Panama Papers – how to investigate by Abdul Q Kundi

There is a famous axiom when there is will there is a way. It seems there is no will in PML N, PPP and PTI to investigate Panama Paper leaks that is the reason they can’t find a viable option to start it. The reason is obvious there are people in the list that are directly or indirectly linked to these parties. There are also names of owners of big media companies. So they will keep confusing the nation until eventually the issue dies down or just a watered down steps are taken for face saving.

PML N and PPP were never considered crusaders against corruption rather considered facilitators of it. On the other hand PTI Chairman Imran Khan presented himself a person that will not compromise on eradicating corruption in 2013 general elections. He promised to finish big corruption in 9 days because in his view fish always rots from the head. But Imran Khan lost his moral authority when he could not achieve this feat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province where there are many stories of corruption emerging. Instead of standing firm on his resolve to fight corruption he allowed amendment to the Ehtisab Act and allowed DG Ehtisab Gen Hamid Khan to resign in retaliation of it. When we develop pressure inside the party Imran Khan backtracked and announced that amendments will be allowed to lapse and a new draft will be prepared that will go through proper process before adoption. Now we are asking him to share the draft of amendments for review but they refuse to do it so it is all done in secrecy and objective seems to be to protect some ministers in the cabinet.

Let us outline the issues emanating from Panama Leaks that has to be addressed before we discuss options available to us. There are two main issues. First that prime minister of Pakistan has abused his office to help his family gain financially and used undeclared assets to fund these companies sent via illegitimate means. Second that politicians, businessmen, judges and bureaucrats listed in the papers have evaded taxes through off shore companies. Based on these two issues the objective should be to punish tax evaders and amend laws to prevent future tax evasion and prevent evaders to gain political power.

So how can investigation be done and who will exert pressure for it? Civic organizations have to take the lead in this serious matter as it requires not just punishment of few but requires structural changes in our system. Political parties can’t lead as they are biased in pursuing this investigation. So far the government has proposed a Judicial Commission (JC) headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Imran Khan has demanded that JC should be headed by a sitting Chief Justice of Supreme Court (CJSC). Prominent lawyer Babar Sattar has argued that sitting CJ should not be dragged into this political matter because eventually some of these cases will land at the Supreme Court and that will be the right forum for them to address it. They cannot do it if they are themselves involved in the JC formed for this purpose. PPP offered a parliamentary committee headed by Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani. The proposal died its natural death when Raza Rabbani refused to be part of it. Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has proposed a task force that has international access. This is a non-starter because we can’t allow foreign powers to find a back door to influence our domestic issues. SCBA can form a task force that can help the JC. Some analysts are calling General Raheel to step forward and fix the system for the sake of saving the state. But they forget that it was Gen Musharraf as COAS who signed an NRO. Military as an institution does not have a moral, legal or constitutional authority to fix corruption rather in the past they have used files on politicians for political gains rather than to prosecute them.

Unfortunately chairman Imran Khan and Shah Mahmood Qureshi have not consulted anyone before taking position which is the reason they have to keep changing it. Majority of PTI want a judicial commission should be formed headed by a retired judge. Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany seems to have good reputation and experience in financial cases. His wife joined PML N during lawyer’s movement but later left. The other name that could be considered is Justice Jawwad S Khawaja. It does not matter who the judge is but he/she should be of good reputation and should have no connection with any political party. There is a false perception created that JCs in the past have failed. It is not true JCs have provided their findings and it was responsibility of politicians to implement it. It is like NAP where military and civilians agreed to take certain steps. Military is taking steps but civilians are hesitant for one reason or another.

The important aspect of the formation of the JC would be its terms of reference (TOR). The TOR should cover all individuals named in the Panama Papers but can classify them into three categories that is those with political positions; those that have political affiliations and those that are businessmen with no political affiliations. The JC should be allowed to use the services of the white collar crime division of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) but they should appoint a person that will work as a liaison to supervise this activity. The evidence collected by the JC should be made available to the public who can use it to file cases against politicians as well as require Advocate General to file cases. JC should also recommend amendments to the laws that can help fight tax evasion, money laundering and off shore companies.

Politicians should realize that people are much more aware now of all that they do in the corridors of power. Their inability to act to punish the corrupt and fix the system could risk continuity of the system. The probability of military takeover is low but the risk of violent public backlash is high. There is worldwide discontent against politicians and they are themselves to blame for it. Panama Papers leak is an opportunity to take some concrete steps in improving governance, wastage of national resources and increase trust between politicians and citizens.

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