ISLAMABAD: The entire opposition in the Senate wants a thorough probe into the Panama leaks disclosure about politicians running offshore companies to avoid taxes, but is still divided over the mode of inquiry.

Leaders of different political parties belonging to the opposition while taking part in discussion on the revelations made in Panama leaks gave diverse proposals on how to proceed in investigations. Proposals ranged from the constitution of a joint parliamentary committee to probe by a World Bank body, besides judicial inquiry under the supervision of the sitting chief justice.

PML-Q Secretary General Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who was also mover of the motion seeking discussion on the issue, initiated a debate by proposing the formation of a joint parliamentary committee saying that it was essential to put in place a self-accountability mechanism in parliament instead of awaiting a referee.

Pointing out that a declaration is submitted by the candidates that they do not hold dual nationality. He said submission of another declaration affirming that they do not own an offshore company should also be made mandatory. He said those having offshore accounts should declare the same.

He also called for legislation on clash of interest saying such legislation was there in many countries of the world. He was of the view that the Senate should take initiative in forming an ethics committee of the house.

Senior Vice President of the PPP Sherry Rehman observed that the World Bank’s special initiative on stolen assets’ recovery should be requested to investigate the matter. She said that all bodies including the Judicial Commission, National Acco­untability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) should be used but noted that it was almost impossible for these bodies to probe international tax shelters.

About the argument being advanced by the government side that tax avoidance was legal, she insisted that it was a question of morality. Moreover, she asserted that assets of lawmakers and their spouses and dependents are to be submitted with the ECP. She said source of funds has to be disclosed.

She noted that the sword of suo motu was not hanging over the heads of the ruling PML-N leadership as it was meant only for the PPP. Stressing that accountability should not be only against a single political party, she said nobody should be above the law.

She recalled breakfasts she had at Park Lane flats owned by Sharif family during the days when charter of democracy was signed. She said the prime minister addressed the nation over television after the Panama papers revelations, but regretted that he was meting out step-motherly treatment to parliament.

Parliamentary leader of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in the house Noman Wazir Khatak called for formation of a judicial commission headed by the incumbent chief justice to probe Panama leaks scam. “Why don’t we take it head on”, he questioned.

He said money trail was missing and it was not clear how funds had been transferred for purchase of property in the UK. He rejected the propaganda against Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT) saying that the money trail was available in the case and the decision to invest abroad had been taken by the board.

He said there was skeleton in every political party’s cupboard and said even those in his party should be exposed.

Chaudhry Tanvir of the ruling PML-N argued that it was not a crime to run an off-shore company to avoid tax, but said those who used looted money to establish a company abroad should be taken to task. “Those prospering on stolen wealth should be publicly hanged but those who established business empires through legal means should be given gold medals”, he remarked.

The house will continue discussion on Panama papers disclosures when it meets on Monday afternoon.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2016

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