Parties and patrons


Pakistan’s political entities and their assets

The assets statements submitted by the political parties for the fiscal year 2010-11 to the ECP raise important questions about the state of their organisation, the way they conduct their activities, and the various sources of their funding.

In democracies, political parties own assets that belong to the parties rather than individuals. Besides these, they have to assure yearly incomes. The assets comprise buildings where parties maintain their offices. These also include office machinery like computers and other equipment. Among the assets are also the means of transport.

Besides permanent assets, they also need a regular and reasonable income to maintain the party office, hold meetings, take out rallies, issue pamphlets, posters and party publications. While candidates are supposed to provide for their own election campaigns, the party has to spend fairly large chunks of cash during the election campaign to popularise its election platform on costly electronic and print media.

Unless the party has its own central, provincial and district offices and the wherewithal they need, there will be little democratic functioning within the party. Offices lent to it by wealthy members invariably tend to give them additional clout which is not in consonance with democratic functioning. The Bilawal House and the Raiwind Estate belong to families and tend to strengthen the system of leadership confined to certain families. The same is true about provincial or district leaders whose houses become party offices.

The assets statement filed by the Indian political parties would provide a useful reference point when evaluating the asset statements by their Pakistani counterparts.

The total assets of the Indian National Congress in the same fiscal year (2010-11) were Rs 507.74 crore while its total income was Rs 467.57 crore; the second largest party, the BJP had respectively Rs 239.62 crore and Rs 258.01. Bahujan Samaj Party Rs 329.74 and Rs 115.70 and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Rs 204.10 and Rs 76.57. (The figures quoted are in Indian rupees).

The details of the assets of Pakistani parties show that even the major mainstream parties do not possess the needed permanent party assets while their yearly incomes are inadequate for conducting any significant political activity.

The PPP-Parliamentarians is an outstanding example that highlights the absence of the most basic requirements that a party must have to operate in a democracy. According to the statement of assets submitted under oath by party Secretary General Raja Pervaiz Ashraf on June 30, 2010-11, the PPP did not possess any assets whatsoever – despite being in power four times. It is even worse off than the ANP which has declared fixed assets of Rs 27.22 million.

While the PPP leaders are super rich, the party is penniless. The party’s total bank account in the fiscal year was only Rs 435,397. During the whole year, its total spending was a meagre Rs 348. The Jamaat-e-Islami with Rs 5.4 million and JUI-F with Rs 2 million in their coffers had more money than the PPP to support the whole time party workers or conduct day to day functioning. The party workers of the PPP – described by the media as the ‘poorest party in the country’ – are therefore dependent on their leaders at various levels who personally provide the PPP with basic facilities and thus enjoy a veto over the others.

The PML-N fares only slightly better with Rs 7.4 million in its bank account. It claims to possess a house on Margalla Road in Islamabad worth Rs 24.64 million. But possession of the same building has been claimed by the PML-Q, which creates doubts about the ownership.

The PML-N’s stronghold is in Punjab, where it is also presently in power. Despite this, it owns no physical asset in the provincial capital and is thus totally dependent on the super-rich in the party.

The party’s Punjab chapter is financially better off than those of the other parties. The Party received Rs 4.4 million in its account during the year and spent Rs 1.9 million. The Sindh chapter had only Rs 558 in its bank account, out of which the party spent nothing during the whole year. The figure underscores its lack of interest in the Sindh.

The PML-N’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chapter had Rs 146,048 in its bank account, out of which it consumed Rs 30,000 and that too as fee for its chartered accountant. The Islamabad unit had Rs 6.3 million in its bank account, out of which it spent Rs 75,000 as audit fee. This shows lack of any political activity on the part of the two party chapters.

The PML-Q is apparently the richest party in Pakistan as it owned assets worth Rs 51.9 million of which it a spent Rs 11.9 million during the financial year 2010-11. Compared to the richest party across the border, it looks so insignificant. The Indian National Congress, as stated above, possessed during the same fiscal year assets worth Rs 507.74 crore and a total income of Rs 467.57crore.

The PTI is totally and completely dependent on one man, Imran Khan, as the figures presented to the EC indicate. The party had Rs 32.62 million in its bank account, of which Rs 32.09 million was contributed by none other than Imran himself. Party elections or no party elections, nobody will ever dare disagree let alone replace the party boss.

Failure to build assets and secure reasonable yearly income is liable to give birth to corruption. Corruption on the part of party leaders is often justified by the cadre on the ground that the leadership is in fact raising funds for the party. It also leads to bad governance. Important donors, in Pakistan’s case, mostly fly by night operators or tycoons involved in shady deals, have to be provided immunity from the law as they finance the functioning of the parties across the board. Some of them finance not only the party in power but also the major opposition party – and are conspicuous on occasions when they are seen wheeling and dealing when they are engaged in conflict resolution between the two or more rivals.

Unless political parties enjoy financial freedom, the dynastic politics will continue to prevail. What is more, the prevalence of patronage through pelf shall continue unimpeded, with corruption and bad governance continuing to remain rife.

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.