Addressing the nation last week, PM Nawaz Sharif announced the formation of a high-powered ‘Judicial commission’ to probe the allegations leveled against him and his family regarding owning some offshore companies and assets following the publication of so-called Panama Papers by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist (ICIJ) this month. The proposed judicial commission was to be comprised of the two retired judges of the apex court. However, in a rather kneejerk response, the opposition parties, namely the PTI and PPP, have out-rightly rejected the proposed judicial commission, believing that the government thereby is only trying to sweep the controversy under the carpet. Besides this, reportedly two senior retired Judges of the apex court have also declined to become the part of proposed inquiry commission. Therefore, presently the fate of the so-called judicial commission hangs in the balance.

Rejecting government’s ‘Judicial Commission’, the PTI has demanded the formation of a judicial inquiry commission, headed by the CJP, and supported by the forensic investigators, to probe the recent Panama Papers revelations. Under the circumstance, PTI’s current demand for the Panama paper probe through an independent and impartial judicial commission is rather reasonable and justified. Logically, the PM Nawaz Sharif should not determine the nitty-gritty of Panama papers inquiry commission since the matter necessarily involve his family members. According to a basic principle of natural justice, no man can be a judge in his own cause. Similarly, no one should be allowed to appoint the adjudicators in his own cause. It is also said that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly be seen to be done. In order to dilute the current panama-leaks controversies in Pakistan, the PTI should necessarily see the justice as being done.

Although a number of investigative agencies have been established in Pakistan at federal and provincial level, yet the government has always been quite handicapped to investigate any high-profile scam in the country. In fact, the institutional capacity of these investigative bodies to probe any complex legal matter is observably impaired. Besides this, there have also been some serious concerns about the competence, professional excellence and integrity of the officials of these agencies. Therefore, in the absence of any credible, impartial and competent investigative bodies, there has been a common tendency of asking and forming a judicial inquiry commission whenever the question of probing a crucial matter arises in the country.

The Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956 empowers the federal government to constitute an inquiry commission to probe any definite matter of public importance. However, owing to some inherent shortcomings, this Act does not always help conclusively determine the truth of falsehood of a specific charge. Therefore, in order to overcome these legal and administrative complexities, the federal government promulgated the General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission Ordinance, 2015 to form a Judicial Commission “to inquire into and determine whether or not the General Elections-2013 were organized and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with the law”. This Ordinance significantly empowered the JC to effectively and adequately probe the electoral rigging allegations leveled by the PTI.

This JC was invested with the all powers of a criminal court as well as civil court simultaneously. All political parties were allowed to submit evidence before the JC. Besides this, this JC was also empowered to form one or more special investigation teams comprising officers from the relevant executive authorities including the FIA, NADRA, ISI, IB, MI etc.

As a matter of fact, the JC went a long way in diluting the electoral rigging controversies in Pakistan following the 2013 General Elections.

Therefore, now the formation of a similar JC, through another Ordinance, to probe Panama Paper revelations in Pakistan is rather desirable and advisable. Keeping in view its political implications, this matter is by no means less significant and sensitive than that of the past electoral rigging allegations made by the PTI. Obviously, a simple inquiry commission comprising the retired Supreme Court judges will hardly help pacify the protesting opposition Parties in the country.

It is quite regrettable that no regulatory or investigative body in Pakistan has yet bothered to formally look into the matter, despite the fact the Panama Papers have exposed the name of more than 200 politicians, businessmen, judges, media owners and notables who own offshore companies and assets. Focusing on incumbent PM and his family members, all the current Panama-leaks controversies in the country are observably revolving around the single political family. In fact, owning and operating an off-shore company mostly involve the questions like the concealment of ill-gotten money, tax evasion, tax avoidance etc. Undoubtedly, these types of finical malpractices are considered to be the serious financial crimes in any civilized country. This is the reason a number of states around the world are now formally probing and legally proceeding against the individuals on the basis of information disclosed by the Panama Papers. Recently, the prime ministers of Iceland and Ukraine have also to step down merely on account of so-called Panama-leaks controversies.

In our neighbourhood, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also order an inquiry as the names of more than 500 Indians are included in Fonseca’s list of off-shore companies around the world. Now a ‘multi-agency group’, comprising officers from the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Financial Intelligence Unit and the Reserve Bank of India, are looking into this matter in India. Therefore, the government of Pakistan should also order a similar inquiry in the country, in addition to the formation of proposed judicial inquiry commission. All the relevant financial regulatory and investigative bodies in Pakistan- namely the SBP, SECP, FIA, and NAB- should initiate a legal and formal probe to ascertain any illegality and foul-play behind the formation of offshore companies and assets owned by Pakistan nationals around the world. There ought to be a uniform, pragmatic and objective approach towards the issue of Panama-leaks. Targeting and criticizing a single political family will hardly help end this serious illegal financial practice in the country.

The PTI has decided to give the government a tough time over the Panama-leaks issue. PTI chairman Imran Khan has also hinted at launching a massive agitational movement against the ruling political party if the government fails to form an independent judicial commission comprising serving judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in accordance with the demand made by the PTI. Primarily to focus on this single issue, PTI has also postponed its intra-parties elections. Therefore, the government must realize the sensitivity and gravity of the post Panama-leaks political perspective in the country. The ruling PML-N must not forget the political lessons it learnt during PTI’s 2014 Azadi March, and subsequent 126-day long sit-in in Islamabad. The government should form an independent judicial inquiry commission essentially in line with the General Elections-2013 Inquiry Commission to dilute the controversies in the country generated by the recent Panama Paper revelations.