Is keeping assets abroad criminal?

This April a bill was submitted in the National Assembly which is yet another attempt to make the citizens of Pakistan “loyal” to it. The bill seeks to amend the Article 63 of the Constitution – an article that sets the criteria for the members of parliament and provincial assemblies. The bill requires that any person who holds dual nationality and owns bank accounts and assets in countries other than Pakistan will not be able to be a member of the parliament and provincial assemblies as well as public service, both civil and military. It ensued from the womb of Muslim League (Q). Leaving aside the doubts whether it is part of a political ploy or a trick of political blackmailing, the bill needs to be examined on its merits.

This article does not aim to dwell on the issue of dual nationality. The same restriction already existed in the Constitution, though the bill means to extend it to the public office holders also. As far as politicians’ (and public officials’) ownership of and keeping their wealth in foreign countries is concerned, the media and patriot lobby has since long been there manufacturing the public opinion against it. In fact, such matters came to fore mostly during the military dictatorships when politicians were especially made a target of political victimization. The argument put forward said the loyalty of the leaders to their country who own assets in foreign lands is precarious. Nonetheless, this class of doubtful loyalty with Pakistan has lately come to include generals, judges, and other high-profile officials. The bill does not make a target only of the politicians which had been the common practice in cases of such legislation in the past. 
It is as simple as that – if an ordinary citizen, or a public office holder, or an elected representative owns assets in any other country where he abides by the laws of that country and pays taxes duly, and back home also, then keeping accounts and assets there is his legal and constitutional right. In that case, he cannot be barred from being a member of any elected body and joining public office. Innumerable Pakistanis are already present in foreign countries’ elected bodies and public institutions and own assets in both countries of their nationality. For that matter, in Pakistan probably very few citizens of other countries would be found in our elected bodies and public institutions! Doesn’t this bill invite other countries to go for a legislation of the same ilk? 
Furthermore, if an elected representative or a public office holder uses his wealth in this or that country in an unbecoming manner and for illegal purposes, such laws already exist which deal with this wrong-doing. As the bill assumes that after its enactment politicians will be discouraged from indulging in corruption, or will not be able to escape political vengeance or legal action rightly or wrongly initiated against them, the same is just a figment. The fact is that many countries have bilateral or multilateral agreements on the extradition of alleged criminals. Also, in addition to the governments of other countries and their powerful elite classes, the relatives, friends and acquaintances of ‘victimized’ politicians and public office holders will be more than welcoming to them in having them as their ‘pricey’ guests. The reason for this investment is obvious: the prospects of going up of the value of such “assets,” both in political and financial terms, will be hundredfold! 
In its essence, the bill questions the loyalty of elected representatives and public office holders to their country, and as proof of that loyalty instead of demanding from them, it by imposing legal constitutional restriction on them tries to force them from having and keeping their accounts and assets in foreign countries. Is holding accounts, owning property, doing business, and keeping assets abroad a crime? There is no such bar in the Constitution of the country. Then, why should there be such a bar on the elected representatives and public office holders? Does that specific status of theirs deprive them of their natural and fundamental constitutional rights? Will, by putting such a bar on them, they be more loyal to the country? Will, by putting this restriction, their patriotism be increased manifold? 
The factors which strengthen love and loyalty to one’s country have nothing to do with such legal and constitutional restrictions. Instead of focusing on those factors, the bill diverts attention from them. In sum, in a time of extreme insecurity, forgoing the need of securing the protection of life, and security of rights and rightly earned wealth and property of its citizens, wherever in this world they own it, the bill seeks to put a narrow-minded and altogether unintelligible restriction on the citizens of Pakistan – the present and would-be elected representatives and public office holders. 
Without any fear of exaggeration, it may be surmised that the bill seems to be ringing the bells of/for another Martial Law! 
Note: This article was completed in August 2011.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *