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ISLAMABAD: Although convened to discuss budget proposals for the upcoming financial year, Wednesday’s federal cabinet meeting was a jovial affair, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif receiving a thumbs-up from the government’s inner circle over his decision to present himself and his family before the Supreme Court for accountability in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks.

Soon after proceedings began, Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed shared the ‘good news’; the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — the organisation which released documentary evidence of those who owned offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands — had clarified a report regarding the prime minister’s involvement.

The correction on the ICIJ website stated that: “Due to an editing error, a sentence in an earlier version of this story implied that the prime minister of Pakistan controlled an offshore company that appeared in the Panama Papers files. It is his children who control the offshore companies.”

Approves ToRs, rejects opposition demand for their redrafting; hails ICIJ correction as vindication

It is worth noting that since the Panamagate controversy broke, no one — either in the two houses of parliament, or the mainstream media — has suggested that the prime minister directly controlled any offshore firms.

After the news was shared, the meeting turned into something out of a royal Mughal court from antiquity, where the emperor’s advisers would try their best to make the rulers feel at ease.

A participant in the meeting said that everyone, including Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, Commerce Minister Khur­ram Dastagir, Minister of State for Religious Affairs Amin Ul Hasnat Shah, CADD Minister Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry and Inter-Provi­ncial Coordina­tion Minister Riaz Hussain Pirz­ada, took turns to praise the great leadership of the prime minister and appreciated his decision to offer himself up for accountability.

“Mr prime minister, there is nothing in the Panama leaks to worry about now, after the ICIJ clarification and your decision to write to the chief justice,” remarked a cabinet member.

Another quipped, “Sir, the opposition is just beating about the bush because they have nothing concrete against you.”

A third one commented, “Our government and party have reached a level of popularity where no one can beat us in next general elections.”

Getting carried away, one of the ministers even called for taking the ICIJ to the International Court of Justice for maligning the prime minister.

It was then, another participant in the sitting confided to Dawn, that the prime minister realised that too much time had been wasted idling, and decided to get down to business.

He said that the opposition parties, especially the PTI, were being jittery because of his government’s progress. “Come the next general elections in 2018, the country will have enough electricity and gas, and massive infrastructural developments based on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.”

But cautioning his team, the PM asked members of the federal cabinet to reach out to the masses as he was doing, and said that they needed to explain the government’s development agenda to the people.

“To win an election, we have to work hard in our remaining two years,” the PM was quoted as saying.

The PM said the government intended to increase allocation for the PSDP in the upcoming budget to Rs800 billion, to further speed up the pace of development.

The meeting also expressed satisfaction over the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the proposed judicial commission and rejected the opposition parties’ demand for their reformulation.

The official statement, issued after the meeting, said, “The federal cabinet strongly condemns the baseless allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif levelled by ICIJ; which they themselves now acknowledged as a journalistic mistake.”

The federal cabinet, while reposing full confidence in the leadership of the prime minister, the statement said, had appreciated his decision to present himself and his family for accountability before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The cabinet “further expressed its resolve that the PML-N and the people of Pakistan would not allow a few regressive opportunists to sabotage Pakistan’s strides towards development and prosperity”.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2016