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Referendum on Anti-corruption Act by Abdul Q Kundi

It is now abundantly clear that both treasury and opposition parties are not interested in eradicating corruption and tax evasion from this country. They are just playing a game of nora kushti to deceive the nation. Leaders of all three major parties Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan have lost moral authority to negotiate terms of reference (TOR) of a judicial commission. It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that they are protectors and facilitators of corruption in the political parties that they control as autocrats.

Another example of their lack of seriousness in reforming the system is delay in introduction of electoral reforms. If you recall a parliamentary committee was formed in 2014 to develop proposals for reforms in the election system to make it free, fair and relevant. At that time it was promised that draft of the reforms will be completed within three months. It is now 24 months and so far no serious proposals are in sight. Most of the ideas discussed are related to Election Day management rather than holistic overhaul of the system. Parliament has been ineffective in introducing legislation that could contain widespread corruption as well as present systemic changes that could improve the democratic system.

Various organs of the state have failed to discharge their mandated duties. Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) is busy extracting every single penny from the salaried middle class while ignoring tax evasion by the elites of the country. FBR, if it really was an institution, should have initiated a tax audit of all individuals named in Panama Papers. But it has failed to act so far.

Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has failed to hold political parties accountable for giving tickets to people of questionable repute for elected offices. It has also failed to implement democratic values in parties by ensuring compliance to party constitutions and holding proper elections for party offices which has resulted in introduction of autocratic tendencies in most major parties.

The only solution that comes to my mind is referendum on both anti-corruption act and electoral reforms. It is not usual in a democracy that referendums are held on key policy matters. In USA any major changes to a tax or social policy is introduced through a referendum. Similarly in UK a referendum will be held in June this year to seek citizen’s consent whether to remain in European Union or exit it. The draft of the acts to introduce electoral reforms, investigation of Panama Papers and other allegations of corruption can be prepared by panel of experts. These drafts can then be presented to the people in a referendum to vote on through a yes or no options.

I support the proposal presented by lawyer Babar Sattar regarding Panama Papers that can be considered for referendum. He has proposed a Public Office Holder Income and Assets Reconciliation Act, 2016. This act will require declaration of domestic and foreign assets by public office holders (politicians, top bureaucrats, judges and Generals) and their immediate family including information about date of acquisition, value at the time of acquisition, source of funding and current value. They have to also provide reconciliation statements to justify sources of funding and explain any discrepancies. This information has to be vetted by a commission of experts that is supervised and monitored by a committee of judges headed by Chief Justice. Anyone found hiding assets or avoiding taxes should be disqualified from holding public office for a fixed term. The civilian and military public servants found guilty of abuse of power and embezzlement should be terminated from their services as well as prosecuted for a possible jail term.

Democracy is for the people by the people. When parliamentarians, that are agents of the people, fail to protect rights of the people then the matter has to be referred to people themselves. Referendum on electoral reforms and anti-corruption act is important to re-establish the trust between citizen and political institutions.

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