ISLAMABAD: Government ministers and senior members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on Monday began their week by brainstorming ways to win the support of the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, for its proposed judicial commission.
Held at the Prime Minister’s Office, the high-level huddle also held detailed deliberations on a parallel proposal — the possibility of formation of a parliamentary commission to look into the finances of all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers.
The latter proposal is ostensibly part of the ruling party’s efforts to shift the PPP’s loyalties away from the opposition camp, and Monday’s meeting discussed the pros and cons of constituting a parliamentary commission without taking other opposition parties on board.
Participants of the meeting, which was chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — assisted by the top legal minds in the party — further refined the terms of reference (ToRs) of the proposed judicial commission and its support staff.
Cabinet, top advisers discuss ways to secure PPP’s support; PM to decide fate of judicial commission
A participant of the meeting told Dawn on Monday that the thrust of the discussion was the question of how opposition parties, especially the PPP, could be taken on board over the formation of the judicial commission.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Power Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Safron Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, IT minister Anusha Rehman and PM’s Adviser Irfan Siddiqui were present at the meeting.
While there was broad agreement among participants that persuading the PTI over the setting up of the commission would be difficult, all-out efforts should be made to ensure that the PPP and other parliamentary parties understand the government’s intentions.
According to one suggestion, shared by the participant, “a parliamentary committee can also be constituted — side-by-side with the judicial commission — to probe the accounts of all those Pakistanis whose names have been appeared in the Panama Papers”.
The PPP has already demanded that the task of investigating the allegations thrown up by the Panama Papers leak should be handed to a joint parliamentary committee, and has rejected a retired judge-led commission, announced by the prime minister earlier this month.
“We are trying our level best to reach out to all parliamentary parties and generate a consensus over the proposed commission,” another participant of the meeting told Dawn, adding that the exercise might take two to three days.
But the final decision regarding the public announcement of the commission, he said, would be taken by the prime minister.
Other prerequisites for the commission, such as the selection of FIA and police officers, forensic experts, and accountants — who will assist the head of the commission in establishing the money trail of Pakistanis who have set up offshore companies — will also take time.
Asked whether retired Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany’s name had been finalised to head the commission, a legal adviser to the government said: “Let’s see what the other parties have to say. We are waiting for their response, and the commission’s head will be selected through mutual consultation”.
The media wing of the PM’s Office announced that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was expected back in Lahore late on Tuesday night.
A senior PM Office official also told Dawn that since he was on his way back, the PM would personally decide whether to constitute a judicial commission or a parliamentary committee to investigate the Panama leaks.
PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira told Dawn, “The PPP’s only demand is that audit be carried out through credible international auditors, which is acceptable to all political parties. The mode [of investigation] is not important.”
Mr Kaira added that the PTI also had a similar demand. Asked whether there was a chance that this line of action may be vetoed by party chairman Asif Ali Zardari, he said, “I cannot comment on the ifs-and-buts, since our party’s stance is clear.”
Meanwhile, talking to reporters after meeting Awami National Party’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said both parties were of the same view; that the chief justice of Pakistan should head the inquiry commission.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2016