According to Section 137 of the Election Act 2017, members of the Senate and the national and provincial assemblies are under obligation to submit their annual statements of assets and liabilities, along with those of their spouses and dependent children to the Election Commission of Pakistan. Over the years, many have attempted to either shirk from declaring their assets or use all kinds of means to somehow disclose as little as possible to the public. And, due to the lack of any automated system and mandatory provision of such details in digital form, most of the times the assets returns forms are thoroughly confusing – muddled figures, illegible handwriting, anything but coherence. While some parliamentarians will disclose details of their spouses wealth, they may choose to avoid detailing out their other dependents’ information.
The ECP has released data regarding assets owned by members of parliament for the year 2021. Interestingly, the assets of many of the members hardly mount to Rs20 million. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is apparently in debt to his son Suleman Shehbaz, while holding assets worth Rs240 million and liabilities worth Rs140 million – his net worth coming to Rs100 million. The prime minister holds property in London. His spouse Nusrat Shehbaz’s assets stand at Rs230 million with investments in various mills. The value of properties and investments shown by the PM and his spouse would raise interesting questions. Former PM Imran Khan’s assets stand at a little more than Rs140 million, with eight properties inside Pakistan and four properties of his spouse Bushra Bibi. He has no property or business abroad, in keeping with his mantra that a country’s rulers should not hold properties abroad. Imran Khan has shown his Bani Gala House as a gift. While there is little by way of investment and earning, millions were spent on repairing and reconstructing his houses in Bani Gala and Zaman Park. He has declared four goats as assets over the years but no car. He is however seen using bullet-proof cars, which makes one wonder whether the former PM is carpooling with friends. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari may be moving around the world asking for investments in Pakistan but himself prefers to invest in Dubai. He too owns no car.
Needless to say, this annual assets reveal is important. However, the form it is in and the lack of scrutiny it seems to go through is rather disappointing. The requirements mentioned in the Election Act are not fulfilled properly and it seems they are hardly even counter-checked. At a time when the country’s people are being asked to tighten belts to the extent of giving up a cup of chai, perhaps our politicos need to take a look at the wealth they are sitting on and ask themselves who they fool when they fill out these forms.