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March 15, 2019

Aab-e-Pak Authority Bill passed despite resistance from Opp


March 15, 2019

Jawwad Rizvi

LAHORE: The treasury benches on Thursday managed to pass the Aab-e-Pak Authority Bill due to their majority in the Punjab Assembly despite strong resistance and disagreement from the opposition benches.

The Punjab governor has been made the patron-in-chief of the authority instead of the chief executive (chief minister) of the province which was strongly opposed by the opposition. Terming it violation of the constitution of Pakistan, the opposition announced challenging it in the Lahore High Court. The opposition also walked out of the session at the time the bill was passed by the treasury benches. The opposition termed it a basis for mega corruption and opening of a Pandora’s box of constitutional issues, besides required amendments to the constitution of Pakistan, in Rules of Business of Government of Punjab, in Rules of Business of Punjab Assembly.

Former spokesperson for the Punjab government and PML-N MPA Malik Ahmed Ali Khan opposing the procedure for passing the government legislation said that the government was creating legal issues. He said that such bills should not be passed by suspending the rules of the assembly business. “The government will manage to pass the bill for it has majority of the numbers but it would set wrong precedents,” he said, requesting PA Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to give proper time to the opposition to recommend the amendments to the bill.

Earlier, the report of the standing committee on the said bill was circulated in the assembly soon after the question hour session started. The Speaker suspended the business just after taking one question and circulated the report of the standing committee on Aab-e-Pak Authority among the members.

Opposition MPA Samiullah Khan, Azma Bokhari, Khalil Thair Sindhu and Waris Kallu strongly opposed the bill, appointment of the Punjab governor as its patron-in-chief and the procedure for the passing of the bill by the government while Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Bashrat Raja defended the government by quoting the examples from the past. He said the previous government had passed two bills in 2014 and five bills in 2015 on the same days they were presented. He said the opposition should keep its past acts in mind while opposing the government legislation business.

Responding to Bashrat Raja, Malik Ahmed Ali Khan said that he had opposed his government’s such acts in the past while PTI Ministers Mian Aslam Iqbal and Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed were witnessed to that. Furthermore, he said that he suffered due to such opposition.

MPA Samiullah Khan said the appointment of the Punjab government would require amendments to the Rules of Business of Government of Punjab, Rules of Business of Punjab Assembly while it would open way for the governor to intervene in the province’s administrative matters directly. He said that under the constitution of Pakistan, governor was a federal government representative and not answerable, questionable, debatable in Punjab Assembly. However, after becoming patron-in-chief of Aab-e-Pak Authority, he would be answerable to the Punjab Assembly members. He said that if the Punjab government wanted to give more powers to the governor and why not they placed a chair for governor in the assembly as well.

Terming the Sub-Clause III of Rule V of Aab-e-Pak Authority a “craftsmanship” either of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar or the law and parliamentary affairs minister, he said that Chaudhry Sarwar had wanted to intervene and take over the water plants project in Punjab when he was made Punjab governor by PML-N in the previous term. However, Samiullah Khan said, Chaudhry Sarwar failed to manage it which was one of the reasons for differences between then chief executive of the province, Shahbaz Sharif and him. He alleged that Chaudhry Sarwar wanted to look after his “foreigner friend’s interests” who was doing water filtration business and wanted to do the same business in Pakistan.

Samiullah Khan said that a big scam in the name of Aab-e-Pak Authority was in the making while the federal government was already encroaching up the Punjab government thorough the prime minister’s weekly meetings in Punjab to run the province.

Khalil Tahir Sindhu said that under the 18th Amendment of the constitution it was further made clear that the role of the governor was ceremonial and given statuary position of Chancellor for government universities only. He said that intention of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar was already questioned in a meeting with Jhangir Khan Tareen that he would not allow the Punjab government to function. He also questioned how the governor would be answerable to the assembly. Furthermore, he termed the PA Speaker ‘Father of House’ and appealed him not to allow passing of any unconstitutional bill in the House.

Azma Bokhari said that it was very old plan to give power and authority to Punjab governor. She said any elected person of the House could be the patron-in-chief of the authority but not the Punjab governor. She said the PTI was even unable to protect the rights of its elected chief minister while the opposition was voicing for it. She said this exposed the incompetence of the chief executive of the province who was ignored while his powers had been given to the governor. She announced the Aab-e-Pak Authority would be challenged in the Lahore High Court.

On the questions by the opposition benches, the minister for law and parliamentary affairs said the standing committee headed by Rana Iqbal, a PML-N MPA, had unanimously passed the bill after which its report was circulated among the members and the bill was tabled for approval of the House. He said the governing body would run the affairs of the Aab-e-Pak Authority while its patron in chief’s role was only to the extent that the government would consult him for appointment of the chairman of the authority. Furthermore, he said that the government had powers to remove any private member of the authority if his/her was not satisfactory.

Earlier, Minister for Irrigation Mohsin Lgahri responded to the questions asked by the members during the question hour.

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