It has almost become visceral with the incumbent governments to blame their predecessors for all the ills afflicting the economy and hurling unsubstantiated allegations of corruption on them with an ostensible purpose of presenting themselves as messiahs with a holy mission to fix everything under the sky. But unfortunately that narrative has invariably been used to initiate a process of witch-hunting and settling scores with the political opponents. Well orchestrated and calculated moves are unfurled to paint the opponents in the best possible dismal colours without having the spine to speak truth about things done by them in the national interest.
The effort is to portray them as an embodiment of terminal evil. That is exactly what is happening at the moment with PTI government and its stalwarts making strenuous efforts to portray the outgoing PML (N) government and its leaders as villains who destroyed the national economy through unprecedented corruption, though none has been established in the court of law. They are trying to make the people believe that they could not have done any good for the country. I am afraid they are totally wrong. No wonder Lahore High Court while granting bail to the accused including Shahbaz Sharif in Ashiana Housing Scheme and Saaf Pani Company cases maintained that NAB had acted with mala fide intent.
The PML (N) government might have made a number of mistakes but the fact remains that they made credible efforts to lift the economy out of the quagmire that it was stuck into in 2013 and when they left the GDP growth rate had risen to 5.9 % from the inherited 3% and the budgetary deficit had also been dragged down to 5.3 % from 8.4%. As regards tackling corruption, Transparency International in its consecutive reports acknowledged a nosedive in corruption in the public sector during the PML (N) rule. It also took a very wise decision to sign Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters with OECD in September 2016, which has already started showing dividends.
According to reports in the media, FBR recovered an estimated Rs.1.15 billion in taxes from concealed offshore assets owing to the assistance provided by OECD countries under that agreement. The Agreement became operational in December 2017. This recovery has been made on the basis of first batch of bulk information from OECD members in September 2018. I vividly remember a Federal Minister boasting about the fact that the PTI Government had obtained information from 20 countries about money illegally stashed abroad which earned a lot of embarrassment for him when he was reminded that the information had come under the agreement that the PML (N) Government had signed with OECD. The FBR has also initiated process to collect data from OECD countries for the second year as well and the process is to continue in the coming years. This has ensured that no Pakistani would be able to park his money outside or make investment abroad with the money raked up by tax evasion or earned through corruption. Anybody doing so would be automatically reported upon.
The Convention, to which 80 countries are signatories, is purported to facilitate global cooperation to combat tax evasion. The signing of the agreement testified to the commitment of the PML (N) Government to bring its tax system in line with the best global practices in the field of tax matters and be part of the multilateral fight against tax evasion. It removed the obstacles in getting information about untaxed money of Pakistani nationals stashed in foreign banks, including the money invested in the off-shore companies. The Federal Cabinet had authorized the Finance Minister to sign the Convention on August 31, 2013 much before the Panama leaks. The Convention is the most comprehensive global instrument against off-shore tax evasion and could become increasingly relevant in regards to Panama Leaks probe. Under the global pressure even Panama Government announced to sign the OECD Convention which would make it easier for an incisive probe into the Panama Leaks. It surely cleared the impediments to such an inquiry and gave a sound legal footing to Pakistan to have the matter investigated thoroughly, if so desired.
The FBR also raised Rs.120 billion in lieu of tax payments on local and offshore concealed asset under the amnesty scheme announced by the PML (N) government last year, which the PTI government is now trying to emulate convinced by the merits of the move under prevailing circumstances. These are irrefutable realities. There is no denying the fact that the rampant corruption is the bane of our socio-economic development and it is absolutely imperative to tackle this menace on a war-footing. The country needs an accountability mechanism whereby the politicians, generals, judges, bureaucrats as well as all those holding public office are accountable for their acts of omission and commission without any distinction or bias. There is no way corruption can be eliminated through selective accountability and witch-hunt of the political opponents. It requires systemic changes throug an inclusive consultative process that leads to required changes in the constitution and law. That is only possible with the cooperation of the opposition parties by removing the ambience of confrontation. Granted that Imran Khan is honest in eliminating corruption but he must understand that it could not be done through wishes only. He needs to heed the proverb’ If wishes were horses the fools would ride’.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.