Back to square one on Panama commission

Back to square one on Panama commission

ISLAMABAD: The Panamagate controversy took a new turn on Friday when the Supreme Court returned the federal government’s request to appoint a judicial commission to investigate the Panama Papers leaks.

“Formation of commission of inquiry under the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 1956 (Act VI of 1956), looking to its limited scope, will result in the constitution of a toothless commission, which will serve no useful purpose, except giving bad name to it,” said a communication sent to the law secretary by Supreme Court registrar Arbab Mohammad Arif.

“The Supreme Court response has not surprised me,” said Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Ali Zafar, adding that he had been stressing that the government should prepare unanimous terms of reference (ToR) in consultation with the opposition parties instead of sticking to its proposed terms.

And for this purpose, he said, the SCBA was ready to act as a mediator between the government and the opposition parties and provide its platform to get benefit from the association’s know-how in legal matters in reaching a consensus ToR.

Any delay in ending the controversy would cast serious doubts as if the government was trying to hide something which might expose it to further discomfort, the SCBA chief said.

But the government seemed adamant and unmoved. In an official response, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid shifted the entire blame on the opposition, saying that in the wake of propaganda launched by opposition leaders such a reply by the Supreme Court was but natural.

SC rejects govt request, says the probe body set up under the 1956 law will be ‘toothless’

Talking to Dawn, he said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would take parliament into confidence on Monday by disclosing the ‘real side’ of the story with complete details and also suggest a way forward so that the nation could know the facts instead of believing in the ‘spin’ being given by the opposition.

Referring to the registrar’s letter, the minister said the government’s legal experts were examining it and would come up with an appropriate response. But he insisted the inquiry commission would be constituted at any cost and the government would emerge victorious.

Since the appointment of the commission was purely a legal issue, he said, the opposition should avoid issuing controversial statements and maintain dignity of the highest judiciary by not politicising it.

Mr Rashid accused the opposition of changing goal posts and said the government believed in transparent accountability and was ready to sit with the opposition for a consensus ToR.

In its reply, which legal experts believe amounts to turning down the government’s request, the Supreme Court has held the terms of reference sent by the government as “wide and open ended” that may take years for the commission to close its proceedings.

Soon after the prime minister’s televised address to the nation on April 22, the government had written a letter to Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, requesting him to appoint a three-man commission under Section 3(1) of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956.

Along with the letter, the government had also issued a notification spelling out ToR which required examination of information relating to the involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in offshore companies in Panama as well as involvement of former and present holders of public office in writing off their own bank loans or those of their immediate family members through political influence and transfer from Pakistan of funds which have originated from corruption, commission or kickbacks.

But in its reply the Supreme Court explained that before forming any opinion as to the formation of the requisite commission of inquiry, it was necessary to have the list of all individuals, families, groups, companies, etc, with their total number, along with some relevant particulars against whom purported inquiry proceedings are to be held under the ToR.

The reply also mentioned the need for some legislation before the setting up of the commission. “Unless such information and particulars are provided and the issue of formation of commission under some proper legislation is reconsidered and resolved, no final response to your letter can be furnished,” it added.

According to senior counsel Chaudhry Faisal Hussain, the Supreme Court has suggested to the government to act seriously in the wake of the current crisis which, according to the court, cannot be resolved within the powers given under the 1956 inquiry commission law.

He called for enacting a proper law to give the requisite authority to the commission, especially when the Supreme Court had narrowed down the scope of the inquiry.


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