In his highly anticipated appearance in the National Assembly on Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif criticised his detractors and offered to create a parliamentary committee on the Terms of Reference (TORs) for the Panama Leaks probe shortly before the opposition parties staged a walkout calling the whole thing a waste of time and an attempt to misguide the public.
The PM’s speech itself was so full of holes in logic that even Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, who has been criticised by many in recent days for being too friendly towards the government, had to say during his two-minute response to the PM’s speech that it had raised 70 new questions instead of answering their seven.
Shortly afterwards, the opposition, which had earlier taken pains to make sure the prime minister sits through their speeches also, staged a walkout as the state TV cut its live broadcast.
The opposition parties crowded around a single microphone after their walkout and took turns flaying the prime minister’s speech, leaving many wondering if it wouldn’t have been more effective to stay inside the House and present all their objections and questions for the prime minister instead of letting him off-the-hook and allowing the government lawmakers to dilute the opposition’s outrage by leveling allegations of their own.
PM’S CHEWBACCA DEFENCE:
Prime Minister Nawaz, appearing in the National Assembly after 81 days, for the first time since the Panama Leaks revelations, said that he was ready to form a bipartisan parliamentary committee to finalise the TORs for the judicial commission to probe the allegations of corruption.
The joint opposition, keeping their plans of a boycott secret, immediately left the House even as Speaker Ayaz Sadiq gave the floor to Imran Khan to respond to the prime minister’s speech.
Earlier, during his brief address, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pleaded his innocence and said that his hands were clean and he had never dodged domestic or international laws to make money.
The premier spoke at length how his father had built a business empire twice after state machinery confiscated their properties in 1970s and then again in 1999.
Sharif also targeted the opposition for putting him and his family in the cross hairs vis-a-vis the Panama Papers revelations.
“The opposition’s TORs revolve around me and my family. While my name was not mentioned in the Panama Papers, the opposition has fixed responsibility before even a proper investigation into the allegations, and without giving me an opportunity to respond,” the premier said.
He said that while his government wanted to take the country on the path of development, the opposition was trying to subvert the process.
“We have gone through scrutiny by various regimes in the past and not a single case has been proven against us. We endured victimisation in the past and even now, we are ready to clear the air regarding the accountability process,” he said.
Not venturing far from the stance he took up during his previous speeches, prime minister said that those should also be held accountable who got loans written-off and embezzled state funds.
Taking a jibe at opposition figures, the premier said many of those opposing him also need to be brought before the judicial commission.
“If some biased media reports are maligning my family, why not to start a probe into those media reports which have unmasked the so-called clean people?” he said without mentioning recent revelations about Imran Khan’s offshore company.
“The parliament needs to approve an accountability process for this purpose,” he said, and added, “The Charter of Democracy (CoD) had also called for legislation to help remove weaknesses and flaws present in our existing accountability system,” he added.
In this spirit, the premier said, the House may start a consultative process through a parliamentary committee to help hold everyone accountable for their misdeeds. We should also not allow anyone to level baseless allegations against anyone, he said, adding that the accountability process needs to be taken to its logical conclusion.
The prime minister said they had nothing to hide and said they had paid every penny of loans they had obtained from the banks.
Taking another dig at Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif said that as chief minister Punjab, he allotted land free of cost besides offering other concessions to charitable hospitals but he did not allow his own Sharif Hospital to seek concessions from the government.
Rejecting the impression that his family had taken advantage of being in power to further their business, Sharif said that even before coming into power, his family was running a profitable business.
He said that his late father had started a steel factory in 1930s which was confiscated by the then government in 1970s in the name of “nationalisation”. He said that later, Ittefaq Foundries was returned in 1979 in a bad shape which was once again turned into a profitable entity by his family.
“I got a profitable business in inheritance when I entered politics. By 1983, the Ittefaq Foundries was earning Rs 600 million as profit,” he said.
Again criticising Imran Khan, Sharif said that those who are leading a lavish life, who fly in helicopters and live in huge bungalows should also tell the nation what the source of their income is.
“They should also tell what they used to earn in 1970s,” he said.
The premier said that people accuse that his family does not pay taxes which is a baseless allegation.
“My family paid Rs 10 billion taxes in the past 23 years. I am submitting FBR documents about taxes paid by my family with the House. During the past 23 years, I have personally paid Rs 360 million in taxes,” the prime minister said and presented his tax documents as proof.
PM Sharif said that all allegations about their London flats are baseless.
“In 1970s, after nationalisation, my father went to Dubai and founded Gulf Steel in 1973. This factory was sold for 33.37 million dirham in 1980,” he said.
In 1999, the premier said his father’s fears proved true when his family was sent into exile and all their properties were confiscated.
“During this period, the military regime went through all the records but could not prove a single case against my family,” he asserted.
Sharif said that in Jeddah, his late father once again constructed a steel factory which was later sold for $17 million in 2005.
“This money was used to buy the London flats. Not a single rupee was sent abroad from Pakistan for Jeddah Steel Mills or for buying the London flats,” he said.
About the formation of the judicial commission on the Panama Leaks, the premier said that the response by chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) has been received by the government and legal experts are examining it.
He said the speaker may form a committee to frame the TORs taking onboard the opposition leader and other parliamentary leaders so that the corrupt elements may be held accountable.
“The government will furnish all the documents and relevant records with the committee so that it can thoroughly probe the matter,” he added.
The prime minister said that the impression is incorrect that some people are full of sin while others smell like angels.
“All politicians will have to pass through the accountability process. It’s been seventy years since independence and the nation is still being made to see the same mudslinging,” the prime minister said and added, “It’s time we ended it.”
The premier said that the country is moving on a path of developmental.
“Economy is growing fast and today’s Pakistan is brighter and stronger than that of three years ago. By 2018, the country will be a lot more stable, peaceful and developed,” the prime minister said.
GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS:
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif entered the House after the Question Hour ended and was greeted by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers with loud slogans of “Sher Aaya, Sher Aaya”.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan then entered the house from the opposite side, triggering a response from PTI lawmakers who welcomed their leader singing a jingle “Sher Ka Shikari Aaya”.
However, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq called the House to order and asked both sides to refrain from sloganeering.
Opposition MP Jamshed Khan Dasti was the most vocal during the PM’s speech and kept interrupting the premier, forcing Speaker Sadiq to issue multiple warnings to him. Minister for Railways Khawaja Saad Rafique could be seen engaging with the opposition members who may have been trying to heckle the prime minister. A private channel claimed Rafique had been using indecent language during the speech which was not fit for broadcast.
Soon after entering the House, the premier who ran a little late, shook hands with all the parliamentary leaders of the government’s allied parties. Sharif also went to Leader of Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah and shook his hand with a pleasant smile on his face.
He also shook hands with another Pakistan People’s Party lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar but avoided Imran Khan who was sitting next to Shah.
As soon as the premier reached his seat, the speaker gave him floor.
The session abruptly ended after the opposition MPs staged a walkout and the speaker was forced to adjourn the session. Before the session was adjourned, Sadiq directed Law Minister Zahid Hamid to initiate process for formation of a joint parliamentary committee to finalise TORs for the judicial commission.