How Pakistan should cope with the fallout?
The Panama Papers, a global investigation into the sprawling, secretive industry of offshore that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets and skirt rules by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions has jolted the whole world. Based on a trove of 11.5 million leaked files, the investigation exposes a cast of characters who use offshore companies to facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking. Since the leaks have revealed a lot about politicians and notables in Pakistan including the family of the incumbent Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, and former premier Benazir Bhutto, a lot of hullabaloo has been created in the country especially given the fact that in the wake of growing allegations, Icelandic and kyrgyz premiers have resigned, and probes in many countries have already started.
Keeping in tune with its penchant for remaining relevant, Pakistan, one again, finds itself in the midst of international headlines for all the wrong reasons. The “Panama Papers” have allegedly revealed off-shore holdings of the Sharif and the Bhutto families, the two biggest names in Pakistani politics. While both, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), are quick to vindicate themselves by pointing toward the legality of such holdings, the logic behind their claims — innocent unless proven guilty — does not hold up to the heightened level of scrutiny that is befitting public figures. This is all the more troubling since both Nawaz Sharif’s and the late Benazir Bhutto’s name in this controversy brings disrepute to the office of Prime Minister of Pakistan. For a country that is struggling to improve its image at the international level and, at the same time, trying to strengthen its democratic moorings at the domestic level, such a case should be cause for concern.
In the context of Pakistan, the Panama Papers confirmed that the Sharif family controls a vast land and property portfolio both in Pakistan, as well as overseas, including several in London’s upmarket Mayfair district — stately homes for the super rich and their families. The documents allege that three of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s four children — Mariam Safdar, Hasan Nawaz and Hussain Nawaz Sharif — used shell companies to buy property in London. Besides them, several Pakistani politicians and business owners were among those named by the documents, including the family of Benazir Bhutto.
Allegations of corruption have been dogging the Sharif family since years however, this time there is something in this scandal — opposition parties believe — that the Prime Minister of Pakistan felt the heat and decided to address the nation.
Although cries of foul play and allegations of corruption and embezzlement are not new in political culture of Pakistan, yet “there’s no smoke without fire”. Admittedly, this culture of allegations is not something peculiar only to Pakistani political discourse, what makes the situation alarming is a sheer lack of transparency and accountability in the country.
Although it is still unclear it’s unclear if these alleged actions are illegal, Pakistan’s abysmal tax to GDP ratio — a mere 11 percent — does raise eyebrows over where the money is going. For a country that is forced to rely on international patrons and lending institutions to service its deficit, structural deficiencies need to be addressed if the shackles of dependency are to be broken. In light of this, any attempt at broadening the tax base would not carry the same force if individuals at the helm of affairs are seen to be tax-evaders themselves. The British maxim “not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” carries renewed importance in the aftermath of the revelations brought forward by the Panama Papers. If the government is seen to be nonchalant about this, then public misgivings would not only cast doubts over the country’s political leadership, but, it would also further dissuade the public from becoming scrupulous taxpayers. Hence, the Prime Minster should hold proper investigation into the matter with due diligence in order to placate public concerns over his family’s involvement in clandestine wealth holdings. While the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) notice of the issue was predictably forthcoming, its success in allaying public scruples would depend on the level of transparency of the investigation — if it is, at all, conducted.
Lastly, the Panama controversy should not be used as pretence for undermining Pakistan’s political system. Since the leaked documents did not contain the name of any member of the Pakistan Armed Forces, explanations are afloat among the public over the suitability of generals over politicians in running the affairs of the country. Not only are these claims devoid of any real substance they are also contrary to the culture of a healthy democratic society. Politicians everywhere in the world are involved in controversies involving corruption and misappropriation but these are dealt with through the use of the vote and the judicial process.
This is not to say that a blind eye should be turned towards the illegal activities of Pakistani politicians; however, their wrongdoings should not be conflated with the pitfalls of parliamentary democracy to make a case for non-representative rule. Parliamentary democracy is the only system that can aggregate the national will and translate it into effective public policy. Since Pakistan’s experience with democracy has been tenuous it needs time to reach the level of maturity at which it can effectively deliver. Hence, while politicians must be made accountable, the debate must also be steered to the right direction.
This all happened on April 3, 2016, the day that will be remembered as a watershed in the history of the world as on this very day the world’s elite stood exposed for their financial dishonesty and negligence and corrupt practices. Millions of documents, much greater in number than Julian Assange’s earth-shattering WikiLeaks, showed the dark and shady world of financial crimes committed by world’s movers and shakers. The Panama Papers revealed how politicians, celebrities and businessmen from various walks of life across the world held offshore companies and accounts for personal benefits such as tax-free policies, and money-laundering by acquiring the services of the Panamanian legal firm, Mossack Fonseca. Here is an explainer on the Panama papers:
What are Panama Papers?
The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC.
What is Mossack Fonseca?
Mossack Fonseca is a global network with 600 people working in 42 countries. It has franchises around the world, where separately owned affiliates sign up new customers and have exclusive rights to use its brand. Mossack Fonseca operates in tax havens including Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and in the British Crown dependencies Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
How big is it?
Mossack Fonseca has acted for more than 300,000 companies. More than half of the companies are registered in British-administered tax havens.
Who leaked the documents?
The data was transferred to Süddeutsche Zeitung, the largest German national subscription daily newspaper, over the course of a few months. It consisted of e-mails, photos and other documents taken from an internal Mossack Fonseca database. Süddeutsche Zeitung, in turn, shared the records with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
How much data has been leaked?
The number of documents involved in the leak is staggering: 11.5 million confidential documents, constituting financial and legal records. It is thought to be one of the largest such leaks ever: even bigger than the info shared by Edward Snowden.
The documents take up 2.6 terabytes in computer storage. For context, 1 terabyte of data could be stored on about 1400 CD-ROMs or 220 DVDs.
What is ICIJ?
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) is a global network of more than 190 investigative journalists in more than 65 countries who collaborate on in-depth investigative stories.
Founded in 1997 by an American journalist Chuck Lewis, ICIJ was launched as a project of the Center for Public Integrity to extend the Center’s style of watchdog journalism, focusing on issues that do not stop at national frontiers: cross-border crime, corruption, and the accountability of power.
Panama Papers Reporting Team
Juliette Garside, Luke Harding, Holly Watt, David Pegg, Helena Bengtsson, Simon Bowers, Owen Gibson and Nick Hopkins
Pakistani Journalists in ICIJ
Umar Cheema: An investigative reporter for English-language daily, The News.
Aamir Latif: The head of Karachi Bureau of Online News Network; Pakistan’s largest independent wire service.
Ahmed Rashid: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph of London.
Pakistanis in Panama Leaks
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family
Hassan Nawaz Hussain Nawaz Maryam Safdar
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s relatives
Samina Durrani Ilyas Mehraj
Former PM Benazir Bhutto
Nephew Hassan Ali Jaffery
Javed Pasha, Close friend of her husband Asif Ali Zardari
PPP Senator Rehman Malik
PPP Senator Osman Saifullah’s family
Anwar Saifullah Salim Saifullah
Humayun Saifullah Iqbal Saifullah
Javed Saifullah Jehangir Saifullah
Relatives of Chaudharys of Gujrat
Zain Sukhera (co-accused with former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son in the Hajj scandal)
Real Estate Czar Malik Riaz Hussain’s (Bahria Town) son
Ahmad Ali Riaz
Chairman ABM Group of Companies Azam Sultan
Pizza Hut owner Aqeel Hussain and family
Brother Tanwir Hassan
Chairman Soorty Enterprise Abdul Rashid Soorty and family
Sultan Ali Allana, Chairman of Habib Bank Limited
Khawaja Iqbal Hassan, former NIB bank President
Bashir Ahmed and Javed Shakoor of Buxly Paints
Mehmood Ahmed of Berger Paints
Hotel tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani and family
Owner of Hilton Pharma, Shehbaz Yasin Malik and family
(Hussain Dawood family)
Abdul Samad Dawood
Partner Saad Raja
(Abdullah family of Sapphire Textiles)
Yousuf Abdullah and his wife
Muhammad Abdullah and his wife
Shahid Abdullah and his family
Nadeem Abdullah and family
Amer Abdullah and family
Gul Muhammad Tabba of Lucky Textiles
Shahid Nazir, CEO of Masood Textile Mills
Partner Naziya Nazir
Zulfiqar Ali Lakhani, from Lakson Group and owner of Colgate-Palmolive, Tetley Clover and Clover Pakistan
Zulfiqar Paracha and family of Universal Corporation
Serving Lahore High Court Judge Justice Farrukh Irfan
Retired Judge Malik Qayyum
Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman of GEO and Jang Group
Zulfiqar Lakhani of Lakson Group & Express Media Group
Gohar Ejaz, financier of Channel 24