Having been delayed once before due to the absence of key members, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) finally took up the issue of the Panama papers scandal in a meeting on September 20, but considering the progress made – or lack thereof – the meeting might as well have been called off.

It seems that whenever it comes to probing the scandal, the same pattern is followed; the government obfuscates the issue, the opposition rails against the obfuscation and the state institutions twist their hands in helplessness. The PAC meeting was a microcosm of that whole process.

The opening statement of Law Secretary Karamat Hussain Niazi set the tone of the meeting. He said that as per Rule 203, the matter to probe Panama leaks did not fall under the purview of PAC, and hence must be abandoned. In the heated bickering that followed, the members from Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Mian Abdul Manan and Shaikh Rohail Asghar, kept disrupting the proceedings and angering fellow committee members with provocative statements.

This much was expected, from the start delaying tactics have been the government’s go to policy. However, the more the government follows this policy, the more guilty and desperate it seems. Disagreeing over the Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the probe is one thing, as legitimate disagreement over their scope is possible, but denying the explicit power of a parliamentary body to probe a matter it was designed to probe is another, much more culpable, action. The fact that the Law Secretary preferred bipartisan party positions over the letter of her law makes the action all the more condemnable.

More than the actions of a self-serving government, it is the actions of the state institutes that deserve criticism. For the first time the heads of all major accountability departments – the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) – were present under one roof to answer the questions of the committee. Neither the NAB, nor the FIA has begun any investigation on the matter, only the FBR has sent out notices – which are being followed up on the lowest priority.

The reason for this inaction is as flimsy as they come; they weren’t asked yet by the government. These shaky justifications for essentially supporting the government’s stance call into question the independence and integrity of these watchdog institutions. If they follow the government’s bidding in all matters than how will they ensure accountability?

Despite the inconclusive nature of the meeting and the frustrating stance taken by the state institutes, the probe must go on. If the government hasn’t asked these bodies to investigate, maybe the PAC will.