bulk of the tax burden to provide for education, health and other social services. But in Pakistan, it is the poor man who pays the tax and the rich rulers who pocket the money. As Pir Pagaro said of his class in one of his recent bons mots, “Ham lene wale hain, dene wale nahin.” (“We there to take, not to give.”)

Hillary Clinton was absolutely right when she urged the Pakistani leadership to pass meaningful reforms to expand the tax base. The Pakistani people are also demanding more and more that the state force the wealthy to dig into their pockets. But our ruling class is in no mood to listen. After the finance minister told World Bank and IMF officials last month that parliament is resisting tax reforms, he was roundly criticised by all parties. PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal asked the minister to tender an apology to parliament and some of his party members have submitted a privilege motion in the National Assembly. Our parliamentarians are evidently more concerned about their own privileges and those of their class than about social justice and good governance. Through this attitude, they themselves provide a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.

One of them last month submitted a bill in the National Assembly seeking to disqualify anyone who owns property abroad from being elected to parliament. The bill has been referred for consideration to the standing committee concerned. But anyone with even the faintest idea of how our politicians operate would know that such a bill stands no chance of being adopted. Although only a few dozen members of parliament have declared in their statements that they own property abroad, the actual number runs into a couple of hundreds, if not more. Those owning vast properties abroad include such towering figures as Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. It is therefore inconceivable that their parties would support such legislation.

The bill also proposes the disqualification of anyone holding the nationality of a foreign country. Another member of the National Assembly has proposed a similar amendment. A star TV commentator, Najam Sethi, has supported this idea. It seems they have not read the Constitution. Article 63 (1) (c) already lays down that a person who ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state is disqualified from being elected to parliament. The fact that the Pakistani Citizenship Act now allows dual citizenship with some countries does not affect this constitutional bar. Besides, Section 99 (1) (a) (c) of the Representation of the People Act and Section 78 (c) of the Senate Election Act also disqualify all those holding the citizenship of a foreign state from being elected to the federal and provincial legislatures.

What is needed is not fresh legislation but the implementation of existing law. The public does not know how many of our parliamentarians have foreign nationality but they are obviously very influential. The government has repeatedly been trying to avoid answering questions in the National Assembly seeking information on this point.

German philosopher Emmanuel Kant wrote in 1784 that from such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. He was making a philosophical proposition. But what he said is quite literally true of our parliament. Its members have been elected under a deeply flawed electoral process which places a premium on corruption; most of them cheat in the payment of taxes; a large number hold fake degrees; many steal public money; they care little for national interest; they have been resisting the passage of a new accountability law with teeth; they are mainly concerned with preserving the power and privileges of a small ruling class; and they are not public representatives in any real sense. They are a major part of the problem. From them little good can be expected.

Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

1 comment:

  1. In Pakistan, the years of non-democratic reigns have given sweeping powers to the bureaucracy. The systematic way in which this cadre has managed to have a stranglehold on every aspect of a citizen’s life has all but destroyed the vital organs of this country. The bureaucracy has usurped powers in such a way that they now can use these acquired powers to be dogmatic, dictatorial, and discretionary. These bureaucrats continue to haunt people and add insult to injuries even after their retirement. Reeling on the old bad ways these bureaucrats like Asif Ezdi even can not digest democracy even they do not remained in power. With tooth and nails the people like Asif Ezdi blame, accuse and mudsling government for the very steps, they did not consider objectionable when they were in power. It is not their fault, the problem is with our newspaper specially Jang group and The News, that is overwhelmed by such bureaucrats. It seems that there is dearth of professional columnist and journalist that could write for the newspaper, it might be due to bad reputation of newspaper professional journalist hate to write for this group.