The expected has happened. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to set up a high-level judicial commission to investigate allegations made in the Panama Papers that link his family to some offshore holdings, and the political opposition has rejected it as eyewash and a standard practice to consign hot potatoes to cold storage.
Stoutly defending his family’s ‘tradition of working hard and making honest money’, the prime minister said the proposed commission would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court which will investigate “what is reality and how much these allegations count?” To him and his sons there is nothing wrong if the offshore holdings are ‘a legal way to avoid unnecessary tax’.
But his detractors think it otherwise; to them – and they include a large cross of public opinion and independent media – what kind of people are they who stash away their wealth offshore companies ‘behind thick smokescreens and located in such favoured hideouts as the Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas?’ Maybe you would overlook such a scheming on the part of business class but for political leaders, who aspire to set high standards of governance for the public, are not expected to mix business with politics.
But in his brief defence of his family and his order to set up a judicial commission the prime minister poured plenty of scorn on the Pakistan People’s Party, as if what comes out of the Panama Papers is his political opponents’ handiwork. But the PPP did not take it lying; it called Nawaz Sharif’s accusations as blame game, though its former interior minister Rehman Malik, whose name too appears along with the name of the late Benazir Bhutto in the Panama Papers, rubbished the leaks as yet another invention of Indian intelligence agency RAW.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) too rejected the prime minister’s proposal, insisting the National Accountability Bureau should look for the money trail of the Sharif family, and ‘if NAB doesn’t have the mettle to investigate and implicate these big criminals then it should be shut down’.
Possibly, the government may spell out in some detail as to how the head of the proposed judicial commission would be appointed and as to what will be it terms of reference. The prime minister had confined himself to bare bones of his proposal.
That he doesn’t have time to repeat what he said and those who buy the Panama Papers’ leaks should come forward and prove them is, perhaps, too arrogant an attitude on the part of someone who happens to be trapped in the eye of the storm. Perhaps, by the time he was addressing the nation he did not know that caught in such a situation the prime minister of Iceland had to resign, and in neighbouring India the government promptly set up a multi-agency to investigate the Panama leaks and go after the wrongdoers.
Nawaz Sharif is one of the 40 world leaders to have links with offshore companies in British Virgin Islands. Maybe some of them will succeed in weathering the storm brewing from across the Atlantic, but some others may not. The key issue is not the involvement; that stands verified thanks to the extensive work into the verification of the Panama leaks.
The key issue now is to establish state of innocence of the charges of corruption, ownership of illegal assets, tax avoidance and money laundering. It is for the Sharifs to prove their innocence, and it is not the others’ burden to prove the guilt of the ruling family. And that is going to be no easy given the admission of secreted offshore assets by a person as close to the Sharifs as Tehmina Durrani, the wife of Shahbaz Sharif.
‘The only way to clear Sharif’s name is to keep the minimum, simplify life drastically, and return all foreign and local wealth to the nation,’ she says in her tweet. And, she is right. A judicial commission would certainly need some chartered accountants and bankers to play role of amici curiae to assist it reach productive conclusions.
Source: Business Recorder