[Daily Times 22 November 2019] The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday accepted the opposition’s plea for daily hearing into the foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (r) Sardar Raza gave the go-ahead for daily hearings of the case against the ruling party.

A day earlier, the opposition’s Rahbar Committee had requested the commission to conduct daily hearings of the case so as to conclude it before the chief election commissioner completes his tenure next month. A two-member bench on Thursday presided the hearing of the memorandum submitted by the Rahbar Committee on November 20. A copy of the application has also been forwarded to the chief election commissioner and other ECP members. Daily hearings of the case will commence from November 26.

“This case has been pending for the past five years. Why are those who claim to follow the model of State of Madina are so afraid of being held accountable for their actions,” JUI-F’s Akram Durrani had said after a meeting of the Rahbar Committee. “The delays, in this case, will be detrimental for Pakistan. The ECP must conduct daily hearings and adjudicate this case as soon as possible,” he had added.

However, Prime Minister Imran Khan during a meeting of government spokespersons on Wednesday had reportedly told the participants not to worry about the case. “No need to worry about the foreign funding case. PTI’s audit reports are there for all to see,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the ECP has also started investigating the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as well in the foreign funding case, with a notice sent to both the parties on Wednesday. The ECP has directed representatives of PPP and the PML-N to present themselves before the scrutiny committee of the commission on November 26.

Both the PPP and PML-N have been accused of receiving illegal funds from the US and UK, according to the petition filed by PTI’s Farrukh Habib.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan Thursday strongly condemned the opposition’s ‘despicable effort’ to influence the ECP by taking it ‘hostage’. “The Rehbar Committee themselves requires rehbari (guidance). They are constantly presenting the ‘chor machae shor’ flop film show,” she said in a tweet.

Dr Firdous said the government is standing firm on its stance. “Unlike others, we are not the ones to find an escape route from accountability,” she said, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan advocates accountability on the basis of the supremacy of the rule of the constitution and without any discrimination. “The whole country is witness to whom the country’s highest court declared to be ‘sadiq’ and ‘ameen’ (honest and righteous) and who was declared to be dishonest,” she added, referring to the Supreme Court judgement in 2017 in which Nawaz Sharif was declared ineligible to hold the office of prime minister. PTI’s founding member Akbar S Babar had filed the case in 2014, alleging that nearly $3 million in illegal foreign funds were collected through two offshore companies and that money was sent through illegal ‘hundi’ channels from the Middle East to the accounts of ‘PTI employees’. He had also alleged that the foreign accounts used to collect funds were concealed from the annual audit reports submitted to the ECP.

A scrutiny committee was formed in March last year to complete an audit of PTI’s funding sources in one month. Its mandate was later extended for an indefinite period. On Oct 10, the ECP had rejected four applications filed by PTI seeking secrecy during the scrutiny of its foreign funding sources.

Member National Assembly and Parliamentary Secretary for Railways Farrukh Habib in a press conference on Thursday stressed that the foreign funding cases should be decided on merit. “All foreign funding cases should be heard on daily basis by the Election Commission of Pakistan. PTI government believes in transparency and we have already submitted record of all the party accounts in the ECP,” he said.

Separately, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Bukhari said the impression that the ECP is investigating PPP’s financial affairs is false as the commission is instead hearing an application regarding the ‘transfer’ of funds between PPP and the PPPP. He said in 2017, an application was filed by PTI’s Farrukh Habib regarding a banned fund being received which was supposedly transferred to Pakistan. “This case was handed over to the committee handling PTI’s foreign funding case in 2018. Farrukh himself was absent from the hearings and was unable to provide any evidence against PPP,” he added.