Dawn News



The prime minister wants to know why the Panama Papers inquiry should begin with him. Here is a simple answer: because you are the prime minister, sir! The leader of the house! The khabarnama on state-owned PTV begins with you every night. The career of a new parliament begins with an address from you.
When a number of people from the house you lead are suspected of wrongdoing, they ought to be investigated.
But if your name is amongst those suspected, then as leader of the house, as the first amongst equals in the highest elected office of the land, your name must be cleared first before proceeding with the others. It’s really that simple.
Read: I will resign if proven guilty, vows PM
There is no shortage of ways for powerful people to acquire ill-gotten wealth in this country. Especially in matters where the government controls prices.
Over the years, I have seen and heard so much about how almost every racket involving government pricing basically becomes part of the giant patronage machines that the political parties run, that it is enough to cause one to lose faith in the mainstream institutions of our economy.
Here is a sample.
I have heard senior insiders in the power sector describe independent power producers as “an elaborate financial scam”. At the peak of the circular debt crisis, for instance, many of these entities were making more money from penal interest charges on the outstanding amount owed to them by the government than they were from sale of electricity.

There is no shortage of ways for powerful people to acquire ill-gotten wealth in this country. Especially in matters where the government controls prices.

The CNG racket was famously exposed in a Supreme Court case when their guaranteed rates of return were shown to the public for the first time, and found to be many times what other players in the oil and gas sector were getting.
Sugar and wheat are well-known rackets too. Why the price of sugar should continue being controlled makes no sense to me, but every year the same drama plays itself out when cane growers demand one price and the millers refuse.
In Sindh, it can take many months before a price is agreed on, while a sugar export subsidy continues to apply.
Wheat procurement is similarly a racket. A simple visit to any procurement centre during harvest time reveals this. The big guy gets the red-carpet treatment whereas small farmers get the bureaucratic runaround.
At the end of the day, the wheat support price is little more than a mechanism to funnel large amounts of wealth from urban consumers into the pockets of large landowners with political connections.
A recent report by a commission formed by the Sindh government to look into the situation in Thar and make recommendations contains a striking observation.
The reverse osmosis plants installed across Sindh, with particular focus on Thar, are not working and the commission recommended halting further installations.
Examine: Several RO plants found 'out of order' in Tharparkar
Remember the fanfare with which these plants had been inaugurated? In Thar, Asif Zardari actually inaugurated one plant standing next to Bakhtawar Bhutto, complete with a photo op with hands raised in prayer. It seems the prayers were answered.
In every corner of our economy, rackets dominate. And hanging over these rackets is always the presence of political power.
My point in raising this is as simple as the point the prime minister needs to understand: to investigate everything is to investigate nothing. If you draw the loop so wide as to bring in loan defaults and LPG quotas, charges that are chosen with care so that their impact falls specifically on those leading the calls for investigating the prime minister first, then why not sugar mills and CNG stations and everything else?
That is clearly the strategy here. The PPP just wants to see the prime minister squirm a little. The PTI wants to see blood. Whereas the PML-N is offering to set the cat amongst the pigeons and then see how many takers there remain for the proposition.
But the focus should remain on the leader of the house. He must lead the house into a proper investigation rather than hide behind an ‘everybody does it’ type of defence.
The writer is a member of staff.