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Barbs fly as Senate adopts Panamagate bill

ISLAMABAD: Amid barbs traded between members of both the treasury and opposition benches, the opposition-dominated Senate on Thursday passed the much-talked about ‘Panamagate bill’ with slight amendments.

However, the opposition will have little to rejoice because the important bill will now go to the National Assembly where the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz enjoys majority.

The bill was passed with 37 votes in favour and 15 against. Jehanzaib Jamaldani of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal kept up his tradition of siding with the government while sitting on the opposition benches and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) abstained.

“We are at a loss to understand if the accusers are accused or accused are the accusers,” MQM’s parliamentary leader retired Colonel Tahir Hussain Mashhadi said while talking to Dawn after the session.
The bill moved by the opposition will become law only after it’s passed by National Assembly where PML-N has the numbers to reject it

Two of the three members of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party attended the session but they were not in the house at the time of the voting.

Tensions started mounting when Law Minister Zahid Hamid and Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq criticised Leader of the Opposition Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan for ‘backtracking’ on his commitment of supporting a move to seek extension in time for deliberations on the bill during a meeting of the Senate’s standing committee on law and chided him for the ‘immoral’ tactic used for the passage of the bill.

Mr Ahsan said that he had done nothing he should be ashamed of. He dragged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif into the controversy, saying he [the PM] gave one statement before parliament and said something else before the Supreme Court.

He said the prime minister had not constituted a parliamentary committee on national security, though he had committed to do so within three days.

This infuriated PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan, who said: “We had not provided India with lists of the Sikhs.”

Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani asked Mr Khan to restrict himself to the bill, but he in turn questioned if the opposition leader had spoken only on the bill.

Amid uproar, he continued: “Your history of treachery is very long. You provided lists of the Sikhs to India and you removed boards of the Kashmir House during the visit of then Indian prime minister to Pakistan.”

Undeterred by the noise coming from the opposition benches, Mr Khan said he would also make noise when they would speak. “I am not the one who gets scared. They level baseless allegations and do not have a heart to listen to the response. If they escape, we will chase them,” he said before he was convinced by the chair to return to his seat.

Mr Rabbani did not allow Mr Ahsan to offer an explanation, saying “let me proceed with the bill”.

Yet, at one stage both Mr Ahsan and Mr Khan rose in their seats to exchange barbs, though their mikes had been turned off.

Mr Ahsan accused Mr Rabbani of providing the opportunity to the treasury benches to level allegations against him.

“Nobody can behave so fairly as I do,” Mr Rabbani replied.

Two amendments which were adopted to slightly change some clauses of the bill were moved by Senator Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

Ayesha Raza Farooq’s amendment to add Bahamas leaks and other sources in the purview of the bill was rejected by the house thorough voice vote.

The bill titled ‘Panama Papers Inquiries Act 2016’, introduced by the opposition in the Senate on Sept 26, has been pending before the standing committee on law and justice, headed by PML-N’s Javed Abbasi, because of a deadlock between the government and the opposition.

During the last session, Mr Abbasi had sought an extension in the period for the consideration of the bill, but the request was rejected. The Senate chairman asked the committee to submit its report to the house. The committee could not amend the bill and finally the bill landed in the Senate in its original form.

The bill proposes a judicial commission to investigate the setting up of offshore companies by hundreds of Pakistanis, including the children of PM Nawaz Sharif, as revealed by the Panama Papers leaks.

The government is opposing the bill. Terming it useless, it has pointed out that the Supreme Court has already taken up petitions of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and others on the issue. The Pakistan Peoples Party wonders if the apex court also decides to form an inquiry commission, then under what law will it be given powers since the court has already rejected such a commission under the 1956 Act.

The bill suggests a forensic audit of all the money sent abroad through secret channels.

The proposed law makes it binding upon all those whose names have appeared in the Panama Papers to provide the commission access to their bank accounts. It contains all the terms of reference proposed by the opposition for the commission, which the government has already rejected.

The bill binds the commission to first investigate PM Sharif and his family before proceeding against the other Pakistanis involved. However, the text avoids naming PM Sharif or his office, instead referring to: “the inquiry against a respondent, who publicly volunteers himself and his family for accountability or who publicly admits holding of offshore assets, along with his family, shall be completed and submitted in the first instance”.

On the other hand, the government managed to get a new inquiry commissions bill passed from the National Assembly last month despite the opposition’s protest and boycott.

courtesy : dawn news

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