The spurious law makers
Of the many gifts given to the nation by the 2002 parliament, there were some 60 odd fake degree holders and an equal number of those who were either loan defaulters or had their loans written off. Many others had the dubious distinction of being wanted in criminal cases. It was common knowledge that fake bachelor degree certificates were officially provided to many from the King’s party and the ‘madrassa sanads’ were overnight upgraded to degree level to accommodate a large number from the religious tribe. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) raised no protest against this official lowering of education standards. The Election Commission conveniently looked the other way. As expected, many of these con men rose to great heights, becoming MNAs, ministers and even vice chancellors of universities. Thus for five long years, the people of Pakistan were forced to suffer these spurious MNAs and MPAs, who floated in the corridors of power in the same manner as the spurious drugs in the market.
With the BA requirements still in place, the 2008 elections created a fresh market demand for manufacture and sale of fake degrees. We have once again ended up with many unethical fake degree holders and yet others who declared fake records of their assets. Many with huge properties and assets in foreign lands pretended to be paupers at home. Two events of the last few days have however ignited a small ray of hope that might have an impact on future elections. Through a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court, a citizen has challenged the asset statements filed by the parliamentarians before the election commission of Pakistan. The Supreme Court also heard a case of fake degrees against 3 parliamentarians, who agreed to resign as a face-saving option.
The 3 parliamentarians who were made to ‘honorably’ step down, (instead of being sent to jail), reflect only the tip of an ice berg. Many others whose cases have still not been challenged continue to occupy positions of great power and importance. A federal minister who proudly displays his framed degree in the background, each time he conducts a press conference has a degree from a certain dubious Monticello University. ( http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/06-army-colonel-lawyer-detained-on-espionage-charges-05-rs ). The university however is formally shown as unaccredited by the American Council on Higher Education Accreditation. ( http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Non-accreditedSchools_78090_7.pdf ). This and many other similar cases of sitting parliamentarians have appeared a number of times in the print media , but have failed to move those who ought to have prevented such lapses in the first place.
Pakistanis need to question and protest against the credentials of their representatives. It is not their destiny to suffer at the hands of those who hold fake degrees, make false asset statements and hold dubious characters. Why is the scrutiny system of the election commission so porous, so corrupt, so incompetent or so weak that it allows such blatant errors to go undetected? The three major institutions of Pakistan, the Election commission, the Higher Education Commission and the Federal Bureau of Revenue have repeatedly failed to scrutinize and filter out those with fake degrees or incorrect asset statements. The judges of the Supreme Court had to ask only four questions to figure out the falsehood of a minister’s academic qualification. Why could not the Election Commission ask the HEC and the FBR to verify documents of all parliamentarians? If it is not the direct responsibility of the Election Commission, then who in this country is responsible to scrutinize these documents?
A new format for scrutiny of educational, financial and personal data of all parliamentarians needs to be defined to ensure that fraudulent people do not end up as our leaders. A three stage filtration process needs to be adopted. Feedback from public, scrutiny by HEC and FBR, and scrutiny by the Election Commission itself. The Election Commission could place facts declared by parliamentarians in national newspapers and ask all citizens to provide information on inaccurate declarations. Any citizen should be able to say that such and such house in Islamabad, London or America belongs to so and so parliamentarian and it has not been included in the declaration. Such reports (with options for anonymity) should be immediately investigated by special teams with authority to dig out facts. HEC and FBR should be asked to scrutinize and confirm if the degrees and the financial facts submitted by the politicians are correct. Finally the Election Commission must itself take responsibility for proactive scrutiny of facts by teams specially trained for this purpose.
Electoral reforms are urgently needed to improve the quality of electoral process. Computerized voter lists must be displayed on a dedicated website. Voter education programs must be initiated to help voters make informed choices about candidates. Voting must be made compulsory for all, and citizens must have the negative voting option when faced with a situation of voting either for rapist Tweedledum or murderer Tweedledee. We have had parliamentarians who subjected us to a full five year term of tyranny without being exposed for their fake degrees or false asset declarations. The government departments and the Election Commission have chosen the path of least resistance and opted to look the other way. While Article 62 of the constitution stipulates many subjective ‘difficult-to-verify’ moral and religious requirements, the least we must do is to verify what is far more obvious, objective and easy. Finally one hopes that the Supreme Court would move beyond the polite ‘step-down’ options for fake degree holders and go for the root cause – the ineffective Election Commission. Should not the Election Commission itself be held accountable for failing to verify the bona fides of this unethical tribe.
The News March 2010