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September 17, 2020

Opposition fails in Parliament despite majority

Top Story

September 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The joint sitting of the Parliament on Wednesday passed legislation relating to meeting conditions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) with majority vote amid strong protest by opposition parties following rejection of their amendments.

The opposition parties, after failing to stop passage of the bills despite having majority, staged walkout from the House after rejection of amendments moved by the PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of the JI.

The opposition benches also lodged strong protest after the speaker refused to give floor to movers of amendments and Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif. The protesting members tore copies of bills and surrounded the speaker’s dais while shouting ‘Parliament Ko Azad Karo’ and ‘Speaker Ko Azad Karo’.

As many as 36 members of the opposition and 16 from treasury benches remained absent during the proceedings.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Senator Mushtaq accused the speaker of violating rules for not allowing them to speak on their amendments.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asked the speaker the way he was running proceedings was not enhancing prestige of the Parliament. He said first the mover of the amendment should be allowed to speak.

However, the speaker continued the reading of the bill while rejecting objections raised by the opposition’s parliamentarians. “I am running the proceedings as per rules,” he said.

Earlier, the opposition challenged passage of the motion to move the Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Bill, 2020. However, on counting, the opposition suffered defeat by 200 to 190 votes.

The speaker wanted to give floor to the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but the same was opposed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. He said as Bilawal Bhutto was not mover of any amendment, therefore, he could not be given the floor. He also opposed giving floor to Shahbaz Sharif.

Law Minister Farogh Naseem also rejected an objection from ex-Senate chairman Raza Rabbani who said that Dr Babar Awan being adviser could not move the bill and he could only assist the House. The law minister said as per decision of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), an adviser could only not use right of vote in the House.

Raza Rabbani said presently the portfolio of minister for parliamentary affairs is with the prime minister himself.

The opposition parties staged walk out from the House during passage of the Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment Bill 2020 giving free hand to the government to pass rest of the bills and include more legislative business as supplementary agenda.

The crucial FATF-related bills passed by the joint sitting on Wednesday include the Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties bill 2020, Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill 2020 and Anti-Terrorism (Third Amendment) Bill 2020.

The joint sitting also passed the Surveying and Mapping (Amendment) Bill 2019, Islamabad High Court (Amendment) Bill 2019, ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill 2020, Pakistan Medical Commission Bill 2019 and the Medical Tribunal Bill 2019.

The Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill 2020 is aimed at streamlining the existing anti-money laundering law in line with international standards prescribed by the FATF.

The Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Act, 2020 will envisage for the federal government to constitute a committee to be known as the National Executive Committee. The committee will make recommendations to the federal government for effective implementation of this act and framing of national policy to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism. It would also make recommendations to the federal government on the application of counter-measures as called for by the FATF to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism.

The National Executive Committee to be headed by the minister for finance or adviser on finance shall comprise the ministers for foreign affairs, Law and Justice, Economic Affairs Division, Interior, Director General (Communication) ISI, DG Military Intelligence, Governor State Bank, Chairman SECP, DG Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) and DG FATF Cell as its members.

As per details of the bill, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), FMU, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) will be investigation agencies in cases of money laundering.

The punishment in money laundering cases shall be up to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to Rs25 million and shall also be liable to forfeiture of property involved in money laundering or property of corresponding value. Fine may extend up to Rs100 million in case of a legal person. Any director, officer or employee of such legal person, who is also found guilty under this section, shall also be punishable.

The Anti-Terrorism (Third Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday but was rejected by the Senate only on Wednesday. On becoming an act of the Parliament, it would allow an investigation officer with permission of the court, to use techniques using undercover operation, intercepting communications, accessing computer system and controlled delivery for investigation of financing of terrorism within 60 days of permission under the law in force.

According to the statement of subjects and reasons, the Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Bill 2020 is aimed at proper management, supervision, and administration of Waqf properties in the territorial limits of Islamabad Capital Territory.

Major objective of the Surveying and Mapping (Amendment) Bill 2020 is to stop and prohibiting printing, displaying, dissemination or using incorrect and unofficial map of Pakistan.

The Islamabad High Court (Amendment) Bill 2019 is aimed at increasing the number of judges in the IHC from seven to 10, including the chief justice, to overcome difficulties of the litigant public qua early disposal of long pending cases.

Meanwhile, the opposition said that all the parliamentary traditions were trampled in the joint sitting of both the houses of the Parliament.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif lashed out at Speaker Asad Qaiser for not letting opposition leaders speak during the joint session. “Asad Qaiser did not allow a debate on our proposed amendments,” said Shahbaz, who was flanked by the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other opposition parliamentarians.

Shahbaz said that “genuine amendments” to the bills were not entertained, adding that he would register a strong protest against the speaker for not letting him speak.

“I even went to (the place) where the speaker sits with his staff and requested him to let me speak. Neither did he respond to me nor did he allow me to speak, which I think is a very unparliamentary attitude,” he said.

The PML-N leader said it was a “black day” in the history of the Parliament owing to the way the opposition was treated, adding that the opposition will decide mutually on what action to take against the speaker. He also alleged fraud in vote count.

Dispelling the impression that the opposition parties wanted NRO, Shahbaz said that leaders Rana Sanaullah, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and PPP’s Khursheed Shah were already being targeted by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and they were fighting the cases registered against themselves bravely.

Addressing the press conference after Shahbaz, Bilawal criticised the speaker as well for not allowing the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly to speak.

“It is not the speaker’s right to stop the leader of the opposition from speaking in Parliament,” he said. “The leader of the opposition or the leader of the house can speak whenever they want to,” he said.

Bilawal said senior opposition leaders, who had also been lawmakers in the parliaments during the Musharraf and Ziaul Haq eras, said they had never seen such non-democratic practices before.

“After the IHC decision, legislation cannot be presented by an adviser,” he said, regretting that the speaker was not “ready to listen to this argument”.

Referring to the government’s amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Bill, the PPP chairman said that now, police did not need a warrant to arrest anyone. He said he has never seen such undemocratic attitude.

Bilawal said that the opposition was already bearing the brunt of the NAB’s coercive tactics, adding that these new amendments would have an adverse impact on the country’s business community and as a result, on the economy.

Parliamentary leader of the JUI-F Maulana Asad Mehmood said there is no legal and constitutional status of what happened in the joint sitting of the Parliament.

He said the democratic forces of the country were being pushed against the wall.

Earlier during the Senate session, the joint opposition blocked an FATF-related the Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020, as they rejected the draft legislation with 34 votes against the treasury’s 31 votes. The bill was adopted by the National Assembly a day earlier.