NAB voluntary return and plea bargain schemes discussed by Senate committee

ISLAMABAD: Voices against the controversial plea bargain and voluntary return provisions in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws echoed in the parliament again on Tuesday when members of a Senate body called for amendments.

“Voluntary returns and plea bargains are exploited and should be amended,” said Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq during a meeting of the Senate Standing Committing on Law and Justice held at the Parliament House with Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi in the chair.

The committee also reviewed the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2017 (Ordinance No. II of 2017).

Senator Farooq Naek observed that the bill contradicted the provisions of the Constitution. He highlighted ambiguities in some clauses of the bill.

Senator Dr Muhamamd Ali Saif agreed with Sentor Naek, adding that the bill did have ambiguities. The chairman of the committee suggested to wait for the joint parliamentary committee which was agreed by the committee.

Representatives of the bureau also attended the meeting.

Interestingly, the joint opposition, backed by some treasury members in the Senate on Jan 19, disapproved the recently promulgated NAB ordinance, envisaging disqualification of the corrupt public office holders and public servants, availing themselves of plea bargain to escape punishment.

The Pakistan Peoples Party’s parliamentary leader, Senator Taj Haider, said that there was no need to promulgate an ordinance in haste as the Senate session had already been summoned but the government preferred an ordinance over legislation.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said there was a need for “one roof and one law through which all the corrupt whether in the judiciary, military, civil or any other department could be made accountable”.

The committee also discussed the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Bill, 2016, in detail.

Minister of Law and Justice Zahid Hamid briefed the committee of the salient features of the bill and said it would replace the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956, which was a weak act.

Senator Ayesha Farooq and Senator Nehal Hashmi were of the view that the bill was required to counter corruption and that it was different from the Panama Inquiry Bill, as the Panama Bill was specific to a single case.

The chairman observed that it was an important bill and must be scrutinised thoroughly.

The committee agreed with the chair that all the suggestions of the members should be incorporated and a draft would be presented within 10 days.

Adding Pakistan to ban list would be counterproductive: Bilawal

WASHINGTON: Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has warned that adding Pakistan to the list of nations whose citizens are banned from travelling to the United States will create a “host of hostilities” between the two countries.

“As far as the ban is concerned, I believe it only has detrimental effect on the countries it has included and if that is extended to Pakistan it will create a whole host of hostilities,” he said at a discussion hosted by the US Institute of Peace in Washington.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump slapped a travel ban on seven Muslim countries and later his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, hinted that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt could also be added to the list.

Asked whether Pakistan could be included in the list of seven nations whose citizens had been barred from entering the US for at least 90 days, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that including Pakistan in such a list “would also be a very negative indicator that the US is turning away from those very ideals that it stood for”. He added: “I hope that this is not the new normal.”

The PPP chairman said there was a lot of uncertainty about what the future policies were going to be and he would like to hold on to the wait-and-see approach. He said the Muslim ban “seems to be extremely controversial decision” in the United States as well.

“For my generation as a progressive Muslim in the world, it is really discouraging to see countries responding to the fear of others in such a way. We have learned through history that this is not the way to deal with such issues,” he said.

Instead of a sweeping ban, the PPP chairman suggested “interaction” with the nations where tiny minorities had imposed terrorism over vast majorities.

Such interactions could be enhanced “by finding common ground, studying in other peoples’ universities, learning about a shared culture, history,” he said, adding: “A few criminals should not be allowed to spoil the situation for everyone.”

Blaming an entire nation for the acts of a few, he said, was very discouraging for those Muslims who were fighting radical extremism because “people [put] their lives on the line on a daily basis to do so, to fight for what they believe in”.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari also referred to “another side of America”, the almost daily protests against the ban that started hours after President Trump signed the order. “The outpouring of support for the people affected by this ban is a very positive message sending to the world. I do hope that this issue will be sorted out very soon. Because this is sending a wrong message and is shrinking the space for those of us out there fighting Islamic extremism on the front lines,” he said. “I feel for the citizens of all these countries who have been thrown into chaos through these [executive orders],” he added.

Taking a shot at the Islamisation drive of the present government, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said that the PML-N was the same party that tried to make Nawaz Sharif, Ameerul Momineen.

He emphasised the need for a firmer approach for dealing with extremist groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and condemned the PML-N government for not making any serious effort to eradicate terrorism from south Punjab.

Imran insists burden of proof lies on PM

ISLAMABAD: Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s hearing of the Panamagate case, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairperson Imran Khan said his party had no proof of corruption allegedly committed by the prime minister and the burden of proof lay on the government.

“How can we get evidence… they [PM and his family] have accepted the ownership of the London flats [and] are responsible for providing the money trail,” the opposition leader said, adding that the Supreme Court should ask the PM how he had been paying to live there since 1993 if he had not bought the flats before 2006.

Mr Khan said that the PTI did not know the name of the prime minister’s company registered in Panama and that it was the Sharif family’s responsibility to tell the court all about their offshore companies.

PML-N leader claims PTI can foresee defeat in case

The prime minister had been initially reluctant to tell the nation about his offshore investments, he claimed, adding that even after the opposition had pressured him, the prime minister had given a misleading statement in parliament.

In April 2016, the Panama Papers revealed three offshore companies owned by the Sharif family after which the PTI approached the court alleging that the prime minister was involved in money laundering and that the money was used to make offshore investments.

The PTI chairman said that the government was trying to shield itself behind a letter written by a Qatari prince. “[The Sharifs’] answer to all questions is a letter from a Qatari prince, who is a corrupt as well. Whenever the government is asked for proof, it refers to that letter,” he said.

Mr Khan asked what the prince had gotten in exchange for giving the Sharif family Rs300 million. The Gulf Steel Mill was running up losses of 15 million dirhams but suddenly started making a profit in 1980 and was sold for 13 million dirhams to the Qataris, he said.

PTI spokesperson Fawwad Chaudhry lashed out at the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for apparently encouraging corruption in the country rather than controlling it. “NAB has helped corruption flourish more than any other department in the country,” he claimed. He said that NAB appeared helpless, which was why it had chosen not to appeal the verdict in the Ishaq Dar money laundering case in 2000.

Mr Chaudhry said the money trail between 1980 and 2000 was patchy at best and that was why the government had presented letters by the Qatari prince.

On the other hand, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Daniyal Aziz said it was clear that the PTI could foresee a resounding defeat in the Panamagate case. He stressed that the government had provided the courts the money trail for 12 million dirhams.

He also claimed that the PTI was twisting facts and misrepresenting Mr Dar’s statement in his own case. “A referee judge has already given a judgement on Ishaq Dar’s statement,” he said.

Debt fears overblown, says Dar

KARACHI: In a long and detailed rejoinder to his critics, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar says that the country’s debt profile is in fact improving, and “predictions of doomsday scenario for Pakistan” regarding public debt are overblown.

To highlight the point, he provides a comparison in growth of debt between his government and that of his predecessor. “[T]he previous government contracted net debt of around Rs7,833 billion during its term (2008-13),” he says, which averages out to “an annual compounded growth rate of 19.0 per cent.” By contrast, the same figure for the three years of his own government is 9.75pc, he says, providing detailed breakdowns of the figures for each of the periods.

“The Net Debt-to-GDP ratio as at June 2008 was 53.1pc, which had increased to 60.2pc in June 2013 when the present government assumed office. During the period from July 2013 to June 2016, the Net Debt-to-GDP ratio has remained unchanged at 60.2pc, thus showing no further deterioration, which is a clear sign of improved debt sustainability,” the statement goes on to add.

Pakistan will continue adding to its debt stock, he argues, because as a developing country it must run deficits in order to support growth. “Fiscal and current account deficits are inevitable for a developing country,” he points out. “The challenge of good economic management is to keep these two deficits within sustainable limits, so that the former would not lead to unbridled growth in public debt while the latter would not lead to external liabilities that cannot be supported by prospective capital flows.”

The cost of the country’s external debt is greatly exaggerated by alarmist views, he argues. “This is evident from the average cost of the total external debt obtained by the present government, which comes to around 3.1pc excluding grants and 2.9pc including grants. Furthermore, in October 2016, our government issued a $1bn international sukuk at 5.5pc, the lowest ever rate for any bond or sukuk issued in Pakistan’s history,” he says.

“As of today, external debt servicing obligations for Pakistan are not more than an average of $5bn per annum until 2021. Keeping in view the track record of the country, this amount of repayments should not raise any concern,” he assures. “Pakistan has successfully met higher obligations in excess of $6bn per annum in 2012-13 and 2013-14, even with much smaller volume of foreign exchange reserves.”

The stock of total debt under this government may have risen, but “any unbiased financial expert would endorse that instead of reading out the nominal growth of external debt, it must be seen how its volume has grown relative to the country’s foreign exchange resources, foreign exchange earnings and GDP. Similarly, the servicing burden must not be viewed in isolation but relative to foreign exchange earnings.”

Data accompanying the statement shows steep declines in all the ratios mentioned by the minister. For example, the ratio of public external debt servicing as a percentage of foreign exchange earnings goes from 11.1pc in 2013 to 8.4pc in 2016. Likewise, the ratio of public external debt to SBP reserves falls from 8pc to 3.2pc in the same period.

“Some analysts are often misquoting the level of public external debt in media as $73bn. They lump together public debt with private debt, which includes foreign exchange borrowings of banks as well as non-financial private sector. The stock of public external debt as at end June 2016 actually stood at $57.7bn, up from $48.1bn as at end June 2013. This represents a cumulative annual growth rate of only 6.3pc per annum. Certainly, this cannot be termed as an exponential growth, as claimed by a few,” his statement emphasises.

When looking at net external indebtedness, he argues it is necessary to see this figure in relation to total reserves. Net external indebtedness, measured after subtracting total reserves from total external public debt, he argues, was $44.1bn in 2013, which came down to $39.6bn by June 2016. “Therefore, net external indebtedness of the country improved by $4.5bn by end-June 2016 compared with end-June 2013.”

This has happened, according to the minister, despite the fact that “the present government has repaid around $12bn of external debt till end-June 2016, which was mainly related to the borrowings of the previous governments. Despite these heavy repayments, the foreign exchange reserves of the country have risen to more than $23bn, of which SBP reserves were $18.1bn at end June 2016, which is equal to over five months of import cover compared to around one month of import cover in June 2013.”

The statement is unusually long and detailed and comes at a time when soundings about a softening of the country’s external account have been increasing. The minister claims “some inherently sceptical analysts” are misleading the public by presenting “selective information” which they analyse “on the basis of their preconceived notions.”

His aim in releasing the statement, he says, is to reassure foreign stakeholders that “Pakistan is properly managing its debt and to convincingly dispel any notion that the country is at risk with regard to debt obligations in the foreseeable future.”

Opposition boycotts PA over Hafiz Saeed’s arrest

LAHORE: Opposition MPAs staged a token boycott from the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday in protest at the house arrest of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed.

At the request of Jamaat-i-Islami MPA Dr Wasim Akhtar, the opposition members boycotted the session. Mr Akhtar said Mr Saeed had made the Kashmir issue alive and there had been a lot of social work on the credit of Falah-i-Insaniat. He demanded the immediate release of Saeed and other JuD leaders.

Speaking on the point of order, Opposition Leader Mahmoodur Rasheed said the PML-N government had taken action against Mr Saeed because of the United States and India. “Action against Saeed shows that the government has succumbed to Indian pressure,” he said, adding that Mr Saeed was being punished for raising voice for the rights of Kashmiris and no one could doubt his patriotism.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government and JuD’s policy on Kashmir was different.