The recent news report concerning Panama leaks has garnered wide interest in Pakistan. The confidential information revealed includes people from all walks of life both internationally and locally. One thing to be noted is that there is a stark difference in how the news has been broken in Pakistan and abroad.

In Pakistan a self selected list of 15 names was published by the reporter even though the leaks had revealed hundreds of Pakistanis. The focus was on this specific list of people rather than the general debate surrounding tax avoidance or management that can still be seen in international publications.

It is pertinent to note that this list of people had some form of celebrity status attached to their names either through public office or because they are renowned businessmen. No effort was made to distinguish the names of private individuals from public officials. Moreover even though the reporter had all pertinent information at hand regarding the activities of the companies involved, he chose to keep the details silent and paint all those involved in a negative light, insinuating that all cases are of hiding wealth or some wrong doing except for the detailed explanation of the owner of his own media house.

There was no investigation regarding the tax paying status or reputations of the individuals involved. The tenor of the report paints every off shore company as criminal. It very off handedly states at the end that some uses of such companies may be legitimate while implying through tone and narrative throughout the report that something illegal must obviously have been occurring.

In the west the tone has been different. This is because the public at large understands that off shore companies can be set up for legitimate purposes and likely work for one of the ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies that choose to hold some assets off shore. Instead of conducting an irrelevant witch hunt against some individuals the discussion has focused on legal reform so that tax avoidance becomes harder for the rich to undertake.

No such debate can be seen in Pakistan where the tax laws do not prohibit owning businesses or assets abroad and it is for this reason that all such activity is legal in the first place. The furore in Pakistan based on just a list of names showcases our cynical mindset.

Sarah Ahmad,

Lahore, April 20.