Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Aug 17, 2016

Panama commission conundrum Finance Minister Ishaq Dar seems to have mounted a fresh effort to persuade the opposition, the PPP in particular, to cooperate in getting the stalled inquiry commission on the Panama leaks off the ground. In this regard, he reportedly recently met Asif Zardari in Dubai and has now followed that up with a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA) Syed Khursheed Shah. To end the stalemate on the commission and its Terms of Reference (ToRs), Dar asked Khursheed Shah to agree a date for the meeting of the parliamentary committee to prepare mutually agreed ToRs for the inquiry commission. Khursheed Shah circumspectly responded by saying he would give his response in a day or two after consulting the Senate Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan and other opposition allies. Aitzaz has been the party’s leading light in insisting that the probe must begin with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. Dar later addressed the media to say that the meeting with Khursheed Shah had been on the one-point agenda of discussing the draft of the government’s bill, The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2016, in view of the opposition’s demand for a specific law under which the commission would investigate those owning offshore companies. The new Act is meant to replace the existing Inquiry Commissions Act 1956, which the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali categorised as “toothless” while rejecting the government’s proposed ToRs and asking for new legislation to empower the proposed commission. While this response of the CJP strengthened the opposition’s hand as it endorsed their demand for fresh legislation, Dar advocated the new and improved draft of the proposed bill. Dar also explained that since there was no convener of the 12-member parliamentary committee that has equal representation of the treasury and opposition, the government had to approach the Speaker NA or the opposition leader to agree a date for the meeting. The parliamentary committee has not met since June when, after a series of its meetings, the opposition decided not to hold further negotiations after the government’s refusal to accept its ToRs. Last month, the Speaker NA’s intervention had produced an agreement to meet on August 9, but it had to be postponed because of the Quetta attack on August 8. The main sticking point in the ToRs has remained the insistence of the opposition that the Panama probe must begin with the prime minister and his family. After the deadlock, the opposition parties separately have moved references before the NA Speaker and the Election Commission of Pakistan seeking the disqualification of the prime minister and his family for allegedly concealing assets abroad and details of taxes. The government’s fresh effort to break through the logjam on the Panama affair seems motivated by a number of developments after the negotiations broke down. First and foremost, the government wants to wean the PPP away from its recent flirtation with the PTI. The PPP in the past, especially during Imran Khan’s months-long Islamabad sit-in, had stood by the government’s side on the basis that they were defending the democratic system. But of late the PPP has been alienated by the government’s actions against and statements about the party and its government in Sindh, particularly Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s railings against the party’s leadership. Although the PPP’s attempt to sail in the same boat as the PTI and the rest of the opposition has not been smooth, it seems to have finally dawned on the government that the costs of alienating the PPP far outweigh any actual or perceived benefits. Second, now that Imran Khan has once more embarked on a series of protest rallies and sit-ins and intends to move the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif, it becomes even more imperative for the government to once again win back the PPP to at least a defence of democracy, which in the obtaining situation obviously helps the ruling PML-N. Whether the fresh government initiative will succeed or not only time will tell. But there now seems no escape from a Panama leaks inquiry after the necessary legislation is passed and provided the two sides of the political divide agree on what have proved contentious ToRs.

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