ToRs are not sacred


WEB DESK: Nine opposition parties took just two days to agree on terms of reference (ToRs) that would be on sent by a letter to the leader of the house, Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, by the leader of the opposition, Syed Khurshid Shah.

This indicates a reaffirmation of the critical role that parliament must play in a democracy when the sources of wealth (both within and outside the country) of the leader of the house merit an investigation.

The supremacy of parliament was also reasserted in the Opposition’s ToRs by their demand that the commission should not be established according to the letter written by the executive but by an act of parliament. This would take away the onus of setting up an independent commission, in letter and spirit, away from the executive, as it should, given that the head of the executive would be under investigation.

And in this context, the proposed act is to be titled “The Panama Papers (inquiry and trial) Act 2016” which essentially implies that if found guilty the investigation would lead to an indictment leading to a trial. In other words, the Prime Minister’s first speech to the nation post-Panama leaks, that if found guilty he would go home.

The Prime Minister is correct in insisting that there is nothing new in the Panama Papers. There has been talk of his family owning Mayfair flats for decades, yet there are conflicting statements over more than two decades, with respect to the date of acquisition of the flats and source of funds employed by the First Family, inclusive of the Prime Minister’s spouse as well as his three children.

Thus, there is a need to reconcile these statements with time lines. If, as claimed by Hussain Nawaz in a recent interview, the money in Mossack Fonseca came from loans from friends/family/Saudi banks then the ToRs require the First Family to also identify these gifts/loans – from Pakistanis and/or foreigners – that would assist the commission to determine whether the acquired assets are sourced from outside Pakistan. No doubt the focus of the commission must be to discover the truth irrespective of the fact that the Sharifs may have taken out the money legally from the country as the Pakistan Economic Reforms Act 1992, when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister, made remitting money out of Pakistan kosher.

The other important deviation of the opposition’s ToRs from that of the government’s is, that in the former, the burden of proof rests with the accused. In short, the Prime Minister’s family must come forward with the paperwork disproving allegations that the flats (and other investments) were not undertaken by money sent from Pakistan but from money generated outside Pakistan. To date, the Prime Minister and his loyalists have been contending that they will release the necessary information to the commission alone, as and when requested, with Hussain Nawaz refusing to publicly air what he termed was confidential business information.

The opposition ToRs, fully supported by the Supreme Court Bar Association, is also distinct from the government’s in not only insisting on prioritizing the investigation of the First Family, given the fact that Nawaz Sharif holds the highest elected office in the land, but also giving a period of two months to complete it, with an extension of one month in the event of a delay with reasons clearly cited; and one year to complete the investigation of the other 300 or so odd names that have so far appeared in the Panama Papers.

The prime minister too in his address to public meeting in Mansehra, KPK, had publicly offered that the commission may start its proceedings with his family. This is non-discriminatory as it seeks to place the chief executive with considerable powers over the country’s economic policies rightly at the head of the queue though by no means limits the inquiry and subsequent trial of the First Family.

In no other country, except Putin’s Russia as well communist China, have there been denials of the veracity of the leaks and Nawaz Sharif’s two sons have also publicly acknowledged ownership though Maryam Nawaz has yet to respond post-3rd April. However, while investigations are under way in countries from Europe to Africa, from Far East to South Asia, from South America to Canada with their tax authorities and criminal investigators (money laundering is a criminal offense) of several countries proactively engaged in ferreting out the truth from offshore companies yet in this country there is still no agreement on the ToRs.

The Panama Papers made headlines throughout the world on 3rd April. It has been more than a month since then and so far the country has been subjected to a maula jat approach with each side bad mouthing the other.

Be that as it may, neither the government’s ToRs nor the opposition’s are written in stone and one hopes that the two sides will sit down together to thrash out the modus operandi of the commission with the objective of achieving a consensus required by democratic principles as well as national interest.

Source: Business Recorder