Senate committee passes Election Bill 2017 with changes


Proposal to take away ECP power to scrutinize lawmakers’ statements of assets rejected

ISLAMABAD Sept 16 (TNS): A Senate committee on Friday passed the Election Bill 2017 with some changes, after rejecting an amendment seeking to take away the powers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to annually scrutinise the lawmakers’ statements of assets.

A meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice presided over by its chairman Senator Javed Abbasi considered the bill introduced by Law Minister Zahid Hamid on Aug 25.

The bill is set to be adopted by the Senate in its amended form sometime next week and will be sent back to the National Assembly. If the lower house of parliament passes the bill with amendments, it will become a law after a formal assent by President Mamnoon Hussain. And if the assembly refuses to accept the bill, it will go to a joint sitting of parliament.

The Senate committee also decided to include the amount spent on an election by a party in the election expenditure of its candidate. Some members were of the view that the party expenditure should not be counted, but once again the ECP put its foot down and ultimately the committee agreed to accept the proposal.

The committee also accepted a proposal by Senator Saifullah Magsi to set a limit of three months for filing objections to election expenses. It approved a proposal of Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq to continue with the old mode of submission of statements of assets and liabilities.

In the bill passed by the National Assembly, the statement of assets and liabilities had been substituted with a copy of wealth statement under the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.

For registration of a voter at a place other than his temporary and permanent addresses, the law minister asked the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to expeditiously issue CNICs to those who wanted to change their addresses.

The committee members made proposals relating to voters’ lists, delimitation of constituencies, official announcement of election results, polling scheme and violation of code of conduct.

The meeting was attended by Senators Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Saifullah Magsi, Ayesha Raza Farooq and Mohsin Leghari, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, ECP Secretary Babar Yaqoob Fateh Mohammad and officials of the ECP and Nadra.

Senator Ayesha Farooq proposed that powers of the ECP to scrutinise the statements of assets of lawmakers be done away with, but the committee rejected her amendment after a strong resistance put up by the ECP secretary.

The secretary said it was up to parliament to make laws, but reminded the senators that it was ECP’s constitutional mandate and responsibility to guard against corrupt practices. “What is the use of submitting the statements of assets if these cannot be thoroughly examined,” he asked.

At this, Law Minister Hamid said the ECP had never scrutinised the statements of assets, adding that it was the government which included the clause proposing to give scrutiny powers to the ECP. However, he said the existing law should continue.

The ECP secretary told the committee that the process of scrutiny of such statements had already begun.

“When you are scrutinising the statements in the absence of a law, what is the need for inclusion of such a clause in the bill,” the law minister asked the secretary.