ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally turned up at the National Assembly on Monday for his much-vaunted appearance and announced that a parliamentary committee will rewrite the terms of reference (ToRs) for a commission to probe the Panama leaks while underlining the need for stringent accountability laws in the country.
“I would recommend the formation of a committee in the [lower] house, in consultation with Khursheed Shah which would finalise comprehensive ToRs and other related [matters] for across-the-board investigations,” Nawaz said in a policy speech which was applauded by members of the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).
PM Nawaz has been squirming under opposition pressure ever since the Panama Papers revealed on April 4 that some members of the Sharif family, including three children of the prime minister, had secreted their wealth in offshore holdings in international tax havens along with several other wealthy and powerful people from across the globe.
While he had acquiesced to the opposition demands to probe the leaks, writing a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali requesting him to set up a judicial commission to probe the 220 Pakistanis named in the leaks. But amid the furore from the opposition which drafted its own set of ToRs for the commission, the CJP turned down the premier’s request.
On Monday, Nawaz left it to the parliamentary committee to take a decision about which forum should hold the investigations.
Appearing in the assembly for the first time since details of his family’s offshore holdings came to light, Nawaz followed the carefully prepared script, avoiding the incisive and inquisitive set of seven questions that the opposition asked about the premier’s source of income and details of his and his family’s assets.
Keeping in view the opposition’s demand for documentary evidence on the PM’s assets, Nawaz submitted tax details for himself and that of his family. He also showed the National Assembly some pictures to prove the wellbeing of his family financials before he entered politics.
His speech, lasting around half an hour, echoed those in the two addresses to the nation he made in April in the aftermath of the Panama leaks. He reiterated how his family was a victim to nationalisation. But he hit hard at the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan.
“I have nothing to hide,” Nawaz said as he turned down opposition’s generous offer to settle the issue by answering the seven questions in Parliament.
“This issue should not end this way …let there be through investigations and let truth prevail,” he asserted.
He went on to present a detailed response in chronological order to the Panama leaks probe.
“I assure you that the government wants investigations” but the opposition was targeting one person [the PM],” he lamented.
He went on to express his bewilderment at how a man whose name does not appear in the leaks has been indicted before investigations even begin.
“We have faced unilateral accountability in the past and are ready for accountability today,” he said while presenting himself for accountability, adding that the story of those who have evaded taxes, written-off loans, laundered money and did corruption should also be told to the nation.
He suggested the opposition revisit the country’s accountability laws in line with the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed with the Pakistan Peoples Party, to address the weaknesses in existing laws.
Nawaz detailed his family’s business empire from the time how Ittefaq Foundaries, worth Rs45 million, were nationalised in 1972. He went on to say that all loans they had taken had been returned.
“I am telling you this to explain the financial position of my family before I entered politics,” he explained.
He went on to clarify that over the past 23 years, including the eight years he spent in exile his family paid Rs10 billion in taxes. “I have paid Rs36 million in taxes.”
Responding to the opposition’s questions about the source of funds for the London properties owned by his family, Nawaz narrated a detailed story of how his late father had established the Gulf Steel in Dubai in 1972, presenting pictures of its inauguration. He explained that this establishment was sold for $9 million in 1980.
“I want to make it clear that not a single penny was sent [from Pakistan] for either setting up a mill in Jeddah or for purchase of flats in London,” he added.
He then took on the PTI chief, his strongest critic thus far, asking about his source of income and taxes paid.
“They should tell where they were standing [financially] in 1970s and ‘80s and what the source of income for their luxurious life is today,” he added.
The opposition however, predictably, rejected Nawaz’s answers. But then instead of mounting a scathing rebuttal, they surprisingly walked out of the house.
Dar urges Speaker to notify committee
Shortly after the opposition stormed out of the NA, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar urged the NA Speaker to notify a committee of the lower house in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition to form joint ToRs for the probe commission.
“I request you Mr Speaker to call the opposition leader after the session so a committee could be constituted over joint ToRs to reach the logical conclusion,” said Dar.
Sources in the National Assembly told The Express Tribune that the speaker is expected to formally contact opposition leader Khursheed Shah today (Tuesday) over the committee.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2016.