Opposition targets only PM, our bill seeks accountability for all: Ishaq Dar

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Federal Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar on Friday criticised the opposition parties saying that they wanted to target only the prime minister while the government wanted to present a bill that seeks accountability for all.

He said the opposition parties were ready for tabling a PM-centric bill in the Senate for probing the PanamaLeaks. He said the government was still willing to sit with the opposition for evolving a consensus on a mutually-agreed bill despite this ground reality that the treasury and opposition benches had already tabled two separate bills in parliament.

Unveiling the salient features of the laid down Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Bill 2016 in the National Assembly on Friday, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid said that this proposed bill aimed at enhancing the powers of criminal court, powers to constitute special teams and seeks international cooperation and powers to issue letters of request to foreign judicial authorities for recording evidence.

“We did not want immunity for anyone but the opposition has unfortunately tabled a bill related to a probe into the PanamaLeaks with fixation on the PM and his family. We can still sit with the opposition to evolve a consensus on clubbing together one bill,” Dar said while addressing a news conference here at the Punjab House on Friday.

Flanked by four other ministers who were part of the ToRs committee including Minister for Law, Justice Zahid Hamid, Minister for Ports Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Minister for Housing Akram Durrani and Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rahman, Dar said the government wanted to probe all offshore companies, including non-Panama, but the opposition made the principle of exclusion to bring only Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif-specific ToRs and his family. Their political agenda was dictated by others but the minister did not specify who was behind this move.

To another query regarding the inability of state organs to probe the Panama Papers, the minister said that the FBR and State Bank of Pakistan were instructed to assist the upcoming commission but its establishment was delayed. He said the FBR had done its homework, which would be shared with the public soon.

He said that they could not bind parliament for passing this bill but if the opposition created hurdles in its way in the Upper House of Parliament, then a joint session could be convened to move ahead. Citing the example of PIA bill’s rejection by the Senate, he said that it was unfortunately rejected by them after which the government adopted the available constitutional path and in this case the government would adopt the same path.

He said the Terms of Reference (ToRs) committee could not evolve a consensus after the Supreme Court’s observation that the Inquiry Commission under 1956 Act was toothless so efforts were made to come up with an agreed draft to bring changes into it. The speaker National Assembly, he said, had fixed ToRs committee meeting on August 9, 2016 but a suicide attack occurred in Quetta on August 8 after which the scheduled meeting was postponed. Later, the opposition parties started giving statements arguing that there was no need of ToRs committee meeting anymore, he noted.

Keeping in view the apex court’s observation, the federal cabinet approved the Pakistan’s Commission of Inquiry Bill 2016 in order to replace the existing Inquiry Commission Act 1956 but the opposition also tabled a separate bill in the Senate as a private member bill for probing the Panama papers. “Regardless of two separate bills, the country requires an empowering commission as the last act 1956 continued for last 60 years and the upcoming law would have to continue for many more decades, so it was prepared by sticking to high professional standards.”

He said that the opposition parties had invoked different forums, including the Election Commission of Pakistan and Supreme Court of Pakistan, and their bill was linked to such ToRs which could be used single time and then it would become useless. “We want to put in place comprehensive ToRs including for writing off loans, all foreign offshore companies and kickbacks,” he added.

The minister said that the opposition was in a hurry and now political motivations were behind their strategy because they faced defeat in all by-elections and AJK elections. They knew that the power loadshedding would largely be overcome by November next year and economy was set to take off. The opposition with sit-in mentality was fully exposed before the masses, he added.

He said that their scope of work was devised in the light of resolutions passed by the National Assembly and Senate. “There is a need to shun ego for political gains, then a consensus can be struck by clubbing together two bills into one,” he said.

Minister for Law Zahid Hamid said that the proposed bill 2016 laid down in the National Assembly proposed all powers which were enjoyed by the Inquiry Commission Act 1956, including powers of civil court, authorise entry, search and seizure, powers to order police investigation and powers to punish for contempt. He said that it would be the duty of all executive authorities in the Federation and provinces to act in aid of the commission.

The Inquiry of Commission shall have ToRs, including to examine information relating to involvement of Pakistani citizens, persons of Pakistan origin and legal entities in offshore companies in Panama or any other country, determine in each case whether any law for time being had been infringed and also determine responsibility for such infringement.

Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the commission shall determine whether the provisions of law related to income tax, wealth tax, foreign exchange, companies and elections in force at time of relevant time have been infringed with due regard inter alia to the following matters including details of property held by offshore companies, sources of income utilised to purchase properties, income tax if any payable/paid on the income and details of sellers of properties. In order to probe loan write-offs, the ToRs for Commission shall include report of the commission on writen-off loans set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and other cases of bank loans. To examine information relating to transfer of funds from Pakistan which have originated from corruption, commission and kickbacks identify persons responsible and to make such recommendations it may deem appropriate in all cases under (1) to (3).

Mir Hasil Bizenjo, Minister for Ports, said it was deplorable that the opposition wanted to stop the probe into the Panama Papers and they did not want to go beyond it. Minister for Housing Akram Durrani said that the opposition members were fighting with each other and they only wanted to insert the name of the PM into the ToRs, which was unjustified.

Minister of State for IT Anusha Rahman said it showed ill intentions of the opposition that they wanted to see the name of PM and his family in the ToRs, exposing them fully to the eyes of the public.

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