By Mohammad Kamran Khan.
The Panama Papers saga has put all the stakeholders of the case on the horns of a perpetual dilemma. The ruling Sharif family, their close aids, the opposition parties, politicians in general and all other big wigs whose names are in the Panama Papers are mulling over the Shakespeare’s Hamlet dilemma: ‘to be or not to be; that is the question’.
Being in the helm of affairs and runners of the state government, Sharif family is the primary and main accused mentioned in Panama Leaks. Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not directly owe any liability in this case yet being the King, he is answerable to public as he is custodian of the public exchequer and national kitty. The liability of being answerable before the general public in people’s court compels Nawaz Sharif to present himself before accountability. And so he did. But the dilemma is, if he evades an independent probe it will be assumed that he is prone to save his children – Hussain Nawaz and Maryam Safdar. The former has accepted and acknowledged the ownership of offshore company but he does not possess any public office, however latter is stated to be in a fix as documents reveal offshore company in her name and she is virtually running the affairs of state as de facto crown princess. She lives and runs her office in the Prime Minister House. Nevertheless Nawaz Sharif is in a state of fix. If he announces an independent probe there are strong chances of adverse findings against him and his family members. Any attempt to hush up the facts by setting up a frail inquiry tribunal to get exonerated will be out rightly rejected by the opposition. Another difficulty is that even a positive and good-intent move by the Prime Minister will be discerned with doubt and suspicion, as an accused has no legal or moral authority to announce a jury to get adjudicated his own scandal. So the inquiry tribunal by a retired judge or by an investigative expert will always be criticized by one or the other. Similarly any government agency whether it is Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) or Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), will not be acceptable to conduct a fair probe in this case for being dependent on the government. The chairman FBR and the Director General of the FIA do not enjoy an independent status or authority for being the direct appointees of the Prime Minister.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) enjoys the original jurisdiction to deal with such cases of white collar crime however this Bureau lacks the expertise to probe a case involving 11.5 million documents and a digital data worth 2.6 terabytes. Truly speaking no national agency can do this gigantic task. It requires hectic forensic audit, a thorough investigation and keen perusal of record, besides assistance and cooperation of national and offshore agencies to get verified the allegations and accusations. NAB is already overburdened of cases and is unable to undergo this gigantic task without additional and external help. The only edge with the NAB is that it enjoys an independent status and even superior courts of the country have no jurisdiction to intervene the investigations of NAB. (Superior courts can be moved against NAB investigation only at the appellate stage). Moreover, the Chairman NAB also enjoys a security of his term. He cannot be removed or sacked by Prime Minister or by President but by invoking the jurisdiction of Supreme Judicial Council under Article 209 of the Constitution. There is no other way to dismiss the head of the Accountability Bureau. But this Bureau has also lost its credibility in the eyes of general public as proceedings of accountability had been misused for political victimization in the past. Hence Prime Minister’s case in NAB will be discerned as political victimization or marred by conflict of interest so far as Nawaz Sharif is wearing the King’s crown.
Much hue and cry has been made by the opposition parties but the other side of the picture shows that anti-Nawaz politicians just want to use Panama Papers for gaining political mileage and not willing to see an independent probe. Reason is obvious, they too have wealth in offshore companies and an across the board accountability will be potentially enough to engulf them. They are beating the trumpets only to the extent of exerting more and more pressure on Nawaz regime but real accountability is also a nightmare for them. In the political realm birds of a feather have flocked together. They chant against each other but afraid of the hunter. They know very well that after every game of chess king and the pawn go into the same box.
Another domain for getting this scam adjudicated is judiciary. Many a political parties have demanded a probe by a bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan. The accused rulers do not want to resort to that remedy knowing the independence of Supreme Court. Only a judge can be relied upon for the impartiality and non-biased nature. Question arises as to why the government not going to avail that forum. The answer is obvious; risk cannot be taken for any uncertainty. The government used a media group to plant a concocted news wherein the Supreme Court was stated to have denied provision of judges for the conduct of Panama Papers scandal. Purpose of this news was to generate a mass impression that Panama papers scandal will not be accepted by the Supreme Court for adjudication. This concocted news item appeared as headlines in two major national dailies. But the very next day the Registrar of the Supreme Court contradicted the news as baseless. Despite the government’s unwillingness to move Supreme Court, the jurisdiction of the apex court is open for public interest litigation under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. A constitutional petition to this effect was filed by an advocate of the Supreme Court. However, the Registrar office leveled objections against the maintainability of the petition. However Registrar’s objections will be decided by the court and it is very likely that this mega scam will be brought to the Supreme Court; and then court will either refer the scam to the NAB or pass an order to the government for setting up a judicial commission. Unless this whole procedure is routed through the apex judiciary, the barrage of objections by different quarters and relevant stakeholders will not stop.
The status of Panama Papers prospective probe is changing and getting twists day by day. Competent retired judges do not want to taint their repute in political cauldron. That is why a number of former judges have refused to head the investigation. Those who are willing are not acceptable to opposition or other stakeholders. NAB itself is reluctant to take on this gigantic task and test of credibility. The military establishment is eager to see an across the board accountability just to take the credit and help maintain the legacy of transparency and good governance. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif advocated in clear terms the regime of indiscriminate accountability. The recent conviction of dismissal from services of top army officers including a Lieutenant General, Major General and Brigadiers is a vivid example and a loud and clear message to the rulers that no one is sacred cow in the state of financial and authoritative affairs. Everyone is accountable. Be it a General, a Brigadier, a Prime Minister or his children. Like charity, accountability too begins at home. Army chief has broken the taboo of unaccountable top brass. Now it is your turn Mr. Prime Minister.
The writer is Islamabad based Journalist and Senior Political Analyst.
He can be reached at; www.facebook.com/kamranrwp