Top court tasks 13-member committee to trace, retrieve assets from abroad

Published: March 26, 2018
Representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

Representational image. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has tasked a 13-member committee to suggest ways to trace and retrieve assets from abroad in view of a suo motu notice on ill-gotten money of Pakistani citizens in foreign banks.

A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, approved on Monday a committee comprising State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Tariq Pasha, Additional Attorney General Muhammad Waqar Rana, senior lawyer Khalid Anwar, SC Advocate Ikramul Haq, finance secretary Arif Ahmed Khan, Shabbar Zaidi, Mehmood Mandiwala, Bashir Ali Muhammad, Tariq Paracha, Nisar Muhammad Khan and their terms of references (TORs) for retrieving money deposited in foreign accounts by Pakistani citizens.

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The TORs put forth by the committee include conducting a diagnostic analysis and layout of the current landscape related to outflow of foreign exchange from Pakistan resulting in accumulation of assets abroad by Pakistani citizens.

It also includes examining existing legal regime and practices; bilateral treaties and multilateral conventions that be used to stem the unregulated outflow of foreign exchange from Pakistan, tracing of undeclared assets held abroad by Pakistani citizens and retrieve such assets especially ones generated with proceeds of crime.

It suggests study of steps taken by other countries to trace and retrieve assets of their citizens in foreign countries.

The TORs seek administrative actions and measures to achieve the outlined objectives in view of existing legislative regime.

They seek to “identify gaps and limitations in existing legislative framework and suggest suitable amendments for establishment of a robust regime that is: a) transparent, unambiguous and does not create undue hardships for law abiding citizens, and b) adequate and effective to enable relevant government agencies and departments to step the unregulated outflow of foreign exchange from Pakistan in future and trace undeclared assets held abroad by Pakistani citizens.”

They suggest forming a mechanism to incentivise Pakistani citizens to voluntarily declare their assets held abroad and bring them back to Pakistan or pay suitable amount of taxes if they intend to keep such assets abroad so that they could contribute to national exchequer.

After approving the committee’s guidelines, the top court has given it three weeks to submit a report.

Earthquake victims

The same bench sought a report from a Mansehra district and sessions judge on the rehabilitation of 2005 earthquake victims.

The chief justice took suo motu notice after Balakot residents approached the top court. They claimed that international donations received had not been used to rehabilitate the victims. They accused authorities of misappropriation in billions of dollars collected as financial assistance for those affected in the wake of the 2005 disaster.

A three-member bench, headed by the CJP, was constituted to probe the case. The bench asked the judge to submit a report in three weeks.

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According to the ToRs, the judge will conduct onsite inspections where necessary and compile a detailed report after ascertaining and collecting information from all stakeholders and the government departments concerned.

The judge will also submit a report about the status of all these projects in respect of various stages of their completion. Without limiting the scope of inspection he will file a comprehensive report about new Balakot city, the King Abdullah Teaching Hospital Mansehra and Tehsil Headquarters hospital.

The court also sought a report from the federal government on international donations and their utilisation.

During the hearing, the bench expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA).

Over a decade after the 2005 earthquake brought death and destruction, survivors of the calamity still await rehabilitation promises to be fulfilled by the government. Over 600,000 families were affected in the earthquake. An estimated 87,000 people were killed and as many severely injured. About 600,000 houses and 6,000 schools along with 800 health facilities were affected.

The government later made promises of rehabilitation and support. Elaborate plans and policies were drawn up. Dedicated institutions were set up to expedite their implementation. Donor commitment of $6 billion was secured. But all to no avail.

The data collected by January 2017 by ERRA shows that nearly half of the total 5,723 schools are yet to be rebuilt. Responding to the public frustration at the slow pace of rehabilitation, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government announced its decision to reconstruct 760 schools destroyed in the province.

A total of Rs3.7 billion was initially allocated, which was later increased to Rs8 billion in the 2014-15 budget. Till 2016-17, the total reported expenditure against the allocated budget line was Rs765.31 million.

In other words, in three years, the provincial government was only able to use less than 10 per cent of the total funds of Rs8 billion. At its current pace, it will take another 20 years for the government to allocate funds.

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