Panama Papers inquiry ‘bill’ PPP, other parties, staged sit-in

Some opposition parties, including Pakistan People’s Party, on Tuesday staged a sit-in in front of parliament house after chairman of a parliamentary panel referred “The Panama Papers Inquiries, Bill, 2016” to Senate chairman after government refused to incorporate amendment in the bill. 

The Senate standing committee on law and justice, which met here with Senator Javed Abbasi in the chair, referred the bill to Senate chairman, after a vote in which majority of members endorsed the decision of referring the bill to Senate chairman.

The opposition parties – Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP), Balochistan National Party Awami (BNP-A) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) – strongly reacted to committee’s decision. It termed the move an effort to protect Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family from accountability and avoid the wrath of law.

In their sit-in outside parliament, the opposition senators chanted slogans of “Panama sharif namanzoor, Rah-e-Farar namanzoor and bhag gaya bhag gaya Nawaz Sharif”.

Talking to reporters outside parliament, Senator Taj Haider regretted that the government is using delaying tactics to escape the accountability in the Panama leaks, and its sole purpose is to save the prime minister whose children have offshore accounts.

“When parliament does not fulfil its responsibility, Supreme Court and other forces come forward,” he said that, adding that legislation is the job of parliament. He said that opposition wants to bring a unanimous bill regarding accountability in order to eradicate the menace of corruption in the country.

Haider cautioned the government to support the bill or else the opposition will be left with no option but to continue their protest against the government for not passing the bill.

Later, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid told media that he suggested the opposition parties to delay the discussion over the “Panama Papers Inquiries Bill, 2016” in respect of Supreme Court as it has already taken up the case.

“I also told the committee that the petitioners have also clubbed the bill with their TORs, submitted before the apex court, so the bill is directly under consideration before the Supreme Court,” he added.

“The government has a belief in the supremacy of parliament but wants not to take up bill in respect of the apex court”, he said. He further said that if opposition wants to present the bill with some amendments, then under the law, the relevant forum will give them a two-day notice.

Opposition needs to bring their amendments in the bill in writing and then the government would be in a position to discuss it after consultation with concerned authorities, he said.

He said that under the law, a chairman of standing committee can forward a bill to chairman Senate if there is no consensus among the members.

Earlier, the committee held a detailed discussion on the bill. The chairman of the committee said the matter related to the Panama leaks is pending before the apex court, and there is therefore no need to take it up at this stage.

Opposition senators and movers of the bill including Taj Haider, Aitzaz Ahsan, Shahi Syed, Saeed Ghani, Sherry Rehman, Rehman Malik, Saleem Mandviwala, Babar Awan, Farhatullah Babar, Israrullah Khan Zehri and Kamil Ali Agha underscored the need for an immediate passage of the bill in order to start accountability of those involved in holding offshore accounts. Senator Saleem Zia, Nehal Hashmi, Ayesha Raza Farooq of ruling party and Barrister Muhammad Ali Khan Saif of MQM Pakistan, however, opposed the passage of the bill.

Abbasi decided to refer the bill to Senate chairman after Senator Aitzaz Ahsan and Zahid Hamid exchanged harsh wards. Ahsan, while presenting the bill, proposed to include offshore companies in the bill – a suggestion proposed by ANP.

The law minister said that if opposition wants amendment to the bill, they should present it later in writing. “This is not the right way to amend the bill during the proceedings of the committee,” he said.

On this, Senator Atizaz Ahsan and other opposition senators remarked: “The government is running away from the accountability.” Ahsan said that opposition did not propose amendments but wants some modification in the bill and the standing committee always proposed modification during the meeting.

“The bill is not Prime Minister-specific as we want to hold accountability of everyone but government just thinks that it is only against prime minister,” he said. -Business Recorder