WEB DESK: If there is any international award for the most brazen behaviour by a government leader in the face of corruption allegations, it must go to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif &co for not only refusing to present himself for accountability in the Panama leaks scandal, but also using different forums to attack opposition politicians demanding that he explain the sources and mode of transfer abroad of money with which the family’s controversial London properties were bought.
National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq obviously was thinking of protecting his political boss in order to protect his own job rather than fulfilling his responsibility as the custodian of the House when on Monday he acted the way he did in dealing with the business at hand. The opposition parties had filed four references against the PM for alleged violation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution following the Panama Papers revelations and one against the ruling party ally from Balochistan Mehmood Khan Achakzai, seeking their disqualification for misstating their assets. Some from the PML-N had filed two references against the PM’s most vocal critic, PTI Chairman Imran Khan, and a senior party colleague, Jahangir Tareen. From the total number of eight references the Speaker chose to forward only two to the Election Commission of Pakistan for action – both involving the PTI leaders.
Neither of the two cases is a new discovery. The one about Imran alleges he had declared that his Bani Gala house was a gift from his first wife while he had purchased it from her; and also that he owned an offshore company. He has explained it so many times, backed by documentary evidence, that he had borrowed the money from his wife to buy the property and paid her back after selling his London flat, and that in so doing, unlike the accused in the Panama scandal, he had used an offshore company to bring the money – earned as professional fees abroad – into the country rather than take out of it.
The reference against Tareen accuses him of securing a Rs 101 million loan from the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL) when he was a federal minister in the Musharraf regime and getting it written off in 2005 – an allegation Tareen denies – and that he concealed these facts while submitting his nomination papers for the 2013 general elections as well as 2015 by-election. Whether or not there is merit in these references two intriguing questions arise: One, why did the government wait until the surfacing of the corruption scandal involving the PM’s family to file these references? And second, considering that PTI Chairman has offered to present himself for accountability alongside the PM, what can these cases do for the government?
The answer to both questions is that the purpose is not to prove any wrongdoing but to divert public attention from the real mega scandal. The law of triviality is being invoked in order to create confusion in the public mind since most people don’t even know that owning offshore companies is not illegal, what is illegitimate is using them to evade taxes or launder money to buy assets abroad, as the PM is suspected of doing.
If that is not bad enough different accountability mechanisms are manipulated at will for corrupt and selfish ends. The FBR having sat on its hands since the Panamagate became known five months ago, suddenly jumped up three days ago (probably to shake off criticism for staying indifferent to the scandal) to issue notices to all local owners of offshore companies seeking details about their foreign accounts and assets.
It would be a huge surprise if the notices are to lead to follow-up action against the first family. The National Accountability Bureau, despite repeated reminders by the opposition to do its job, has kept looking the other way; ditto the FIA. The truth of the matter is that the accountability system in its present form is designed to protect rather than prevent corruption in high places.
In fact, what we have is a kleptocracy rather than democracy. In it, acceptance of moral responsibility for acts of omission or commission and answerability before the people is an alien concept. Right from the arguments over the terms of reference for a proposed judicial commission- to probe the first family’s assets uncovered by the Panama leaks – to references seeking the PM’s disqualification, the government’s strategy has been to resist every proposal calling for honest answers, and to level counter allegations against the opposition leaders to try and show that financial corruption is commonplace and hence not such a bad thing after all.
The PM’s men have been competing with one another to display their loyalty to him by attacking the opposition leaders, with a special focus on the PTI leader. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has also been threatening Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah to make public NAB files in his possession containing incriminating evidence of corruption against Shah. This is pure blackmail. He has only proved, ie, if any proof was needed, that NAB is a handmaiden of this government, otherwise its files wouldn’t be sitting in the Interior Minister’s office.
The more zealous types like Abid Sher Ali have been warning the PTI with dire consequences. ‘Eent say eent baja deengay,’ he said – not realising what happened after someone uttered the same phrase not too long ago – if the PTI went ahead with its plan to take its street protests demanding Mian Sahib’s accountability to his Raiwind Road residence in Lahore.
Some in the opposition too think it is not a good idea, contending that the family’s privacy should be respected. Yet there are at least two strong counter arguments: One is that the Panama leaks scandal includes the names of the PM’s family and hence they cannot hide behind the privacy excuse. Second, the residence has been declared the Prime Minister’s House.
The taxpayers pick up the tab for its maintenance costs and utility bills. Furthermore, the Punjab government spent a good Rs 283.2 million of public money on building a security fence around the property. Right now it isn’t exactly a private family home. In any event, if only the government were not to resist accountability so brazenly there would be no need for anyone to go there.
Source: Business Recorder