Apr 21

Panamaleaks: to be continued

Posted on Friday, April 21, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

Panamaleaks: to be continued

The Supreme Court bench hearing the Panamaleaks case has finally announced a 3/2 decision after two months of deliberations over the matter of the “money trail” that led to the purchase by the Sharif family of various properties in London in the 1990s. Its conclusion: further investigations are needed before arriving at definite decisions. The voluminous and time consuming judgment suggests that a consensus eluded the bench, with some judges inclined to clutch at the spirit of the law and others still reluctant to depart from the letter of the constitution.

The judgment has not disqualified PM Nawaz Sharif as a Member of Parliament and Prime Minister of Pakistan. Instead, it has decreed the formation of a Joint Investigation Team comprising representatives of Military Intelligence and Inter Services Intelligence, plus National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, State Bank of Pakistan and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, to investigate (within 60 days) whether and how the Prime Minister and his two sons Hassan and Hussain acquired the money with which they bought expensive properties in London in the 1990-2005 period. The Chief Justice of Pakistan is now expected to constitute a separate bench to peruse the JIT report in July and determine the culpability of the accused. In other words, Nawaz Sharif is not yet off the hook even though the PMLN is crowing about a victory.

The opposition led by the PTI is focusing on some other salient points. Two judges have declared Mr Sharif guilty as charged while three judges think the evidence is still unconvincing in this regard. But the three judges have not ordered the PM to “step aside” while the JIT conducts its investigation. This suggests that these judges were cognizant of the dangers of setting such a legal precedent that would spell instability in the future. But this has also provoked the opposition to clutch at notions of morality and transparency and demand that the prime minister do so in order not to erode the impartiality of the JIT report. Indeed, we should expect this theme to be a central plank in the opposition’s agitation for the next two months because the heads of the SECP, NAB, FIA and SBP are appointed by the PM and questions have already been raised by the dissenting judges about the professional competence of both NAB and FIA and the impartiality of their heads.

The critical dimension of the JIT relates to its TORs. It is tasked “to collect evidence to prove that Mr Sharif and his dependents or ‘benamidars’ own, possesses or have acquired assets or any other interest therein disproportionate to his known wealth…” In other words, it is up to the JIT to collect the evidence and provide answers to the following questions: How did Gulf Steel Mills come into being? What led to its sale? What happened to its liabilities? Where did its sale proceeds end up? How did they reach Jeddah, Qatar and the UK? Whether Hassan and Hussain at that tender age had the means in the early 1990s to possess and purchase the flats; whether the sudden appearance of the letters of Hamad bin Jassem Jaber Al Thani is myth or reality. How did the Bearer Certificates crystalize into apartments? Who is the real beneficial owner of Nielson Enterprises Ltd and Hill Metal establishment? Where did the money for Flagship Investments Ltd and other companies set up by one of the sons come from? Where did the huge sums of money gifted by one of the sons to Nawaz Sharif come from? And so on.

This is going to be a tough act to follow. The members of the JIT are not exactly renowned for being forensic sleuths in money laundering cases with trails in foreign lands, especially in the short time given to them.

The most astonishing part of the judgment is Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s dissenting opinion on the disqualification of the PM on the yardstick of Article 62 (f) for not coming clean on the money trail. Justice Khosa, it may be recalled, had earlier frowned on attempts to clutch at Articles 62 and 63 to disqualify any member of parliament. But this is offset by Justice Ijaz Afzal (who wrote the majority judgment) who argues that the Supreme Court cannot make declarations directly on the basis of Articles 62/63 and must refer these to the Election Commission if the question so arises.

Nawaz Sharif should be worried about his indictment at the hands of two senior judges. This reflects on the intensity of popular pressure on the judiciary. Equally, his sons can’t be too comfortable with the idea of appearing before the JIT to answer searching questions. But all three gentlemen must appear before the JIT and give due respect to it as a surrogate for the judiciary. Everything will now depend on the consistency and authenticity of their depositions as much as on the professional ability of the JIT to unearth any alternate and contending facts of the case.

Apr 19

Aapas Ki Baat – 19 April 2017

Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

 

Apr 18

Aapas Ki Baat – 18 April 2017

Posted on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

Apr 17

Aapas Ki Baat – 17 April 2017

Posted on Monday, April 17, 2017 in Aapas ki baat with Najam Sethi on Geo

 

Apr 14

April, the cruelest month?

Posted on Friday, April 14, 2017 in The Friday Times (Editorial)

April, the cruelest month?

Are things coming to a head in April?

The staff of the Prime Minister’s House has just been given a “bonus” equivalent to four months salary. This is unusual because bonuses and salary increments are normally given at the end of the financial year in June.This has fueled speculations that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is worried about being dislodged by the Panamaleaks judgment any day now and is therefore “wrapping up” domestic matters. A sweeping remark by one of the Panamaleaks judges — to the effect that the judgment will be a historic one that will be remembered for decades to come — has also put wind in the tail of the “Go Nawaz Go” brigade.

As if to confirm its detractors, the PMLN government has swung into high electioneering gear after the federal cabinet announced a series of “voter-friendly” measures. The ban on recruitment into government has been lifted; over 50,000 government employees have been “regularized”; new housing schemes for the have-nots have been announced in important political constituencies; the moratorium on gas connections and new gas supply schemes in rural areas has been lifted; a friendly Hajj policy has been unveiled; and so on. All this follows on the heels of a whirlwind tour of remote areas by Mr Sharif during which he focused on highlighting the “good development work” done by his regime despite the disruption caused by conspiratorial dharnas, strikes and protests by opposition parties.

The truth is that it has been a rough ride for Mr Sharif so far and there is no respite in sight. He was nearly toppled on two occasions during the“#ThankYouRaheelSharif” period. Then Panamaleaks hit him like a bolt from the blue. In between, he has had heart surgery and gall bladder problems. All this while, he has had to contend with angry protests over “missing political persons”, souring relations with neighbours India and Afghanistan, power shortages, civil-military tensions, terrorism, and constant attempts by the judiciary to clip his wings. The worst cut of all is that the development agenda pegged to his pet CPEC project and brownie points by the World Bank and IMF over the prospect of 5% growth in the economy are threatened by a rising gap in the current account deficit that is threatening to lead to currency devaluation, higher interest rates and inflation.

The impending judgment in the Panamaleaks case could unravel Nawaz Sharif’s future. But there is no assurance that the next elections will be more ordered and less controversial than the last ones which led to acute instability and destabilization. Despite four years of judicial commissions and negotiations over electoral law reform, the political parties have still not come to any meaningful agreement over the way forward. At last count, the all-parties parliamentary committee tasked to prepare a bill had still not overcome dozens of objections posed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Indeed, at one stage the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) felt so harassed by the PTI that it walked out of the committee and threatened to hold the party in contempt.

The problem has arisen because the PTI is seeking not just to change the law in the interests of more fair play and transparency but also to tilt the scales in its favour. For instance, it wants the ECP and caretaker governments to be approved by a parliamentary committee in which both houses of parliament and all mainstream parties are represented fairly rather than just the government and main opposition party as the law currently stands. This is fair. But it also wants the ECP to abolish the rules and restrictions on election funding and sources because its main funding comes from foreign donors and has been challenged in the ECP for lacking accountability and transparency. Similarly, its demand for a universal application of Electronic Voting Machines is misplaced. Most local and foreign experts insist that this should not be implemented without first learning from the results of pilot projects for correction and adjustment. Much the same sort of impracticality stems from its demand for biometric verification of all votes before a ballot paper is issued at every polling station. But its demand for the army to play a more intrusive role inside and outside polling stations is understandable given the suspicions attached to the role of civilian ROs from the judicial branch of the state. Much the same may be said about its insistence that fresh projects and development schemes should not be announced by sitting governments as “pre-election bribes” to voters after a date has been announced for holding elections. However, its proposal for mandatory vote recounts of runner-up candidates is only going to delay election results and create unnecessary controversies. Under the circumstances, the ECP’s frustration at the lack of consensus is understandable.

And so it goes on. The English poet TS Eliot wrote depressingly of longing and loss in “the cruelest month” of April. Nawaz Sharif could do worse by mixing memory with desire.