WEB DESK: The PTI is all set to launch its protest demonstration tomorrow near Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwind Road residence in Lahore to press its demand for the accountability of the First Family’s involvement in the Panama Papers corruption scandal.
The government and its supporters in the media of course are working overtime to discourage public participation in the protest. Hence have been staged scenes of baton-wielding Nawaz Leaguers – looking more like thugs than political workers – doing pushups, and some of the party leaders openly threatening to break the legs of anyone seen demonstrating near the Sharifs’ Raiwind palace.
Meanwhile, some of the otherwise sensible people in the media have been trying to shift the focus away from the corruption scandal, contending that the PTI rally is driven by its leader Imran Khan’s power hunger, and aimed only at ousting the Sharif government by making it difficult for it to remain functional. In their zeal to preserve the status quo, comparisons have been made with the 1977 agitation against the Bhutto government although there is no parallel. The truth of the matter is that the opposition movement against Bhutto, supported by outside interests, had used alleged electoral rigging in a few constituencies to force his removal from power.
This government has been accused of large-scale electoral rigging (the judicial inquiry commission would use the word ‘irregularities’ rather than rigging despite acknowledging some 25 million votes were unaccounted for) yet no harm came to it on that account. In the present instance, right from the beginning the PTI and others in the combined opposition have only been asking Mian Sahib to come clean on a corruption case of foreign origin, made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists after thorough scrutiny. No one elsewhere in the world has contested the veracity of the information contained in the Panama Papers.
In fact, by now we have heard repeatedly how the prime minister of Iceland was forced to resign by public protests because the Panama leaks had linked his wife to questionable purchase of properties abroad. And that even though former British PM David Cameron’s name appeared in the leaks for profiting from his father’s shares in an offshore fund, which he had sold before coming to office, he faced a barrage of criticism, including demands to resign, until he cleared his position before parliament.
Our PM’s Panama story is one of lies, evasion and unashamed resistance. The family’s own statements contradict one another’s. Mian Sahib says the properties were bought in 2006 with money raised from the sale of steel mills first in Dubai and then in Saudi Arabia; son Hussain told the media a kind friend had offered the money during the family’s Saudi exile to start a business, the proceeds of which were later used for buying the controversial properties in London in 2005.
Then there are statements by the First Lady, the Interior Minister as well as media reports, including a BBC documentary, that prove the family owned the properties way back in 1993-long before the exile years. The PM’s chosen successor, daughter Maryam Nawaz, told a TV channel a while ago she owned no assets in Pakistan let alone in London. The Panama revelations show she is the beneficial owner of two offshore companies and through them flats in an exclusive London neighbourhood. Obviously, the family has been making false statements, which only means they are trying to hide something wrong.
The opposition parties would not be doing their duty if they did not demand honest answers. Right at the outset they made the mistake though of going for an inquiry commission, whose terms of reference could never be finalised for the simple reason the case was indefensible as the Panama leaks on their own comprised incriminating evidence. Hence the government has been using every trick to evade accountability. As things stand, all the relevant institutions-the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Authority, Federal Board of Revenue, and the State Bank of Pakistan – do not have, never had, the intention to pursue the case.
That they amply demonstrated at the recent proceedings of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. While the NAB Chairman told the Committee his office will “fulfil its duty when the case is referred to it” pretending of course that the Panama revelations are not evidence enough, the FBR Chairman and the SBP Governor came up with their own excuses not to act.
Earlier, in a blatant partisan move, the Speaker rejected all of the six references seeking Nawaz Sharif and some others’ disqualification as members of the assembly on account of false declaration of assets, but chose to send two references against PTI Chairman and Secretary General to the Election Commission, which on its part has taken forever to deliver its verdict on direct references filed by different parties against the PM and four relatives. In short, all the concerned institutions are unable or unwilling to do their job.
The opposition is left with no option but to try and keep the issue alive through street protests – a legitimate democratic right successfully exercised by the Icelanders to hold their leader to account. Why should it be any different in this country? Unfortunately, there are people who have come to accept financial corruption in high places as a way of life, and argue against street protests on the pretext of saving the democratic system. The argument actually negates basic democratic principles of accountability and respect for the equality of all, and also the fact that any democracy is as strong as its institutions rather than protections enjoyed by the privileged classes. The present fight therefore is not only about holding the Prime Minister and his family to account, but equally importantly, to stop systemic dysfunction.
The PTI’s protest near the Raiwind palace is unlikely to change anything in a hurry. Still, the hope is that at some point the accountability institutions will respond to moral pressure to do the right thing.
The Supreme Court’s decision to take up all the four petitions- rejected earlier by the Registrar’s office – seeking investigations into the PM and his family’s Panamagate connection could well be the first ray of that hope.
Source: Business Recorder