Panama Leaks & accountability

Sultan M Hali

THE case of Panama documents being released to the world has raised a furor in Pakistan as well as the countries where the political leadership was implicated in the financial scandal. The masses in some of the nations affected have forced their leadership to render their resignations but not so in Pakistan. Here the opposition is bent upon dragging the ruling dispensation into the dock while the rulers are adamant they have committed no wrong.
The case becomes murkier with the disclosure that some members of the opposition bench too are also guilty of the same crime. The onus of responsibility to resolve the issue overwhelmingly lies on the PM and time is the key factor to the outcome of the current political imbroglio – the longer it persists and more intense it becomes. It would be best for the PML-N government to curtail its tempo and find a way out soon.
Though the PM is not directly mentioned in the Panama documents, his addresses to the nation explaining his own position followed by PML-N top leaders jumping into the fray, has further complicated the controversy. A golden opportunity was available to Nawaz Sharif to take the issue by its horns and recommend measures to investigate the accusations as well as ask the parliament to frame fresh legislation to resolve the matter. It may be remembered that the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) was sent a note to form a commission to investigate the charges of corruption and wrongdoing but the CJP responded that fresh legislation was required to empower the judiciary to investigate the politicians.
The Prime Minister squandered the prospect of dealing with the accusations squarely during his address to the Parliament by once again resorting to a tirade of how his family gathered wealth instead of concentrating on jointly evolving a plan of action to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, the opposition too seemed to be in disarray. Instead of grilling the Prime Minister for his lack of transparency in responding to the seven questions fielded by the opposition, they chose to walk out of the Parliament. The government benches thus claimed victory.
Pakistan, which is beset by myriad problems of a dwindling economy, acute power shortage, terror attacks, lawlessness, unemployment and lack of educational and health facilities, cannot afford a political turmoil at this stage. The ruling dispensation, the PML-N needs not to adopt a flippant attitude towards the opposition as it is unlikely that the impact of the Panama leaks will fade away. The current situation is different from what it was when the PTI launched its 2014 sit-in. The PM should take cognizance of the ground realities, where all the political parties and religious groups if rally together to challenge the PML-N, can derail the government.
Opposition’s current stance towards the form and function of the proposed inquiry commission and its ToRs are not unreasonable. Due to some inherent shortcomings, the Act VI of 1956 doesn’t adequately empower an inquiry commission to thoroughly probe and conclusively determine any complex question or an issue like a probe in the case of Panama Papers revelations. The government should now form an inquiry commission on lines of General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015 after finalizing its ToRs in consultation with the opposition.
Another dimension of the current political situation is the growing strain in civil-military relations in the backdrop of perceived anti-military propaganda suspected to be floated by the federal government echelons. The army chief’s statement calling for an end to corruption altogether and the announcement of punitive action against senior army officers are viewed by PML-N loyalists as pressure tactics against the government.
The government’s fight for survival will compromise its efforts to address the issues of internal security. The agenda for Madrassah reforms and societal mobilization for countering extremism and terrorism will be put on the back-burner because PML-N would not like to isolate itself from strong and influential religious segments at this very moment. Let us examine two resolutions by PPP and PTI, which are being moved in the National Assembly to amend the National Accountability Ordinance-1999. Whereas the PTI amendments aim at strengthening the existing ordinance, the PPP desires to limit the ordinance jurisdiction to the federal government only perhaps because the PPP is ruling Sind and its cupboard is full of skeletons.
If the PPP amendment were to be adopted, it would make the entire accountability process dysfunctional. Whatever little deterrent exists against corruption would be lifted. Provincial accountability mechanisms are likely to be politically aligned and while protecting own party members/ supporters would target the opponents. The amendment is ill-timed and is likely to encourage corruption rather than curbing it. On the other hand, if the PTI’s proposed amendments for election of Chairman NAB, end of plea bargain, abolishing of discretionary powers of Chairman to pardon accused are adopted, the legislation would greatly strengthen the accountability ordinance. The proposed amendments of PTI which if adopted – would greatly improve the accountability process.
The ball is back in the court of the Parliamentarians from both sides of the divide. The Treasury benches would like to defend their beleaguered leader while the opposition would like nothing better than to see the downfall of the house of Sharif. The matter must be resolved within the parliament by invoking the powers of the house to formulate laws or amend the existing ones to have across the board accountability. A leaf may be taken out of the Army’s book, which has resorted to cleaning its own house and has not spared even three and two star serving Generals, found culpable of corruption.
If the opposition were to resort to the use of street power, it would weaken the already frail democracy, provide opportunities to miscreants and terror mongers to target the unprotected protestors in the street and wane the confidence of foreign investors. The process of accountability must include even those politicians who are in the opposition. After all what is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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