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January 29, 2020

Absence of ministers in Senate irks legislators


January 29, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Legislators agitated in the Senate Tuesday on absence of ministers during the question hour, as joint opposition stormed out of the House, alleging some ministers were not taking the Senate seriously.

The absence of Minister for Narcotics Control Shehryar Afridi remained a mystery for quite a while during the unusually prolonged question hour, as neither Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Muhammad Azam Swati nor the Senate Secretariat had any clue to his whereabouts, as the House was told he was not present in the federal cabinet meeting, underway side by side with the session.

However, the minister later informed the House that the minister for Narcotics Control was ill but agreed with the Deputy Chairman Senate Salim Mandviwalla and opposition senators that he should have at least informed the secretariat and him as well. The ministry’s secretary also came to the visitor’s gallery late, the chair was told.

The chair asked the minister to convey to the prime minister the House concern to ensure presence of relevant ministers during the question hour. “We are conscious of dignity and decorum of the House but some ministers could not come due to the Cabinet meeting,” Swati said.

Leader of Opposition Senator Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq led the opposition’s token walk-out, alleging some ministers were not taking this House seriously. Opposition senators also protested on Swati’s replying to supplementary questions pertaining to various ministries, who also requested for fresh questions on certain queries.

PPP parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman insisted that to be answerable to the Parliament was a collective responsibility but it did not mean that a particular would be answering all questions. She said there had to be a contingency plan on this count and noted that the minister for Interior was also not around.

Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad faced a volley of questions, both from the opposition and treasury benches and one question regarding the deficit in the Railways was referred to the House standing committee on the request by Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of JI.

He surprised many in the House when revealed that the bureaucrats were very smart and one Railways officer had been absconder for nine years, as he was wanted by NAB and afterwards through a court, he returned. “Scores of bureaucrats are dual nationality holders and their children have Canadian nationality,” he said and JI’s Sirajul Haq wondered how could a person, who remained absconder for years had resumed his job.

Swati urged Senator Bahramand Tangi to share evidence of some officers, whom, he had seen misusing the Ministry of Interior’s official vehicles privately while availing the monetisation policy. “I assure the House that action will be taken on this illegality, if proved,” he said.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad was surprised to know that his question regarding the seminaries accounts had not been answered by the Ministry of Interior and referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Are now seminaries the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ responsibility,” he asked.

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi rose to wonder where was the notification of seminaries having been referred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and called for action on this matter. The chair held out an assurance to the senators after consultations.

In a written reply to a question by Senator Ch. Tanvir Khan of PML-N, Minister for Defence Pervaiz Khattak told the House that there were a total of 1232410 pensioners, belonging to the armed forces and their pension by November 2019 stood at Rs109411052631 while commutation Rs32099152521. He explained that the pension and commutation respecting the SEP/Ors and JCOs were being compiled under one head, hence cumulative expenditure in relation to JCOs/Ors of the tri-services had been mentioned.

The House adopted the House Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication report on the issue of payment of increase in pension of retired employees of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), payable by the Pakistan Telecommunication Employees Trust. Senators Rukhsana Zuberi and A Rehman Malik strongly called for early implementation of the committee recommendations and they were joined in this demand by Minister Swati, who said the recommendations were genuine and be implemented within two months. They said that the story pertaining to the PTCL pensioners was a pathetic one, who desperately in need of what was their right. The chair also insisted that without waiting for 60 days, the report be implemented.

Senators Sherry Rehman and Javed Abbasi protested over not enlisting of their call attention notices and motions on various important issues and wanted wind-up of debates on presidential address to the Parliament’s joint sitting and NCSW report.

The Senate also offered fateha for the departed souls of prominent scholar Prof. Sharif al Mujahid and spouses of Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani and Rafique Rajwana.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Economic Affairs Division has clarified that in the story on the Maternity and Paternity Bill, 2018 where in, the statement of Hammad Azhar, Minister for Economic Affairs has been erroneously published as "nowhere in the world was there a provision for so many paternity leaves." Whereas the minister actually said that "paternity leave allowed in majority of the countries was not as high".