ISLAMABAD: A government team, headed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, on Saturday finalised the terms of reference (ToRs) for the proposed inquiry commission being formed to investigate the Panama Papers leaks.
Apart from finalising the ToRs, the government also decided to include banking and investigative experts in the commission, which will be headed by a retired judge — as announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the nation on April 5.
The meeting, presided over by Mr Dar, was attended by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman, Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan and Secretary to the Prime Minister Fawad Hassan Fawad.
“The meeting discussed and finalised ToRs of the inquiry commission being set up in pursuance of the announcement made by the prime minister to this effect. The meeting also short-listed names of professionals for inclusion in the inquiry commission,” said a brief official announcement after a meeting of what it referred to as the ‘Laws Review Committee’.
Later, talking to Dawn, Mr Dar explained that professionals could be “chartered accountants and officials from the Federal Investigating Agency”, who would be made part of the commission to assist it in investigating the allegations contained in the Panama leaks.
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Refusing to divulge details of the ToRs, or disclose the names of the short-listed professionals, Mr Dar said it would not be appropriate for him to provide such information at a time when things were still being decided and expressed the hope that the commission would be formally announced in the next few days.
Sources told Dawn that the ToRs of the proposed commission, which could comprise three members, had been finalised in the light of the discussion that took place during a meeting on April 14, which was also attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of PM Sharif.
In the meeting, participants resolved to defend the Sharif family in the wake of allegations of money laundering and tax evasion to set up offshore companies, as revealed by the Panama Papers. It was officially announced that ruling party members had decided to “forcefully defend” the prime minister and his family at all forums against the “ridiculous accusations by those who wanted to achieve their ulterior motives through propaganda”. They had also decided to reach out to all political parties to present the government’s viewpoint on the Panama Papers.
According to the ToRs, sources said, the commission would be empowered to look into allegations not only against Sharif family members, but all other Pakistanis mentioned in the Panama Papers. They said the commission would also have the power to seek assistance from experts in the banking sector, or any firm dealing with international trade and banking.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Barrister Zafarullah Khan told Dawn the ToRs had “enabling provisions and powers” for the commission, so that it could hold investigations in a transparent manner and without any pressure. He said that since the government had nothing to hide, therefore, it was not scared of empowering the commission.
“The commission can seek assistance from any national or foreign firms, if required.”
But even Barrister Khan refused to confirm or deny media reports that the government had decided to appoint retired Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany as head of the commission.
Opposition parties have already rejected the commission announced by the prime minister. However, the opposition seems divided over the issue.
The PPP wants investigations through a parliamentary committee, whereas the PTI wanted the chief justice of Pakistan to head the judicial commission.
Talking to Dawn, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said that he considered Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani the most suitable person to head the parliamentary commission. He said the PPP had reservations over Justice Osmany since his wife is affiliated with the PML-N.
Mr Shah said that Chairman Rabbani was a man of integrity and was respected by all parties. “I think all parties in the government and the opposition will have no objection to Mr Rabbani’s name,” he said.
When contacted, senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi alleged that the government was only paying lip service on the issue and was not serious about carrying out investigations. On one hand, the government was announcing that it had finalised the ToRs of a three-member commission while, on the other, there were reports in the media that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had given the go-ahead for the constitution of a parliamentary commission.
“They are totally confused. Their left hand does not know what the right hand is doing,” he said.
Mr Qureshi also said he had heard in the press that the government wanted to take all opposition parties on board over the judicial commission issue, but no one had contacted the PTI so far. “Ask them whether they are ready to discuss the ToRs with us,” he concluded.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016