Nawaz Sharif is now a billionaire and expects people to not question the source of his money inflow – if only, dear PM
On paper,Nawaz is a mix of old money, corporate leadership and entrepreneurship. The issue is his lack of transparency
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif retained his status as a billionaire in the latest information regarding politicians’ net worth released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). This data has been derived from the information the candidates file with the ECP when running for public office. This list is published every year, though there is no actual need. It just reaffirms what the nation already knows – in a country where a large chunk of people are living below the poverty line, the politicians seem to be getting richer and richer.
For example, in 2011, the assets owned by Nawaz and Kulsoom Nawaz totalled to Rs166 million. According to the current report, the value has climbed up to Rs1.84 billion. About a quarter of a billion of these assets has come through remittances by Nawaz’s son, Hussain Nawaz, who is apparently running the British offshoot of the family business empire, in addition to holding properties in London.
In this case, it is erroneous of Nawaz to claim that Hussain sends remittances on which his parents live by. Their business is a family empire, not a personal bank account. Nawaz maintains that he owns no property or accounts abroad. By this measure, if Nawaz were to provide an investment fund, it would be the quickest way to increase your wealth by 10 times in just five years. Most of the ministers in Nawaz’s cabinet have also clocked in a fair amount of growth over the past five years. They have shares in multiple industries in Pakistan, in addition to, understandably, being close to the ruling party.
Imran Khan also shows up in the billionaire column. Imran’s assets are fairly uncomplicated with various investment schemes funding his adventures while his 300-acre residence in Bani Gala is declared as a gift. If his residence is to be sold today, the property would fetch somewhere around Rs750 million. The value of his family property in Zaman Park is about Rs30 million. So essentially, the value of Imran’s properties gives him the billionaire status. Interestingly, there is no mention of his London flat but even if there was, the total would still make sense and not have a massive differential between assets and earnings as that of Nawaz’s.
Asif Ali Zardari is not listed because he doesn’t hold any office currently. By some accounts, he is a dollar billionaire and has properties dotting the globe. Yes, he is a scion of a wealthy family, but then should he not also have the capacity of singlehandedly fixing the mess that is Sindh? Sindh keeps muddling along with Karachi, firing on all cylinders despite the chaos it represents. Perhaps if Zardari was more of a businessman rather than the rich, polo playing corrupt politician that he is, he would have put the province in a better position while he was in power.
Rich politicians are not a unique phenomenon. Russians oligarchs have their hands in all sorts of public and private industries. The President of Russia, Vladmir Putin is a dollar billionaire despite starting his career as an officer with the Committee for State Security (KGB). Putin’s best friend, Sergei Roldugin, was featured in the Panama Papers in a big way. It goes without saying that Roldugin had to have some diplomatic cover as he distributed his wealth around the world through shady law firms and Russian business interests. Did Putin know? It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t.
Chinese politicians have also made a killing by providing patronage to large businesses. There are 209 billionaire parliamentarians in the Chinese parliament compared to nil in the US Congress. China is still opaque when it comes to democracy and provides fertile ground for the intermingling between politicians and big business.
With the advent of Donald Trump, there is a billionaire businessman at the helm of US politics. Despite the bombastic comments that Trump continues to make and the insinuations that his businesses are benefitting, it is not so easy. The US political machine has a wide variety of checks and balances to ensure that their public servants do not abuse the system against the public. Other rich politicians in the US come from old money, corporate leadership or entrepreneurship. The difference is that of accountability.
On paper, Nawaz is a mix of old money, corporate leadership and entrepreneurship. The issue is his lack of transparency. When compared to other politicians, the discrepancy in his wealth isn’t that much to begin with. It is a combination of hubris and poor media savvy that make him appear as a corrupt cheater defrauding the nation. Imran is transparent and forthcoming about his assets, say what you may about his politics. Nawaz, on the other hand, expects people to take his assets at face value and not question their source.
Alternatively, he could try following the simplicity mantra as that of Narendra Modi. Modi has no major assets to speak of and whatever he has can be easily tracked. He dresses modestly, appeals to the masses, and appears to be comfortable with technology.
Media perception is half the battle, if the Sharif leadership can understand that, perhaps they wouldn’t worry so much about the political parties nipping at their every move or the army questioning their decisions.