How to go about the Panama leaks now that they are in the public domain, particularly in the context of the ruling family’s supposed involvement, there is an intense debate in both media and elected houses.
There is a huge variety of opinion, some of it embedded in the legality or otherwise of having offshore assets and some of it touching upon its political propriety.
The prime minister’s decision to form a judicial commission with a mandate to investigate the veracity of charge of wrongdoing against his family seems to have run into heavy waters. As if they would never have such a perfect chance to force his ouster the opposition parties, as expected, are giving the prime minister no quarter.
But they clearly lack consensual unanimity of a concrete programme how to go after him. While the Pakistan People’s Party is for a parliamentary committee of both the houses which should conduct an investigation and recommend action, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf wants the Chief Justice of Pakistan to do this job.
Then, the two houses of parliament too, have their own independent worldviews on the Panama leaks in the context of Pakistan. In the National Assembly, proceedings were marred by pandemonium over the last two days.
While the opposition members asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down a state minister claimed that the Panama leaks are a conspiracy against the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In the Senate, however, relative calm prevailed and its standing committee on finance has reportedly decided to initiate a probe into offshore companies owned by the Pakistanis.
But there is not much in evidence so far that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would succumb to pressure and step down. If forced resignation of prime minister of Iceland is one such outcome it is also no secret that China declared the charge of involvement of President Xi’s relatives as ‘groundless’ and President Putin’s spokesman rubbished the Panama Papers as conspiracy by the West against Russia.
But he should relent on this and go for an investigation by competent forensic experts under an independent commission. For a Westminster parliamentary democracy that Pakistan is it would be improper and inadvisable on the part of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to just blow the Panama leaks about his sons’ involvement off his palm.
He cannot afford to be indifferent to such a charge, as is the case with the fellow prime minister of another Westminster democracy, David Cameron. In fact, there are not much buyers of Hussain Nawaz’s argument that offshore accounts offer a tax reduction advantage because ‘Pakistan’s taxation system is one of the friendliest to the rich of the country’.
Perhaps, there is also a mismatch of timing of selling the factories in Pakistan and buying real estate in London. Ideally, the Chief Justice of Pakistan may like to take suo motu notice of the brewing aftermath of the Panama leaks in the country and give his verdict.
In that case the highest court would have the ownership of the investigation, unlike the case if it is done by a judicial commission set up by Nawaz Sharif. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cannot be both a complainant and an accused at the same time.