Withdrawing all objections, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Affairs, Statistics and Privatisation on Thursday approved the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2016.

The Bill, after approval of the upper house of parliament, will allow authorities to take effective punitive action against those who keep their assets in the name of others to hide the source of income and evade taxes. Already approved by the National Assembly, those found guilty of holding Benami assets will face confiscation of property, rigorous imprisonment of up to seven years and a fine equal to 25 percent of fair market value of the property.

The law proposes to hold everyone accountable, including a Prime Minister. With PPP and PTI garnering strength for their campaign, the new law could serve as welcome ammunition to bolster their stance against those implicated in the Panama scandal. While it may be impossible to legally prove that the Prime Minister was in involved any corruption, the law will make it harder for anyone to keep assets in the name of third parties in the future. However, the law does not come into force until the federal government decides so by notification in the official Gazette.

The bill serves to highlight assets that are not in the owner’s name and are aimed at concealing the real ownership. Benami transactions are one of the sources of circulation and investment of black money. As such, the Bill has the potential to weed out corrupt politicians and elites that are complicit in tax evasion by hiding the true size of their assets.

The caveat, as always, remains that the law once enacted, could become obfuscated in the power trappings of our authority-wielding system. In a political matrix where patronage, institutional authorities and subversive allegiances have repeatedly stumped the authority of the judiciary and parliament, the value of such a law remains to be seen. It is to be hoped however, that this law does not regress into a tool to further disenfranchise the poor who are residing on disputed or benami properties through desperation.

To bring this law into full effect, a bold and incorruptible adjudicating body, tribunal and an unflinching Parliament would be required to make fair investigation and punishment possible. Officials wielding influence and political clout should not be able to overturn or sway the investigation. We have just seen the recent farce of the plea bargain, and this bill, which promises to confiscate all benami property, is a refreshing contrast to NAB’s version of accountability. It is a step in the right direction, and can have instrumental impact on curbing corruption.