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Opposition move for Panama leaks probe defeated

By Hassan Belal Zaidi 2017-05-17
ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday used its majority in the National Assembly to defeat an opposition bill seeking investigations against all Pakistanis named in the Panama Papers leaks about of fshore wealth.

The Panama Papers Inquiries Bill 2016 was first tabled before the Senate in September last year. Piloted by Opposition Leader in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan and 37 other movers, it was passed in December amid uproar in the mostly disciplined upper house of parliament.

But when the bill was introduced before the National Assembly by Pakistan Peoples Party`s (PPP) Azra Fazal Pechuho, it drew instant opposition from Law Minister Zahid Hamid.

`This bill pertains to the Panama Papers inquiry commission which [the opposition] wanted to set up right in the beginning. This is what the talks [between the government and opposition] were about. An agreement couldn`t be reached on this; finally the matter went up to the Supreme Court, which has already given a verdict,` he said.`This is clearly redundant and infructuous. The logical thing to do would be to withdraw it, unless you want it rejected,` he said, as a parting shot.

But Ms Pechuho was adamant. `The court has only discussed one case from the Panama Papers leaks, which pertained to the prime minister. We want a commission to investigate all those who are named.

PPPleaderNaveedQamar said no institution in the country, be it the FederalBoard of Revenue or the National Accountability Bureau, had pursued the matter.

`Unfortunately, the government is so afraid of the word `Panama`, they will reject anything, whether it pertains to the prime minister or not,` he said.

He argued that the bill would be redundant if the government had conducted an inquiry against all those who were named in the Panama Papers and had exonerated the innocent and prosecuted the guilty.

`Why is it that you do not want any investigation to take place under any other authority as long as it has to do with [the Panama Papers]?` he asked.

He also disputed the minister`s view that the Supreme Court had already given a verdict, saying thata joint investigation team was formed because the court had no conndence in any inquiry commission that would have been set up by the government.

This viewpoint was supported by most other opposition parties. In fact, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf`s (PTI) Shireen Mazari reminded the government that it had itself volunteered to investigate all those named in the Panama Papers. `Why are they backtracking now?` she asked.

But when it came up for a vote, the majority of the treasuryoverruledthecries of the opposidon and the bill was rejected.

Since the bill had already been passed by the Senate, it can now only be taken up by a joint sitting of both houses, but only if the Senate chairman writes to the president and makes this request.

News probe The opposition also demanded that the government lay before parliament the report of the committee constituted to investigate the source of a Dawn story and inquired how the `national security breach` had been plugged.

Opposition members, who had prioritised debate on reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas over this issue on Monday, sought time f rom the deputy speaker to discuss it at the outset of the session.

PTI lawmakers, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Ms Mazari, called upon the government to clarify whether the story was `false and concocted` or its contents were correct.

Ms Mazari asked how the issue could be resolved behind closed doors, once the interior minister and the corps commanders had dubbed it `a national security breach`.

Mr Umar questioned the rationale behind the actions taken on the basis of the inquiry report, asking under what law the erstwhile information minister or principal information officer could have stopped the story from being published.

`What have Dawn, its editor or Cyril Almeida done wrong that their case has been referred to the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS)?` he asked.

He also took issue with the way things were `settled`.`The DG, ISPR, has no authority to say the matter is settled; parliament will decide when things are settled,` he said.

`This is a serious matter and the public wants answers,` the PPP`s Naveed Qamar said. `Simply saying that the DG, ISPR, has withdrawn his tweet is no explanation. How do you think you can govern without answering to the National Assembly?` Apparently on the basis of old photos being circulated on social media, Mr Qureshi also questioned the presence of Tariq Fatemi whose portfolio of special assistant on foreign affairs was withdrawn over his alleged role in the matter in China alongside the prime minister and his high-powered delegation. Minister of State for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb, in a statement, expressed her disappointment with PTI leaders having `irresponsibly shared this misinformation`.