Scandal-hit Pakistan finance minister takes sick leave

Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar came under the radar of an inquiry sparked by the Panama Papers leak last year which centered on discrepancies between the income of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his lavish lifestyle. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2017
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Scandal-hit Pakistan finance minister takes sick leave

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar has gone on indefinite medical leave amid an ongoing corruption scandal, piling more pressure on the beleaguered government ahead of elections due next year.
Dar came under the radar of an inquiry sparked by the Panama Papers leak last year which centered on discrepancies between the income of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his lavish lifestyle, particularly his family properties in London.
A finance ministry official confirmed to AFP Thursday that Dar has applied for and been granted the leave.
Local reports have said he is suffering from a heart condition. Images showing him on a hospital bed in the UK were published in local media earlier this month.
“He has not resigned from his job, nor anybody else has been appointed as finance minister,” the official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to media.
The Supreme Court ousted Sharif over the investigation this summer, and an accountability court is now trying him on charges that could see him thrown in jail.
The scandal has left his ruling Pakistan Muslim League under pressure ahead of general elections due to be held sometime next year, with the allegations against Dar adding to the heat.
The Supreme Court has also reopened a 17-year-old case against Sharif in which Dar admitted to money laundering for him. He later claimed that he made the confession under duress by the military government of General Pervez Musharraf.
Analyst Hasan Askari said the prime minister can grant leave to a minister, who technically retains his post, status and privileges during the period of absence.
“It is in fact a face-saving formula that they have devised, otherwise he deserved to be knocked out anyhow,” Askari said, referring to the corruption allegations.
The government in a statement late Wednesday said that GDP growth of 5.3 percent in the last fiscal year was the highest in ten years, and predicted it was on track to hit or even surpass 6.0 percent this year.
It also noted an increase in the tax-to-GDP ratio and a decrease in the fiscal deficit.
A recent World Bank report said Pakistan’s economy continues to grow, but cautioned that vulnerabilities were beginning to emerge, with its international reserves under stress due to a high and widening trade deficit, among other challenges.


Sri Lanka parliament to meet in showdown between rival PMs

Updated 29 min 23 sec ago
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Sri Lanka parliament to meet in showdown between rival PMs

  • Sri Lanka has been locked in a power struggle since the prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was sacked
  • The power struggle has crippled the work of the administration

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament will meet under tight security Wednesday, after the top court ruled its dissolution illegal and opened the door to a vote on which of two rival prime ministers has the support to rule.
Sri Lanka has been locked in a power struggle since the president sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26 and replaced him with former strongman president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
On Tuesday the Supreme Court overruled President Maithripala Sirisena’s dissolution of parliament, and halted preparations for a snap election, in a major boost for the ousted prime minister.
Wickremesinghe is confident he can command a majority and wants a vote on the floor of the 225-member assembly to determine the legitimacy of the government installed by presidential diktat.
“Speaker Karu Jayasuriya ordered the police to ensure that MPs have free access to parliament,” a spokesman for the Speaker said. “There will be tight security.”
Thousands of armed police have been deployed along the key approach roads to parliament, which is located on a man-made lake island, with several anti-riot units on standby.
Parliament officials fear that supporters of Rajapaksa’s party may try to stop legislators getting to parliament.
However, by early Wednesday there were no large crowds and only small pockets of Wickremesinghe supporters gathered near the parliament complex.
Rajapaksa’s party was divided Tuesday on facing a test in parliament. His legislator son Namal Rajapaksa said they will attend the legislature, but other party seniors said they would not.
Sirisena sacked the legislature after his party admitted that they did not have an absolute majority despite engineering the defections of eight legislators from Wickremesinghe’s party.
Since then, at least two legislators have ditched Rajapaksa and joined Wickremesinghe’s UNP party which insists it has a comfortable majority in the House.
Wickremesinghe, who insists he is still the prime minister, has refused to vacate the official Temple Trees residence which is a symbol of state power in the island.
The power struggle has crippled the work of the administration, according to lawmakers on both sides.