ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties in parliament demanded on Monday wide-ranging investigations into the allegations thrown up by the Panama Papers leak by a special commission formed under the aegis of the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) and international audit firms.
At the same time, the two main opposition parties — PPP and PTI — also warned the government to take the issue seriously, otherwise, they reserved the right of protest, which could prove fatal to the existing system.
National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq suspended the agenda of the sitting after agreeing to the opposition’s demand for a special discussion on the Panama Papers leak.
Khursheed asks how PM could take his wealth out of Pakistan; Imran responds to Asif’s jibes
Kick-starting the debate, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah asked the government not to sweep the issue under the carpet by setting up a one-member judicial commission. “For me, the question is not one of legal or illegal money, but rather how the family of a prime minister, whose job is to bring investment to the country, had taken their wealth outside,” he said, adding that whether the money was shifted through legal or unlawful means was a question for later.
Rejecting the commission announced by the PM, the PPP leader said, “We demand forensic investigations through some reputable international firm, because a retired or serving judge cannot do much on this subject.”
After Mr Shah, it was the turn of Khawaja Mohammad Asif, who presented the case of his leader, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. During his remarks, he kept taking personal potshots at PTI chief Imran Khan. However, he kept repeating that he didn’t want to “vitiate the atmosphere of the house”, but continued to do just that. How can a party, whose leader has no control over their candidates, criticise the government, he asked, referring to the defection of a Karachi-based PTI candidate on the eve of the by-elections.
“It’s like a bride running away on her wedding night,” was Mr Asif’s taunt. But he didn’t stop there, adding, somewhat distastefully, “The PTI leader doesn’t seem to have control on so many other things”.
Admonishing party backbenchers who tried to taunt Mr Khan, the defence minister said, “I alone am enough for them,” before reminding the PTI chairman how he had ridiculed Sheikh Rashid on TV before publicly embracing him.
Instead of responding to the criticism of the PM and his family in the wake of the leaks, the minister spent most of his speech describing how Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital (SKMCH) had misused charity money by investing in off-shore companies. In response to the opposition’s queries on the judicial commission, Mr Asif said the government would try its best to address them when it announces the commission’s terms of reference.
It seemed to dawn on the PTI chief, after hearing what the treasury benches had to offer, that he should come to the house more often to respond to the banter of ministers.
In an articulate speech, Mr Khan responded to the defence minister’s jibes and also laid his argument before the house.
“Mr Speaker, it is my right as the leader of an opposition party to speak on issues that are of critical importance. But the way the minister has used un-parliamentary language against me, which you have allowed, this is not what parliament is meant for,” he said.
He implored the house not to cast aspersions on SKMCH, which he said was the only cancer treatment hospital in the country. “The hospital board keeps its money in foreign banks because it needs to buy medicine and machinery from abroad. If the hospital has done something wrong, then you as the government must take action. The hospital has everything on the record.”
Panama leaks should have been used as an opportunity to address problems such as tax evasion, money laundering and concealment of assets, Mr Khan argued. “Nobody from the opposition leaked the Panama Papers; it was an international consortium of journalists. Then why is the government criticising the opposition?”
He demanded that a commission with special powers be constituted under the CJP to conduct a forensic audit of the evidence that has been made public so far. He also offered himself and SKMCH up for accountability, saying that they should start the inquiry with him. He warned that if a commission that was unacceptable to the opposition was formed to investigate the matter, “I will be on the roads again”.
Later, speaking to the press outside Parliament House, Mr Khan said that this time, he would take his long march to Raiwind instead of D-Chowk.