NationalVolume 13 Issue # 22

Magical pouches of Pakistani politicians

An independent candidate from Muzaffargarh, owns houses and land worth over Rs4 trillion but he has not paid tax in his whole life. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has estimated his palatial Bilawal House in Karachi, worth billions of rupees, at just Rs3 million. Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal earns just Rs78,000 every year, which comes to just Rs6,000 per month. Information in nomination papers of politicians, who are contesting elections, reveals how rich people conceal their income and understate the value of their assets to evade and avoid taxes.


Candidates aspiring for elections are required to provide information about their income, property, payment of taxes, loans, criminal cases, wives and children. Politicians approved unprecedented relief for themselves when they allowed themselves to estimate the value of their assets at the time of purchase or inheritance after recent electoral amendments. As a result, a majority of politicians have shown little or no increase in the worth of their assets since 2013. The electoral law, under which new forms declaring assets and liabilities have been prepared, doesn’t carry the clause of the present market price of the assets anymore after a National Assembly committee on electoral reforms managed to take the clause off the forms. When the previous parliament passed the Elections Act, 2017, in October last year, relevant columns in the nomination forms for declaration of assets and liabilities had been deleted. They were included only after a Supreme Court verdict. Since the form is part of the Elections Act, 2017, it cannot be changed without approval from the parliament. The previous statement of assets and liabilities form, issued by the ECP, carried clear instructions for the candidates to mention the present market value of their plots, houses, apartments, under-construction properties and agriculture property, etc.


According to nomination forms, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s assets reflect an increase in their value from Rs29.67 million in 2013 to Rs38.6 million in 2018. He also owns a residential property in Bani Gala worth Rs11,471,000 which was gifted to him, and no change in the price of the property was mentioned in the last five years. He also owns a six kanal and 16 marla plot in Mohra Noor village in Bani Gala, Islamabad, worth Rs5,050,000. The amount has remained unchanged since 2013. He owns a flat in the posh Diplomatic Enclave worth Rs11,970,000 – an increase of Rs220,000 from Rs1,17,5000 in 2013. The PTI chief has 243 kanals and 6 marlas of land in Bhakkar, which is worth Rs4,200,000. It had the same worth as in 2013. His Zaman Park residence in Lahore is inherited property.


No significant change has been mentioned in the assets of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif and his two wives — Nusrat and Tehmina Durrani. The assets of the family have been valued at Rs389 million. The former Punjab chief minister owns 172 kanals, a vehicle and bank balance worth more than Rs11.4 million. He has assets worth Rs159 million, including properties worth Rs126 million in London. He owns two properties on Hall Road in Murree including a kanal and nine marla plot worth an unbelievable Rs34,000 and a bungalow which is worth only Rs27,000! He owns 88 kanals in Sheikhupura, which he received as a gift from his mother. The most shocking point for the people of Pakistan is that his first wife Nusrat Shahbaz and son Hamza Shahbaz are richer than him. In fact, Hamza is eight times wealthier than his father.


Another surprising disclosure came from former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who had earlier claimed that she did not own any asset in Pakistan or abroad. She owns assets worth over Rs845 million. According to her documents, she is the owner of 1,506 kanal irrigation land and claimed that the land had increased by 548 kanals in the last three years. She also claimed to have received Rs40 million as gifts and jewellery worth Rs1.7 million.


Former President Asif Ali Zardari declared total assets of Rs758m. His papers show he uses six bulletproof luxury vehicles, owns thousands of acres of agricultural land, property in Dubai and has spent millions of rupees on his passion for weapons, horses and livestock. He has a work permit for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and owns over a dozen properties in Pakistan, as well as his share in five properties inherited from his assassinated wife, Benazir Bhutto. The unspecified number of horses and cattle he owns are worth Rs 9.9m while he also possesses “arms and ammunition” worth Rs16.60m. His son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is richer than him. He owns about two dozen properties in and outside Pakistan, as well as investments and bank accounts in Dubai and the UK. Bilawal claim to have assets worth Rs1.5 billion. His bank accounts hold nearly Rs13.86 million while he is the owner of two villas in Dubai, one gifted and the other inherited. Bilawal has 20 residential, commercial and agricultural properties across Pakistan, mostly inherited or gifted to him by his parents and grandfather, in addition to another 22 inherited investments in Dubai and one in the UK.


JUI-F Ameer Maulana Fazlur Rehman has a bank balance of Rs2 million, jewelry worth Rs0.95 million and a plot worth Rs1.5 million. The declared value of his home is Rs2.5 million. He also has a plot worth Rs0.7 million in Shorkot. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Chief Sirajul Haq has declared the total value of his assets at Rs2.9 million. According to the statement of assets, he has four tola gold and shares in 12 kanals of land and a private school. He has Rs1.8 million in his three bank accounts and does not own a personal car or any property outside Pakistan.


The information about marriages disturbed the peace of some houses. Former Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique’s first wife, Ghazal Rafique, got annoyed and refused to contest the election on a PML-N ticket after her husband admitted to a second marriage with PTV anchor Shafaq Hira in his nomination papers. PPP leader Arbab Alamgir and his wife Asima Alamgir are the richest political couple of Pakistan. According to details of their assets, they own assets over Rs7 billion. Arbab Alamgir owns assets worth Rs3.15 billion which include land, property and vehicles. Asima Alamgir is richer than her husband with assets worth Rs4.3 billion.


The declaration of assets by politicians indicates serious flaws in the tax system. When the law allows wealthy politicians to undervalue their assets, little improvement in tax collection and could be expected. Laws will have to be reformed to purge politics and the tax system of corruption, otherwise Pakistan will not be able to stand on its feet and provide basic facilities to its people.