Candidate scrutiny: Online data to ensure voters get their money’s worth

Voters in Pakistan and indeed anyone with an internet connection will soon be able to pore over the financial honesty of the people who want to become their elected representatives in the next polls.
While many democracies already have this level of transparency, this election commission is setting a historic precedent by deciding to make public the nomination forms of all candidates on its website. This will include mandatory information that they have provided on their financial details, including assets and tax records.
On Wednesday, the commission held a follow-up meeting with the heads of the agencies that will make this possible: the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and National Database and Registration Authority. They have to come up with a mechanism for electronic scrutiny, on-line sharing of information and verification of information in the nomination papers to be submitted by the contesting candidates for the upcoming general elections.
The commission has already decided to include new columns in the nomination forms to be filled with information on income, sources of income, and tax details for the past three years, etc. Moreover, district returning officers will be provided online information so they can check the credentials of contestants during the scrutiny of nomination papers.
An election official told The Express Tribune that making any changes in the format of the nomination papers was solely the domain of the commission under the Representation of People Act, 1976. And no further legislation is needed for the additional columns.
The SBP would be asked to provide data of loan defaulters and those who had their loans written off, an election commission spokesman said during Wednesday’s meeting, and the governor of the State Bank assured that his organisation would fully cooperate.
Likewise, the FBR chairman has said that they would offer the election commission all possible assistance with the verification of tax returns and assets and liabilities submitted by contesting candidates. He assured the election commission that the FBR could provide a detailed list of all tax defaulters within the timeframe.
A committee headed by the director-general of elections would make all the final changes to the nomination forms.
The nomination forms would be scanned and uploaded to the election commission’s website. FBR officers will be placed at the disposal of the commission to look into entries on the nomination forms that relate to tax defaulters and the FBR shall provide the returning officers details about tax defaulters.
NAB will provide lists of convicts, details of plea bargains.
The election commission will meet the authorities that will help identify contesting candidates who have not paid their utility bills over Rs10,000 for over six months, as of the time that they filed their nomination papers.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2013.

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