The opposition formally conveyed on Thursday its proposed terms of reference (ToRs) to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as it expressed its willingness to hold talks with the government to reach an amicable settlement with regard to a mechanism for investigations into the Panama leaks.
The Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents, revealed that three scions of the Sharif family were among dozens of world politicians and businessmen who owned offshore companies in tax havens.
The revelations stirred up a political storm, prompting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to order an inquiry by a retired senior judge. But it was immediately dismissed by the main opposition groups who insisted on a probe by the country’s top judge.
After weeks-long verbal duel, the prime minister finally gave in and requested Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali to form a judicial commission to conduct an inquiry under commission of inquiry act, 1956. However, the government’s ToRs broadened the scope of the inquiry beyond the Panama leaks.
The opposition rejected the ToRs and thrashed out their own after a brainstorming session on Tuesday. In their ToRs, the opposition parties agreed the judicial inquiry into Panama Papers should begin from Premier Nawaz and his family – and that it should be completed within 90 days.
Inquiry against the rest of Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers should be completed within a year. Opposition parties also demanded that their ToRs be made part of a proposed Enquiry and Trial Act, 2016 – a special law to be passed to facilitate the investigation.
The government on Wednesday rejected the ToRs, terming them “unconstitutional and based on mala fide intentions”. Addressing a press conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had said, “It appears their [the opposition parties’] target is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, not corruption.”
However, Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah on Thursday told reporters that “We are ready to sit with the government if they have objections over clauses of our ToRs,” said.
Shah, who belongs to the major opposition group PPP, said he had also formally sent a letter to the prime minister to convey to him the opposition parties’ ToRs for the proposed commission to probe the scandal.
“The opposition parties are not in a mood of fighting. The government should hold talks with the opposition over the ToRs,” he said, adding that the problem could be settled through dialogue.
He said the opposition has also asked the prime minister to reply to his letter. “However, it does not mean that the government must accept our ToRs as they are. If the government has any objection over some clause then it can indicate those areas,” he added.
Shah criticised the prime minister for addressing the nation twice after emergence of the scandal. “We are not targeting the prime minister. He is the chief executive and therefore we have put him on top [for accountability],” he added
After the emergence of Panama leaks, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had started demanding that the prime minister step down till inquiry was completed. Later, the PPP also joined the flurry after its Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also made a similar demand.
However, when two smaller parties – Aftab Sherpao led Qaumi Watan Party and Asfandyar Wali’s ANP – disagreed with the demand during the opposition’s meeting, the PPP acquiesced, sources said. Now, the PTI appeared to be left alone in its demand for the prime minister’s resignation.
Analysts say the government is aware of the division within the opposition’s ranks and its lack of resolve to give it any tough time. This will help the government use delaying tactics.
ToRs in a bill
President Mamnoon Hussain has summoned sessions of the National Assembly and Senate from Monday (May 9). Unless amended, this will be the last session of the current parliamentary year. Joint session of parliament to commence new parliamentary year is scheduled for the first week of June, immediately after the budget session.
Under these circumstance, the coming session will be the only viable opportunity for the opposition parties to press for their demand to enact specific law they proposed to investigate the Panama leaks.
Shah’s letter received
Sources said Shah’s letter had been received at the Prime Minister House and was sent to the Ministry of Law to review its legal and constitutional aspects. They said a team of legal experts was also asked to draft its reply. They said the government would also hold consultation with its allies over its own and opposition’s ToRs.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2016.