After 56 days of nerve-breaking wait, the Supreme Court announced its judgement in Panama case. The 3-2 decision saved the sitting Prime Minister from disqualification. Now a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will have to conduct an investigation within 60 days and file a fortnightly report to the Supreme Court. Both PML-N and Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) declared it as “victory”. The verdict by two senior members of the bench that Nawaz Sharif is no longer eligible to hold the office will have repercussions for the incumbent prime minister in days to come.
In the day-to-day herculean hearings for 26 days in the case: Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi v Mian Nawaz Sharif & 9 Others [CP No. 29 of 2016], the moot question was the trail of investment outside Pakistan and income declarations in Pakistan of the family of the incumbent prime minister and his children. According to the three members of the bench, the evidence needs a further probe to authoritatively determine direct connections of prime minister with any business or property outside Pakistan.
It is worthwhile to mention that even before the case was taken up by the Supreme Court – earlier petition was declared as frivolous by the Registrar – there were multiple legal battles in Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) between rival politicians of PTI and PML-N for disqualification on various allegations. During the pendency of the same, cognizance of the issue as public interest litigation surprised the vast majority of legal experts.
Unfortunately, the politicians failed to realise that purging politics from corruption, tax evasion, political loan sharking and plundering of national wealth required systemic solutions and not legal battles. The decision of apex court will not have any consequences for purging the politics of money power. The Supreme Court, at best, can remove the corrupt individual (s) but cannot remove the causes of corruption.
One thing that has clearly emerged so far is that as long as state institutions remain subservient to rulers of the day, we cannot effectively check corruption and plundering of national wealth.
All over the world, the main issue arising from Panama Papers is the lack of moral standards for those who represent people and hold public offices. They cannot and should not hide their financial matters behind laws of secrecy and privileges. In this context, it is necessary for all the elected representatives, not just the Prime Minister alone, to come forthwith and make public sources funding their luxurious lives.
Most of the elected members have a fleet of expensive cars and palatial bungalows. These are either not shown in their asset declarations or claimed to have been received as gifts in declarations filed before ECP. Many elected representatives have an army of servants and guards. They must tell the public who are the donors of gifts that fund their luxuries. Such donors are certainly not doing so as charity! Many members own huge agricultural lands and have investments in industrial units like sugar, textile and paper mills. Many have properties outside Pakistan. Any elected member, who is the beneficiary of “wealth” and “gifts” from family members or friends at home or abroad, must explain the sources and modes of these “financial favours”. This is the requirement of various laws like Representation of People Act, 1976 and Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.
In the wake of Panama case judgement, the assets of politicians, generals, judges and high-ranking civil officers should also be made public on priority basis vis-à-vis their tax returns. The chairmen of NAB, FBR, Director General of FIA, and Governor SBP should also explain to the public the reasons behind the inefficiency of their respective organisations in countering unlawful outflows/inflows, tax evasion and corruption.
It is an incontrovertible fact that Pakistan is a unique case where the state, instead of combating corruption, sponsors and patronises all kinds of undesirable practices. Pakistan is a victim of reverse capital flows and capital flights due to policies of appeasement by successive governments towards the corrupt and criminals.
The ultimate cynicism that afflicts a society is the acceptance of corruption as a way of life. Pakistan cannot progress unless the foundations of corruption are destroyed. For this, it is necessary to forfeit all benami assets in favour of the state. Immunities and amnesties for criminals, plunderers of the national wealth and tax-evaders must be abandoned without any further delay.
The majority of the members of Parliament have declared shamelessly low incomes as evident from tax directories for 2013, 2014 and 2015 published by FBR. The elected members, politicians, public officeholders, bureaucrats, generals and judges should be investigated by an independent commission, comprising experts and men of impeccable integrity. This process alone will ensure true accountability in Pakistan and not a mere judgement in any case by the Supreme Court.
The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @drikramulhaq