WEB DESK: The brewing political storm with opposition parties challenging the terms of reference (ToRs) of the judicial commission and the government insisting that they meet the requirements highlighted by the opposition leadership in their speeches, is expected to gather momentum in days to come.
There is no doubt that all political parties, be they more or less implicated in corruption scandals, have fully supported the call of the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif that accountability must be across-the-board. And this in itself implies adequate justification for the terms of reference formulated by the government and sent to the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) requesting him to set up a commission that envisages an across-the-board accountability spanning a year less than seventy years.
However, this would be a challenging task for a 150- to 200-man dedicated department leave alone a commission which perhaps explains why the terms of reference did not include the time period wherein this task is scheduled for completion. Needless to add, if these terms of reference are not amended, then it is extremely doubtful, if the CJP, given the high pendency cases in our courts of law, or any other head, tasked to investigate corruption from 1947 onwards would accept the task.
Thus, while Business Recorder supports the intent of the government not to be selective in its objective to empower the commission to undertake an across-the-broad accountability since independence, yet, there is an urgent need to prioritise those who should be ahead of the queue. Proper sequencing is therefore required or in other words those who are in public service which includes elected and unelected personnel must be investigated prior to those who do not hold public office and the investigation must begin from the top down.
Thus, in the context of the Panama Papers, which prompted the PML-N government to propose setting up this commission, the right place to start must be from the Prime Minister’s family and other political players, bureaucrats and members of the judiciary. A time period during which the investigation is to be completed must be clearly and unambiguously identified.
Be that as it may, for the investigation to proceed there is a need for our state institutions to provide assistance as and when requested by the commission. These institutions include the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). And while the former is touted as an autonomous entity de-linked from the Ministry of Finance, yet International Monetary Fund’s constant refrain, in all the 10 staff reviews under the 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility urge the government to implement its commitment with respect to granting SBP autonomy in letter as well as in spirit.
The recently-concluded 10th review has, in an unprecedented move so close to the end of the EFF, added a new structural benchmark notably “issue an executive order to provide financial guarantees to SBP, in case of any losses that are not covered by the SBP’s general reserves and, recapitalize the bank, if it becomes necessary and delegate to the SBP board the power to establish profit distribution rules allowing the board discretion in building reserves and prohibit distribution of unrealised profits”.
But can FBR provide the required critical data to the commission as and when requested? In this respect this newspaper undertook an anecdotal survey of several senior FBR officials and witnessed a pervasive confusion. The officials were all agreed that they stood by the computerised data (income tax returns) from 2007 onwards as that information had been ingested by the FBR staff, however, from 2000 to 2007 data input had been outsourced and officials stated that they do not stand by this.
The obvious question is why did the FBR make the payment to this outsourced company without first checking whether the data input was accurate? In addition, several senior FBR officials stated that they also were not sure whether manual data from 1947 to 2000 was available as it was stored in regional tax offices of major cities but disasters like fire/floods had compromised a lot of the data and hence they were unsure of data availability.
To conclude, whoever finally accepts the task of investigating the Panama Papers, and whatever the assurances given by the government in terms of access to any and all information in state institutions that the commission officials may need and request, the fact remains that there is deep concern in this regard. The cause of such concern stems from the fact that not only are these institutions operating under the administrative control of federal ministers who remain fiercely loyal to the Prime Minister but also the information may simply not be available in the country. The way out from this dilemma is to focus on assets held abroad in offshore accounts and request the source of funds backed by the annual statements of the productive activity that generated those funds from foreign governments as well as those being investigated.
Source: Business Recorder