I often used to wonder why the candidates contesting for commissioned vacancies for civil and military bureaucracy would be preparing for questions like “where certain lakes and canals such as Suez or Panama are situated and what is their economic and geo-strategic importance etc.” Simply, because, this used to be and still finds place as ones of the cherished questions asked by the veteran members of the selection committees. Pleasantly today, if ever, I become member of any such committee, I would rather alter this question as to where such leaks instead of lakes are found and how they have become wealth mines and what role they can play in jeopardising the political equilibrium in various democracies and monarchies of the world? The same has admittedly become the talk of the town, where Panama falls and how it was discovered for providing legal cover to the wealth of the political lords of the world, allegedly amassed through beyond and unknown sources of income, misuse of authority, tax evasion and laundered to such safe havens.
Panama with its capital as Panama City, is a small country which connects two continents, i.e. North and South Americas. In the past till the 19th century, the ships from San Francisco and Los Angeles used to reach New York and vice versa by traveling a complete round of South America comprising 2200 KM taking at least 15 days. But in the early 20th century, USA dig out a canal through piece of land at Panama, a country having shortest distance to join two oceans and a country situated at a strip of land comprising six small countries connecting two Americas and thus reducing the distance to about nine thousand kilometers. This 77 kilometer ship canal is called Panama Canal and more than eight hundred thousand ships harbour through this canal every year, generating income of billions of dollars for once this poor country and bringing in fortune out of God-gifted geo-strategic location.
In the beginning, Panama trading companies got associated with the shipping industry but after the 2nd World War where entire global economic dynamics were changed, Panama also got revolutionised. Arabs traded in oil, USSR and USA minted money in sales of weapons and action war movies, eastern Europe and countries like South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Pakistan availed the benefits of US policy of containment of communism by rightly having long lasting technology and industry transfer by Asian tigers and preferring erroneously by having dollars in cash instead of industry as well as money through drugs and weapon businesses by civil and military lords of Pakistan and Vietnam and Afghanistan relied on money from illegitimate drugs commodities. From the 60s to the 80s decade, a severe spell of military take overs was witnessed through out the world in a number of countries which sensitised corruption therein and created mafia lords all over the world to protect such illegitimate wealth. All this was converted into mushroom-like global trading companies predominantly owned by political and warlords venturing to transfer their wealth clandestinely from their own countries to the others through non-banking channels like money laundering not only to conceal its sources and corruption from their respective public but also to evade taxes. Panama, being a hub of economic activity allured the mafia community, and not only offered protection of their black money but also whitening thereof by establishing tax free zones, non-asking of money’s source, free opening of bank accounts and investing it in various real estate and other businesses in the world and putting its profits safely back to their accounts under due intimation to the said lords. What else a lord from the ruling or opposition party, civil or military echelons or business tycoons would wish than to be offered by Panama.
Panama based law firm titled Mossack Fonseca fished in the troubled waters and styled itself to offer legal services and facilitations to such money lords by instituting said off-shore business companies in Panama without any questioning as to the sources. It opened its offices worldwide and marketed its product including Pakistan where, of course, all and sundry, from the ruling and the opposition, genuine and in-genuine, ventured to avail itself of these services. A year ago, the data of this law firm comprising 11.5 million company documents was missing or stolen and was, somehow, made available to a German newspaper which in turn got services of an investigative journalist group, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which put it across to 400 journalists, 107 media groups in 76 countries wherefrom it was taken off . It included as many as 149 gigantic names including those of instant Pakistan’s ruling party’s sons and two hundred others but the ruling party was, perhaps, found to be amongst the best to bear the brunt of such leaks and well taken up down the wicket by cricketer political eleven.
However, certain genuine business groups, perhaps, are also seemed to have been compelled to follow this suit to save their wealth from their political, civil and military antagonists and war lord mafias. For a while taking it in a good spirit, one can see that in his latest address to the nation, Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif also alluded to his personal and his family’s patriotism and attachment to the national soil and expressed his resolve to remain attached therewith but seemed questioning and pining as to by whom he and his family was compelled to migrate to Saudi Arabia in terms of family and business. Admittedly, we have also seen flight of money and industry from Pakistan even in behest of certain genuine business entrepreneurs to the other countries like Bangladesh and Middle East by dint of non-conducive, unrealistic, impracticable and even hostile monetary, fiscal, trade and accountability policies and environment in the country and hence eroding mega- economic culture, employment and tax opportunities for the people in general and businessmen and the national exchequer in particular.
The Prime Minister’s speech seems to be more a moral response towards the nation than political, legal or judicial. However, question remains whether the constitution of the judicial commission under the supervision of chief justice, with TORs amalgamated from all proposals by opposition including PPP and PTI as well as Supreme Court Bar Council, can really serve the purpose? Who shall be the complainant, PTI, PPP, FBR, FIA, NAB, establishment, Panama Leaks, journalists or the people. Upon whom the burden of proof shall lie. Under what law, national or international, it shall be governed. Would the Commission with powers of a civil judge be able to call upon and hire international audit and law firms and, if so, why should the expenses be borne from the public money and why it should not be charged from the complainant or the respondent? Would the Commission be empowered to go farther to punish the delinquent and bring the entire wealth mines, relating to the ruling party and all other so far sacred civil, judicial, military and business slots, lying in Panama and else-where back to the country for the public good than merely to give recommendations? Would the Leaks nominees volunteer themselves to bring back wealth mines in the country and in return they shall be given reasonable margin to invest here without any fear even with a bit of connivance under realistic amnesty schemes. If all this is done, we shall certainly have feel of a message that this time a commission has truly done the needful, unlike those in the past.