Revelations concerning the offshore accounts of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family echoed in the National Assembly for the second consecutive day as legislators from government and opposition benches on Friday hurled allegations of corruption at each other.
The prime minister’s children have been named in the documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca for owning offshore businesses. Earlier this week the premier announced that a commission, led by a retired judge of the superior judiciary, would probe the allegations against his family.
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On Friday, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq wrapped up in less than 20 minutes a call attention notice about the dismal performance of the national cricket team in the ICC World T20 tournament and introduction of two bills as the discussion again veered to the scandal.
Speaking on the floor of the house, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi reiterated his party’s demand to form the judicial commission under the Supreme Court’s incumbent chief justice and acquire help from an independent firm for a forensic audit of Panama documents.
However, he softened the party’s stance and urged the authorities to investigate the offshore investment of all the 200-plus Pakistanis – named in the leaks – including the prime minister’s family.
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“Let us sit together and finalise terms of references (TORs) for the judicial inquiry commission while fixing the timeline instead of mudslinging and political point-scoring,” Qureshi said.
However, he expressed his wonder over ‘the silence’ of accountability, polls supervisory and anti-corruption bodies over the scandal. “Where are National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Authority, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Federal Board of Revenue? Why are they silent?” he asked.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid fired the first salvo at the PTI chief Imran Khan, who, he claimed, was reluctant to appear before the Election Commission of Pakistan in connection with the ‘embezzlement’ of money given in charity to his Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.
“There is no need to take cover of cancer patients to hide your wrongdoings,” Rashid said, alleging that there were around Rs30 million which Imran Khan brought back from offshore companies and which were not mentioned on the balance sheet.
These allegations invited the ire of the PTI legislators who raised ‘Go, Nawaz, Go’ slogan. This was followed by ‘Go, Imran, Go’ slogans from treasury benches as well as bandying of allegations and non-parliamentary remarks, which the speaker later removed from the proceedings.
Rashid also defended the offshore accounts of the Nawaz family and maintained that such facilities of tax amnesty are also provided in Pakistan at Gwadar, Gadoon Amazai and Hattar industrial zones. He said this investment was neither in violation of the rules nor did it cause any damage to the country.
Responding to the PPP’s claim that judges had no idea about the Panama leaks and that they should not be made part of an inquiry commission to probe these papers, Rashid said judges had spent their lives sorting out such matters and were the right people to carry out such investigations.
Speaking on the occasion, PPP’s Shazia Marri criticised ministers for holding a news conference in the Press Information Department to answer allegations against the prime minister and his family.
She also lambasted the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab for calling the PM as ‘the second Muhammad Ali Jinnah of this country’. Aftab had also termed the leaked documents an attempt to destabilise the country and stop people from investment money in the country.
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The PPP’s Naveed Qamar said formation of a judicial commission without consensus of the house would be useless. “Nation should know how the money went out through a forensic money trail,” he said, warning that his party would not let the government brush the matter under the carpet.
The debate was to continue after the Friday prayers but hardly a dozen legislators returned to the house and the speaker announced the session’s adjournment till Tuesday after the JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman pointed out the lack of quorum.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2016.