After the Panama Papers were released the Prime Minister gave the defence that the properties he owned were inherited, familial wealth, including the Mayfair Apartments. This is at complete odds with the Prime Minister’s financial history, not to mention absolutely counterfactual to what the Prime Minister told us only a few years ago when he contested the general election for our votes. According to Channel 24, from the years 1980 till 1990, this less-than-average Prime Minister, paid less tax than an average employee of an average enterprise. He paid less tax than the people who worked under him at the time! But this cannot be corroborated since the Prime Minister refuses to release his income tax returns, dating back to the time when the offshore accounts were set up, as acknowledged by his elder son. The inconsistencies are not only baffling but, as you dig through them, take the form a laughable. It seems Pakistan is, yet again, the butt of a pretty funny celestial joke.

According to the first “Parliamentarians Tax Directory”, issued by the Federal Board of Revenue in 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid income tax of Rs2.646m. And yet his scions - Mariam, Hasan and Hussain - have owned three British Virgin Islands-based companies Nescoll Ltd, Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Hangon Property Holdings Ltd, incorporated in 1993, 1994 and 2007 respectively.

While according to the British Broadcasting Company “these companies have been used to channel funds to acquire foreign assets, including some apartments along Park Lane in London’s Mayfair area.” While according to ICIJ, “Hussain and Mariam signed a document dated June 2007 that was part of a series of transactions in which Deutsche Bank Geneva lent up to $13.8 million to Nescoll, Nielsen and another company, with their London properties as collateral.

”The government’s defense is further weakened by the pre-Panama testimonies that we have on record. In 2000, Kulsoom Nawaz acknowledged ownership of the Mayfair flats in an interview to a British daily. In 2011, Maryam Nawaz in a televised interview denied ownership of any flat in the UK by any member of her family. And in 2016, Hussain Nawaz’s interviews to private channels in Pakistan claimed that the flats were acquired in 2006 (after the steel company, located in Saudi Arabia, was sold at a massive profit – a steel company that was acquired without any seed money by the Sharifs through loans from friends and Saudi banks).How are are these transactions happening? Where are they getting this money from if the Prime Minister’s own familial wealth, that is the Mayfair Apartments, are being used to buy these apartments in the first place? Why is the Prime Minister paying an income tax of income tax of Rs2.646m in 2014, while his financial wunderkind of a son is able to accumulate $70 billion without adding a single rupee to Pakistan’s Treasury? Why is this government not ashamed? Why is our polity not seeing this as an affront to basic categorical moral imperatives that this Prime Minister and his kin, for all intents and purposes, lied to us? These are some of the questions that should plague every Pakistani mind.

Today Pakistani democracy is haemorrhaging. It doesn’t have the necessary funds to bolster the capabilities of its citizens, neither can it locate the moral virtues necessary in those that lead this democracy. If we can remember, democracy is an answer to age-old moral questions: how should societies distribute power; how should they limit it; how can it be utilised for “human flourishing”? Based on an unsteady and increasingly dwindling hope, democracy assumes the citizen to be able to make the right choices for themselves; to meander through the superfluous and the glittery, to be able to choose the best of virtues and collect their aggregate in their Parliaments. Thus, a Prime Minister, any Prime Minister, democracy hopes, will personify the virtues that society deems best at the time. Which begs the question, does this Prime Minister, who hasn’t only lied to us but continues to shrug all and any responsibility, pretends to have no connection with the wealth of his sons and kin, and deflects and obfuscates our probing by refusing to come into our Parliament, really the best personification of the virtues we deem the best?

The sad, perhaps, incontrovertible truth is: yes, he is. And he is thus because of the simple reasons that we, our polity cannot distinguish virtue from vice, neither do we realise the political value of virtue in a functioning democracy. Pakistan’s vacillation between democracy and military rule, and the developmental battering the polity has received from endemic corruption at every level of government, has prevented the State and polity from seeing fairness and honesty as virtues, and thus evolving an independent system of accountability. Our democracy either just doesn’t have the funds to bolster capabilities, or when it has these funds, it misappropriates them for the personal gain of its members in power. Now, if one were to define murder to mean robbing other beings of their potentialities in existence – robbing them of a right to life and all its plentiful experiences – than moral murder can be defined as the murder of what a “good life” or eu̯dai̯monía (the obsession of Athenian Democracy) can be; it is the killing of the opportunities for development of any polity, it is robbing of a citizenry of infrastructure, health, education, other opportunities implicit in the creation of State and society. Corruption, therefore, is tantamount to moral murder; it is the taking away of the benefit a polity could have derived had it not been fleeced and defrauded or, to put it most simply, of what its members ought to have. Thus, when this Prime Minister and others involved in this Bacchanalia choose to swindle us, spin stories and wait out this storm or when the government agrees to spend Rs. 430 million of the taxpayer’s money for refurbishing the Sharif’s personal home in Murree, instead of, for example, Governor House or other such government accommodations, for the SAARC summit, it commits nothing less than moral murder. Here, the Prime Minister truly embodies his old role of being primus inter pares – first among equals.

Crestfallen and marauded, we might ask ourselves what can be done, where does our hope lie? Well, it seems at this critical juncture our only hope for someone to make up the moral burden and to plug this haemorrhaging, rests not with the Prime Minister but with our oppositions. Yes, even an opposition whose own members have offshore companies and/or shady business practices – like Aleem Khan and Jehangir Tareen. The oppositions must create din and clamour, and must do so not for killing time, not in hope that public attention will be diffused or diverted, but so solve it with in-house change. They must pick up the moral burden to try and pass one simple legal rule: if you’re Prime Minister, you and your immediate kin must bring all their assets into the country. Is this rule perhaps too draconian? Yes, it is. But, hitherto, power has given man no reason to be friendly to it, but more than ample reason to see it with great and utter suspicion and incredulity. Since Prime Ministers in our parliamentary systems already holds too much power - that is there is a considerable overlap between the executive and the legislature branches of government - asking them to forgo the means by which this power can be used to conduct economic debauchery seems not only reasonable but imminent for our haemorrhaging democracy.