Opposition threatens boycott if denied due share in Senate standing committees

Government offered them representation but insisted the committees would function even without the rival side’s presence

By Mumtaz Alvi
June 12, 2024
An image showing an interior view of the Senate hall. — Senate website/File

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate Tuesday threatened to boycott the House standing committees if the government denied them the due representation.

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The government offered them representation but insisted the committees would function even without the rival side’s presence.

Sloganeering, passing of remarks without mike by some members on both sides of the divide, allegations and counter-allegations marred the proceedings.

PTI parliamentary leader Syed Ali Zafar warned that he was seeing a crisis in the House, as rules, laws and traditions were put aside in the distribution of standing committees.

He alleged that ignoring their choices, computer-generated sharing was offered to them.

“Form 47 is not happening to us even in the Senate now,” he remarked.

As the Senate resumed hours after the election of PPP Senators Saleem Mandviwalla and Quratulain Marri as chairpersons of the house standing committees on finance and revenue and the planning and development respectively, Ali Zafar, moments after the question hour, raised the issue.

The parliamentary tradition of the opposition getting the committees having something to do with the government’s accountability had been pocketed by the treasury side.

He said a decision which should have been taken by the leader of the house and leader of opposition in consultation with the parliamentary leaders, had been done through computers and it was unacceptable to them.

“We do not recognize these committees. Go ahead, if you can run the house without committees. We urge the Senate chairman to play his role in bringing the leader of the house in the Senate and parliamentary leaders to the negotiating table; otherwise, we will be heading towards a crisis. Do not force us to boycott the committees,” he said.

Rising in his seat next, Leader of Opposition Syed Shibli Faraz contended that the tradition, which began back in 2012-13, should have been adhered to but was not the case, calling it a travesty of traditions. He argued that when the leader of the house and opposition leader discuss something, it had some sanctity.

He referred to his brief meeting with the leader of the house wherein he had proposed a formula of upholding tradition being adhered to for over a decade.

He objected to the manner in which the committees had been formed. He said elections for the chairmanship of committees were never held and it became a mere formality after consensus emerges between the stake-holders.

Shibli claimed that he could even tell the names of the persons who have been promised chairmanship of committees.

PPP parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman rejected outright what she called the impression being created by the opposition about any irregularity in the process of committees’ formation, and recalled that back in 2021, the then opposition had asked for standing committees on law and justice and interior, which were not given to it by the then PTI-led government.

“We even then remained patient and did not boycott the committees. Please stop giving lectures to us on democracy and parliamentary practices. We did not dissolve the National Assembly to escape a no-trust motion,” she remarked while slamming the PTI leadership for its move that was overturned by the apex court.

However, Sherry said she did not want to vitiate the atmosphere and invited the opposition to have a dialogue if they wanted committees; otherwise, they (opposition) would be out of the committee system, but the committees will still continue to function.

“You will then repent playing a wrong political card, then talk of committing suicide and take a U-turn,” she remarked. She insisted that nothing was hidden, the chairmen were elected through votes and everyone knew about it.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who also holds the portfolio of parliamentary affairs minister, fully endorsed the remarks made by Sherry Rehman and confirmed that the then opposition was denied two committees by those who talked about accountability today.

“We have also seen you passing 52 bills in 63-64 minutes,” he said amid noisy protest by the opposition benches.

The house witnessed uproar from the opposition benches when the minister criticized the PTI founder Imran Khan for idealising Mujeeb ur Rahman. He said their Quaid had owned the tweet, advising them to reflect before going for such moves. As some PTI members called for withdrawal of words, he completely overlooked them.

The minister contended that those who had violated the constitution repeatedly were trying to lecture how legislation was to be done; he also referred to the PTI’s dissolution of NA to escape no-trust motion.

He advised the opposition that boycott would be a political suicide while the country needs political reconciliation.

Later, ANP Senator Aimal Wali Khan, on a point of public importance, rose to object to the way the standing committees were constituted and the allocation of their chairmanships to each party.

He said, “I have not been informed when and how these committees were formed while I am also the parliamentary leader of my party.”

The Senate passed four government-sponsored bills by majority vote but without sending them to the standing committees concerned amid protest and walkout by the PTI-led opposition members.

The bills include the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (Amendment) Bill, the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (Amendment) Bill, the Pakistan Postal Services Management Board (Amendment) Bill, and the National Highway Authority (Amendment) Bill.

Before the walkout, Ali Zafar demanded that the bills on the agenda should be sent to the standing committees for discussion instead of passing them without holding a debate.

“If these bills are being passed on the dictation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), even then we cannot pass them without discussion,” he emphasised.

To this, the law minister said that the bills, moved by the last caretaker government in the form of ordinances, had already been passed by the National Assembly, whereas Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq had taken the decision to pass them in the presence of all major parliamentary parties, including the PTI.

He urged that the bills aimed at bringing good governance should be passed immediately, as no legislation could be done during the budget session. The opposition leader said they had no objection to the content of the bills but there should be discussion on them before putting them for passage.

Shibli Faraz announced to stage a walkout from the House after the law minister pressed the chair to put the bills for vote.

Azam Nazeer Tarar moved a motion under Rule 263 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate, 2012 that the requirement of Rule 120 of the said rules be dispensed with in order to take into consideration the bills as passed by the National Assembly.

The law minister laid the Elections (Amendment) Ordinance, 2024 and the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance, 2024 before the House as required by clause (2) of Article 89 of the Constitution. He explained that the ordinances had already been laid before the house.

The house was found not in quorum and adjourned to meet again on Wednesday (today) at 6pm after count was made and only 21 members were present.

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