Opposition lawmakers in the Senate have called on the government to form a joint parliamentary panel instead of an external judicial commission to investigate the people keeping offshore accounts in international tax havens.
About 220 Pakistanis, including three children of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have been named in the massive leak of documents from a Panama-based law firm. The exposé dubbed Panama Papers also mentions the names of 143 Pakistani politicians, some serving and retired judges, several businessmen and a media baron.
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The leaks have sparked calls for independent investigations against those keeping offshore assets with the PM announcing the formation of a judicial commission. But the opposition parties have rejected the offer calling for a probe by international forensic experts and a panel headed by the country’s top judge.
On Friday, the lawmakers continued to press for transparency and accountability on the part of those found to have offshore accounts and assets.
Senator Mushahid Hussain opened the debate by quoting figures from the Tax Justice Network, saying the hidden accounts named in Panama Papers were worth $21 trillion, which could be taxed up to $300 billion.
The PML-Q legislator said the government had mishandled the case. The PM’s address, he said, only led to more confusion as his family gave conflicting accounts afterwards, turning the matter into a political issue.
Instead of an external judicial panel, the lawmaker recommended the formation of a joint parliamentary commission, which would include all political parties for across-the-board accountability.
Mushahid added a joint parliamentary commission was the only way forward, free of any referees, bureaucrats or generals. “If the government is reluctant to do so, the Senate’s ethic committee should carry out accountability on its own,” he said.
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He also proposed declaration of offshore accounts through the election commission as legal protection to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Defending the government, PML-N lawmaker Chaudhry Tanvir Khan questioned what was wrong with holding offshore accounts.
Agreeing to the idea of accountability, he said a commission had already been formed by the government for the very purpose.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said the Panama leaks were not just about Pakistan but a crisis of global capitalism.
Alluding to widespread problem of inequality, she said wages were smoothly decreasing and governments were collapsing the world over while macroeconomic growth was also plummeting consistently.
“Accountability and transparency is the primary responsibility of the parliament and this is a matter of public interest,” Sherry said. “If British PM David Cameron can answer to his parliament, then why is our elected premier meting out a step-fatherly treatment to our parliament?”
She urged the government to come clean on the source of funds of the Sharif family.
PTI Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak dubbed the leaks a defining moment for Pakistan, which is known the world over as one of the most corrupt countries.
“There are people in the parliament who do not want to solve this issue. There are also people in the government who do not want this issue to be sorted out,” he added.
New railway line
In a written reply, Railways Minister Saad Rafique told the house the government is considering a proposal to lay a railway track between Havelian and Khunjerab close as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
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The 682-kilometre-long line cost around $10.5 billion according to an estimate in a prefeasibility study of 2007-2008. The railway line will touch Abbottabad, Mansehra, Battagram, Bisham, Dasu, Gilgit and Hunza.
The actual cost of the project will be worked out after a detailed feasibility study and design of the project.
In the past five years, the president received 513 mercy petitions of death row prisoners and rejected all of them.
Only 38 mercy petitions are pending with the interior ministry, out of which 13 cases have been sent to the Presidential Secretariat for the final decision.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2016.