ISLAMABAD: After a week of frantic efforts by the government to constitute a body that will investigate allegations thrown up by the Panama Papers leak, it appears that the judicial commission may not materialise anytime soon.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali’s departure for Turkey on Friday ensured that the government had at least one week before there would be any movement on this front. Though Justice Saqib Nisar took the oath as the acting CJP on Saturday, it was clear from statements coming out of the registrar’s office that the government’s request would only be taken up on CJP Jamali’s return.
But given the amount of controversy surrounding the terms of reference (ToRs) of this commission, it is unlikely that a final decision on the matter will be made this month.
The opposition has also made its disagreements with the current TORs public and on Saturday, opposition leaders and government ministers continued to trade barbs over the objectives and intentions of the commission’s formation.
Imran threatens street agitation, wants PM and family to be investigated first
Rejecting the TORs announced by the government, PTI chairman Imran Khan threatened to resort to “street agitation” if the ToRs were not finalised in consultation with opposition parties.
Speaking at a news conference at his Bani Gala residence following a party meeting, Mr Khan said that he would announce the party’s next steps during a public meeting, to be held in Islamabad on Sunday (today) in connection with the party’s 20th foundation day.
Accompanied by other party leaders and office-bearers, Mr Khan said his party wanted the judicial commission to first probe allegations of “money laundering and tax evasion” against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family members, before investigating other Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers.
Mr Khan was of the view that being prime minister of a country, Mr Sharif had a moral obligation to first clear his name.
The PTI chairman said that he was disappointed to hear the prime minister’s address to the nation. “I thought the prime minister would perhaps inform the nation about the facts of his offshore holdings. The speech shows that the prime minister is guilty and hiding something,” he added.
“The commission will take 10 years to investigate all the 200 Pakistanis (named in Panama leaks) when their 200 lawyers will appear before it. We reject it and will never accept it,” Mr Khan declared, terming the prime minister’s announcement to form the judicial commission “mere eyewash and a joke.”
“This announcement has been made to bury justice and accountability,” he went on to say, adding that the current ToRs showed that the prime minister was afraid of facing accountability.
However, he said, the government should have consulted opposition parties, just like it did in the case of the formation of a judicial commission on electoral rigging.
The PPP also endorsed this view. Senator Saeed Ghani told Dawn that the commission should indeed be confined to an investigation against Mr Sharif and his family members.
Senator Ghani said his party also rejected the government-announced ToRs and called for re-drafting them in consultation with opposition parties.
He also asked the prime minister to quit after his failure to take parliament into confidence over the Panama leaks. In the past, he said, Mr Sharif had advised former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani to resign from office to face corruption charges.
Mr Ghani was of the view that instead of addressing the nation again and again, the prime minister should have come to parliament to make these announcements.
Mr Khan said there had been no mention of the “international forensic auditors” and no reference to “tax evasion” in the ToRs. He also called for the role of institutions like Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to be defined.
He said the commission being set up under the Commissions of Pakistan Act 1956, would only have the powers of a civil court. Moreover, he said, the government could simply abolish it through a notification.
Senior counsel and PTI leader Hamid Khan said that all commissions made under the 1956 act in the past had failed to meet expectations. He said the reports of all such commissions had never been made public, or implemented and called for setting up this latest commission under a new law.
Separately, ANP leader Asfandyar Wali also called on Mr Sharif to present his family and himself before the judicial commission first. He said the ANP would be the first party to seek the prime minister’s resignation, if he was proven guilty by the commission.
On the other hand, Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed told Dawn that if Mr Khan only wanted accountability for the prime minister, he should ask for it before the judicial commission.
He said the PTI had the services of many lawyers who could convince the judicial commission that since Mr Sharif ruled the country, therefore, his name should be cleared first.
In response to a question, Mr Rashid ruled out the possibility of holding negotiations with the opposition parties, particularly with the PTI, over the ToRs.
“In asking for the PM to be held accountable before all others, Imran Khan should tell the nation who he wants to save from amongst the 200 Pakistanis named in Panama Papers,” he said.
The minister was of the view that the TORs were already quite comprehensive and nothing could really be added. However, he said, Mr Khan should tell the government if he wanted to remove something from the ToRs. Moreover, he said, the ToRs had been finalised following a number of meetings with various political parties.
“Imran Khan was calling for a commission until yesterday, and today he is complaining about it,” he said, adding that the commission had a far-reaching scope and it could investigate anyone.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2016