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Time for accountability


May 18, 2016

It has been more than a month, and the intercontinental leaks are going nowhere. With two earth-shaking episodes so far, there are still many more untold stories of wealth sheltered and tunnelled offshore.

With every passing day, we hear more of our silent, undeclared millionaires who were very much a part of the havens of investments in these offshore companies. Back in the country, we are still unable to come out of the energy blackouts or the chronic poverty that millions of us face. 

The leaked leaks have added more severity to the challenges we already face. Our ruling elite have to answer and be held accountable for these revelations, if they genuinely wish an honourable exit. What is most important is the volume of wealth and tracking its trail.

This is not merely an issue of the Sharifs or the Niazis or the Saifullahs. It is much broader, in which they all share blame and have to be equally held accountable. The calls for across-the-board accountability should not lose momentum.

Since the first leak, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children have been under severe attack. As the fire fuelled, more money moguls became engulfed. From the aggressive Imran Khan to deceased Benazir Bhutto to some lesser known but richer businessmen, an endless list of money czars is still being added.

Through his unimpressive talks and moves, the prime minister took the lead. His sitting federal government wanted to form an independent commission led by a retired Supreme Court judge. This was aggressively rejected by the combined opposition parties, with a demand for a more powerful commission led by the sitting Supreme Court.

For this, the PM had to address the nation twice. His formal letter  to the chief justice consisting of the government’s terms of reference was sent back last week by the apex court, for specifying the scope and a clear mandate to carry out this huge task.

The honourable court knows quite well that the political storm generated by all this badly haunts not only the sitting government but the entire aristocracy, which has been secretly sending money offshore, at the cost of keeping us poorer and the economy mortgaged.  

And then the prime minister was pressurised to refer to parliament, which he had been avoiding for months. His much awaited arrival at the National Assembly this Monday gave only the same version of explanation that he has been selling to the media.

Strangely, the PM visits his own electoral house – parliament – much less than the visits he makes abroad for pursuing more questionable investment opportunities for the country.

Even more strangely, his immediate family invests abroad but he keeps shuttling the world capitals for investment in Pakistan.

As a seasoned politician, the PM knows well that his explanations are good enough to fill official handouts and score on the political front. Our country’s ruling aristocracy continues to get elected and govern us. However, they rely more on Western capitals, whether for their own health and education or for their families’ investments.

Over decades, this is a paradox that has just halted the progressive path of Pakistan. After the leaks, and in the aftermath of recent geo-strategic shifts, we are again at a crossroads. We can turn these challenges into opportunities if this chapter of intercontinental leaks is fixed in the better interests of our country.

Year after year every June, we were told that our economy was slowing down. And so the finance ministry, we were told, had no option except to introduce more taxes to meet the balance of annual expenditures and revenues. For this, every year a new regime of taxes through the budget and even semi-budgets was imposed on the common citizen. The elite, though, continued to evade these taxes, while silently moving monies from the country and into offshore accounts.

This is the best time to make our elite class accountable, and have them answer questions on how they got richer as their people and economy became more and more miserable.

Therefore, into this global drive for more transparency and accountability let our efforts be added too. Let the overall enquiry, with revised and mutually agreed terms of reference be fixed. Let the ruling elite and investment lords tell us how they got richer.

Let the equilibrium of the economy be made equitable, open and fair. The allegations and counter allegations won’t help anybody, except for muddying each other and getting away from this challenge.   

The writer is an anthropologist and freelance analyst based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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