Haunted by the spectre of Panama leaks, the Nawaz Sharif administration is becoming averse to media criticism as an unrelenting opposition’s chorus of criticism rises to a crescendo.
On Saturday, the prime minister gave a hearing to handpicked senior journalists, anchorpersons, editors and columnists at the Governor House in Lahore. Surprisingly, the invitees mostly belonged to two private media houses of the country.
Of the 25 media persons invited, 11 belonged to the Jang/Geo alone, while no senior journalist, editor or anchorperson from the Express Group (Daily Express, Express News and The Express Tribune), Samaa TV and ARY TV was among the invitees, according to prominent media persons.
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It is believed that ‘pro-Nawaz’ and ‘pro-PML-N’ journalists were picked out for the meeting purposefully to avoid criticism of the prime minister and his administration. And analysts say the invitees were strictly told not to ask incisive questions that might upset the prime minister in any way. This was the reason there was hardly any question that Premier Nawaz did not answer satisfactorily.
This is not the first time the PML-N has done this. In October last year when a by-election was being held in NA-122 (Lahore-V), Premier Nawaz had met a select group of journalists in Lahore. Though media persons had been invited from all major media houses, only a select few were allowed to ask questions.
Analysts say that the PML-N government is upset because the political storm whipped up by the Panama Papers expose refuses to fizzle out while the opposition is relentless in its demand for an independent judicial inquiry into claims that the ruling Sharif family has offshore holdings.
The two main opposition parties — the PPP and the PTI — have rejected outright the terms of reference (ToRs) of a judicial commission the Supreme Court will form to investigate the Panama Papers revelations. The government first insisted the ToRs would not be changed – but on Saturday the prime minister apparently gave in to the mounting pressure from the opposition.
“The Supreme Court has the authority to amend the ToRs,” he told handpicked media persons at the Governors House. “I’ve presented myself before the Supreme Court. It is free to investigate as it desire,” he added. The premier insisted the commission’s scope was vast, and his administration would help it by all possible means to complete its task.
“Since our hands are clean, we are more interested in effective accountability than our political rivals,” he said and claimed that no graft allegation had ever been proven during the PML-N governments. “Pervez Musharraf rummaged through files for nine years but could not establish corruption of a single penny against us,” he said while referring to the former military ruler who had overthrown his government in 1999.
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Premier Nawaz evaded a direct reply when asked if his administration had any differences with the military leadership. He called his arch nemesis Imran Khan ‘incurable’ as the latter is leading a chorus of criticism against the Sharif family over the Panama leaks. “His style of politics is incomprehensible,” Nawaz said.
Listing priorities of his administration, the prime minister said the ruling party was committed to providing education, health, clean drinking water and other facilities to people in every nook and corner of the country.
About foreign policy, he said his government was building good relations with regional and international countries. “Key global players, like the United States and China, are willing to work with Pakistan on development projects,” he added.
Premier Nawaz also spoke about the steps his administration has taken or is taking to mitigate the country’s chronic energy crisis. “In 2015, investments were made to add 12,000MW of electricity to the national grid, while only 10,000MW of electricity had been added to the national grid during the past 20 years,” he said.
“We are working to banish power outages by January 2018,” he said. “By that time, we will be producing 3,3000MW of electricity while currently we are generating 1,7000MW.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2016.
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