Way out from Panama crisis
THE Panama disclosure and the following cries for checks on illegal money have started a renewed process of accountability in the countries where the names of politicians and leading public figures were mentioned in the leaked papers. Yes, hacking the accounts of the Foneca law firm was illegal but it did serve a noble cause– namely to correct tax evasion and whitewashing of ill-gotten money that HAS been indirectly allowed by the laws that couldn’t prevent it, because the same set of ruling elite had articulated changes in laws under cover of so-called economic reforms that proved detrimental for the health of the nation.
While internationally activities and processes are under way worldwide to deal with the outfall of the leaks and to get to the owners of illegal wealth. In Pakistan the same leaks have created what we call a ‘storm in the tea cup’ with loud shouting and accusations of everybody who feels implicated against all others as if a new accusation against somebody else would help to get myself cleared or if the fact that others are doing the same thing would make my action less illegal. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finds himself in the middle of the Panama crisis not because he is the only one named in the leaked papers (or at least his children what comes to the same under Pakistani joint family system) but because he is the Prime Minister and that for the third time under a western parliamentary democracy where collective responsibility of parliament rules.
Corruption and nepotism has rightly been called the worst feature of the Pakistani state and the society that is running that state. The initiative of the Pakistan army under COAS General Raheel Sharif has rightly censured this fact and – understanding the importance of ‘leading from the front’- has gone ahead and started accountability within his own institution of army. This is the spirit that we need! But such spirit that implied bravery and disregard for the own importance but a feeling of humility implying that ‘I am a person like anybody else, no special exemptions apply’ is missing in our politicians. General Raheel has that feeling, Nawaz Sharif doesn’t and perhaps considers or claims himself from wealthy aristocratic background hence he and his family has immunity. Flight of capital from Pakistan was dream of Sharif’s to their safe heavens that in july 1992 a law called “Protection of Economic Reforms Act was got passed that turned this dream into reality allowing freedom to bring, hold, sell and take out foreign exchange claiming immunity from any future inquiry, but this law was also violated and scrapped by Nawaz Sharif in 1998 by freezing all foreign currency accounts unlawfully.
Reports are that millions of dollars were transfered in ficticious accounts and Apartment No. 17 at 118 Parklane was acquired through Nescol in june 1993, then in 1996 three adjoining flats at Parklane were also acquired. The question arises here that who opened and operated these ficticious accounts and paid money to who while acquiring properties from previous owners. In 2006 reports are that these properties again changed ownership when Nescol transfered them to Minerva co. It needs to be investigated who held ownership of these off-shore companies.
Having past experience of investigating white collar crimes, in my opinion if will is there, it is an open and shut case to reach the bottom of corruption. A similar case of Sharif’s was investigated by me in FACC (Federal Anti-Corruption Committee) about shady deals to acquire “Bird Lodge” at Kashmir/Hall Road, Muree in 1994 starting from the time when he was Finance Minister, Panjab on the basis of questionable power of attorney obtained from Mst. Mumtaz Jehan Qureshi on 12-5-1985, and deal was matured/gifted to Sharif family in 1992 when he was elected PM. Few more identical cases were also investigated where motive was to acquire J&K State property on which PM Junejo had imposed ban in 1986 on its sale/transfer in Lahore at Haveli Dhyan Singh, Said Mitha Bazar, Lahore for constructing a degree college in the constituency of Mian Shahbaz Sharif.
Now Prime Minister is surprising us with the statement that he has already taken the nation into confidence over his assets. Well, how come? Does he refer to his ‘address to the nation’ where he was whining that he is all falsely implicated? Even the much touted ToR’s are an eyewash. In his letter to the Chief Justice he asked for investigation into corruption of each and everybody going back till the foundation of Pakistan under the Inquiry Act of 1965, the scope of which is not clear to me. The fact remains that successive rulers have introduced and enacted new laws claiming that the existing laws have protected the corrupt instead of eliminating corruption.
Corruption has existed from the beginning among government servants and at the time of the inception of Pakistan laws were promulgated to fight against it: those laws called “Prevention of corruption Act of 1947” (Act No.II of 1947) then Pakistan Special Police Establishment Ordinance of 1948 (Ordinance No.VIII of 1948) Public Servants Inquiries Act of 1950, Pakistan Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1958 (Act No. XI of 1958), Government Servants (Efficiency and Discipline) Rules 1960 and Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1964 existed but were never implemented.
Not satisfied with these laws President Ayub Khan noticed increasing complaints of corruption in the public services and in September 1966 the President appointed a special committee to formulate recommendations for eradication from all spheres of public service under S. Fida Hussain as Chairman with Establishment Secretary, Chief Secretaries of East and West Pakistan, Secretary Home & Kashmir affair, and I.G, Pakistan Special Police Establishment as Member/Secretary of committee submitted a nearly 80 page report.
In 1986-7 under extension of Prime Ministers executive powers the Federal Anti-Corruption Committee with General (Majeed Malik (Retd) was installed, soon after that Mr. Junejo’s government was sent packing under 58 (2) b, FACC was twice re-activated in 1989 and 1993 with Malik Mohammad Qasim as its Chairman. Then Nawaz Sharif enacted Ehtesab Act of 1997, which was superseded by NAB Ordinance of 1999.
Now Nawaz Sharif is PM for the third time and is implicated in corruption again. And instead of coming out clean once he is looking for an exit again. In his letter to the Chief Justice Nawaz Sharif asked for investigation into corruption of each and everybody going back till the foundation of Pakistan. But that would take years if not decades and would not serve the purpose: to clear a sitting government from the being in corruption and thus not credible any more. There is a wisdom in the saying that ‘the fish stinks always from its head’.
The need of the hour is first clear the Prime Ministers family and its government so that it can carry on governing the country credibly. The creditability of the Prime Minister has been lost even if he doesn’t want to know that. And it is also clear that accountability would be difficult if not impossible when the FIA and NAB are under the influence of the sitting Prime Minister. We have seen this in the past. Transparency and Accountability cannot succeed under the umbrella of this so-called political democratic government, to make it meaningful and across the board accountable an Independent Commission with a senior citizen of impeccable character with full powers to summon all and sundry to appear and clear the allegations is an essential requirement.
Panama investigation in my view can succeed only if prosecution is under the commission to prepare the charges and facts of the case and onus to prove innocence rests with the accused. Respondent should provide fool proof evidence of the legitimacy of all transactions including complete trail of money reaching into Off-shore accounts or properties to ascertain previous ownership and its present ownership.
The best way would be that he and his cabinet would resign for the time the investigation is underway and a caretaker government of technocrats would run the affairs until the allegations are cleared, even replace all divisional and Sector heads from driving seats so as to make sure no undue obstacles are put in the way of accountability process of this Commission. When the sitting Prime Minister and his government is cleared investigations in a second step can reach out to all the others. This way is a respectable and dignified way of working for the Prime Minister of Iceland and it should be able to work for our Prime Minister as well. This would be the real meaning of accountability, transparency and honesty towards Pakistan and its people. God bless Pakistan and Humanity. —The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.