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December 21, 2017

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In-camera briefing: Senators face action for breaching House rules

In-camera briefing: Senators face action for breaching House rules

ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani said on Wednesday that senators who divulged the details of in-camera briefing given by Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa to the Senate Committee of the Whole committed breach of the Senate.

Several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the Senate found themselves at the centre of a ‘controversy’ for disclosing the information of an in-camera briefing as Raza Rabbani referred the matter to the House Business Advisory Committee for probe. During the first-ever briefing to the Senate panel, General Qamar Javed Bajwa explained to the senators in detail the matters relating to national security in an in-camera briefing but within minutes, considerable information was flashed on the media while many senators talked to journalists about the session.

Then, in the evening, senators belonging to both the treasury and opposition were invited to television talk shows as special guests, who then shared more details of the in-camera briefing and in the end, it was felt that hardly anything was held back from the viewers.

While chairing the session on Wednesday, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani gave vent to his anger on the senators and drew their attention towards rules 250 and 253 that clearly restrict disclosure of a secret briefing. Rabbani recalled that he had informed all the senators before the start of the briefing but all went in vain.

Rabbani said that majority of senators divulged the information and one senator went to the extent to sharing the information with the media detailing exactly what came under discussion, which is breach of privilege of Senate. At the same time, he clarified that his observations did not mean that he was against the freedom of the press and said it was job of the media to gather information about any event, but the way senators divulged the information of a secret briefing was not appropriate at all.

He then referred the issue to the House business advisory committee to evolve a code of conduct for the senators, making it binding on them not to share any information related to in-camera briefings. The committee will comprise leader of the house, leader of the opposition and parliamentary leaders of all political parties in the Senate.

Rabbani made it clear when they were taking a policy decision, secrecy was of utmost importance. He said that the senators could have given an overall general background of the meeting to media like opposition leader and leader of the house spoke in general after attending the meeting.

He warned if this remained the practice and the senators started leaking out sensitive information of in-camera briefings to the media, no institution would trust the institution of the Senate for such secret briefings in future.

“I made it clear to all the senators that nobody is allowed to take note of the [in-camera] proceedings and share it with anybody outside the house…but the way the senators especially one senator shared the details with the media was a gross breach of privilege of the Senate,” he regretted.

It was learnt that Rabbani wanted to speak to Senator Nihal Hashmi of PML-N for his ‘irresponsible behaviour’ but his phone was found switched off. Hashmi was not seen in the House as well.

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