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ECP finalises plan to vet election candidates

21 February, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has constituted a committee to identify tax evaders, loan and utility bill defaulters and beneficiaries of written-off loans to prevent them from running in the upcoming general elections.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim presided over an ECP meeting in this regard on Wednesday. The meeting was also attended by the State Bank Governor Yaseen Anwar, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chief Ali Arshad Hakeem, and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials.

According to the decisions taken during the meeting, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would provide the ECP with the list of convicted politicians while the SBP would give the details of the defaulters on bank loans, and the FBR and Nadra would furnish the details about the tax evaders.

The analysts believe that it is the first test of the real independence of the ECP as the CEC assigned the FBR to verify the credentials of candidates, including tax defaults, National Tax Numbers etc and strong rejections immediately came both from the government and the opposition.

The ECP first announced that declarations filed by the candidates of the next general elections would be made public because of two important reasons — one is to get information from the public in case of any effort to hide information and second that voters should have information on the income and assets owned by those who are contesting elections.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has also been assigned to verify that candidates are not loan defaulters of banks bychecking through the electronic (e)-Credit Information Bureau (CIB). Nadra has been directed to verify old as well as new Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs) to verify loan defaulters because in certain cases old NIC cards have been used to get loans from banks.

Analysts said that the ECP decisions and the reaction of the government and opposition were the first real test which would determine whether the ECP had the power and the will to confront these powerful stakeholders and carry out a transparent and fair exercise to cleanse the system of the corrupt.

FBR Chairman, Ali Arshad Hakim, said that they assured the ECP of full cooperation for providing details of candidates in terms of tax default and the amount paid by them in the last three years. "The process of scrutiny should remain in place on a permanent basis," he added.

Official sources who attended this high-level ECP meeting with the FBR and State Bank high ups confided that on the proposal of the FBR, the ECP decided to constitute a scrutiny committee comprising members from the ECP, FBR, NAB, SBP and Nadra having powers to disqualify if some one was found involved in wrongdoing even after being elected as a member of parliament.

They cited that example of Higher Education Commission for verifying degrees of parliamentarians even after the elections.

However, the sources said that the FBR chairman quoted the book 'A Man for All Seasons' in which it is stated that "to catch a thief you should break all laws".

By quoting this text, the FBR chairman said that there was no need to open the Pandora's box by only sticking to the law of the land. Whatever is required in the law it should be implemented.

This whole debate was triggered when, at one point, the ECP asked the FBR to verify that the candidates did not fall into the list of 3.1 million tax dodgers who have been identified by the FBR.

But the FBR chairman pointed out that the tax default could not be imposed against those who could be considered potential taxpayers. There are certain provisions of tax laws which are required to be exhausted before declaring anyone as a tax defaulter, he added.

A senior official who attended ECP meeting disclosed that the ECP basically assigned three basic tasks to the FBR in the context of the next general elections as the tax authorities would have to verify tax, liabilities and asset statements, National Tax Number (NTN) and taxes paid during last three years.

The ECP also accepted the FBR's proposals for amending nomination papers but it required the approval of the government.

The ECP would declare all those tax defaulters who had not submitted their income tax returns. According to reports, more than 70 percent of parliamentarians have not submitted their income tax returns so if this clause were implemented, all the non-filers would not be able to contest the next elections.

End.

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