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January 12, 2021

Treasury, opposition clash on islands issue in Senate

Top Story

January 12, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The treasury and the opposition in the Senate on Monday were poles apart on the issue of Sindh and Balochistan islands going into control of the Centre, as the former defended the move as constitutional while the later termed it a bid towards One Unit.

Personal attacks and insinuations marred the proceedings, as the house resumed after a two-day break with Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani in the chair. The house had a discussion on the opposition’s motion on the alarming propensity of the federal government to usurp and subvert parliamentary and provincial rights guaranteed in the Constitution by attempting to rule the country by ordinances, especially the current case of attempted illegal land grab of Sindh and Balochistan’s islands as well as resources.

Deputy Chairman Salim Mandviwalla reminded the chair about his announcement to hold consultations with regard to the NAB’s alleged illegal and unconstitutional moves against politicians.

The house witnessed strong arguments from both sides of the aisle with regard to promulgation of the related ordinance and other ordinances promulgated since the inception of the PTI-led government.

The government came under fire for allegedly trying to take control of the resources of the federating units under one pretext or the other. However, on its part, the government tried its best to defend the presidential powers to promulgate ordinances and contended that a parliamentary committee, headed by Raza Rabbani, has not touched Article 89, which provides constitutional cover to promulgation of ordinances.

Federal Minister for Law Barrister Senator Farogh Nasim argued that it is not something illegal: Article 89 of the Constitution, which had not been touched at the time of 18th Amendment, gave power of issuing ordinances to the president. He pointed out that the ordinances had a temporary life and could not be re-promulgated under a judgment of the Supreme Court.

The minister found it fit to complain on the non-cooperation of the opposition over legislation, even those involving national interest as well as public interest, having nothing to do with politics. He pointed out that even the crucial FATF legislation had to be taken to the joint session of parliament.

He rejected the opposition’s charge that the ordinances were issued while the parliament was in session and summoned too and he challenged that no ordinance had been promulgated while either house of the parliament was in session. He pointed out that most of the ordinances promulgated during the PTI government’s term had already been converted into acts of the parliament, while others including Pakistan Island Development Authority Ordinance had lapsed.

Regarding the controversy in relation to the Island Ordinance, the minister emphasized that the legislative powers were divided between federation and the provinces under the Constitution. And in this connection, he referred to Articles 142, 143,144 and 87 of the Constitution.

The Islands Ordinance, he claimed, had been promulgated after consent of the Sindh government was received on July 6, 2020. He pointed out that the ordinance had been promulgated on September 2 and had lapsed on December 28, 2020. He contended that the letter conveying the Sindh cabinet’s decision had been withdrawn after promulgation of the ordinance. He explained Article 264 of the Constitution applies after promulgation of the ordinance.

It may be a surprise for many when he recalled that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government had handed over the Bundle Island to the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) and he wondered were now the PPP members charge-sheeting Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto?

The opposition senators regretted that the parliament was being bypassed and ordinances were being promulgated without fulfilling the preconditions enshrined in Article 89 of the Constitution and the parliament had been locked while the Senate session was also a requisitioned one by the opposition.

Interestingly, some members from the opposition demanded withdrawal of the Islands Ordinance which had already lapsed. When reminded by the treasury, one senator said the government was working on the matter again.

Senator Mir Kabir Shahi of the National Party was the first from the opposition to open the discussion and he criticised the president for frequent promulgation of ordinances and said during the two and a half years of the PTI in power, around 40 ordinances had been issued. The senator from Balochistan pointed out that the Islands Ordinance was promulgated under the pretext of promoting tourism, but reminded the rulers that tourism was a provincial subject after the passage of the 18th Amendment. He called it the centre’s meddling in provincial matters and a bid to occupy its resources.

He warned the federal government against any unconstitutional step to grab the islands of Balochistan and Sindh, which he cautioned would further add to concerns of people.

Former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani said the state appeared to have decided to widen all the fault lines on which the enemy was already working. He added that the government was not mindful of the repercussions of such steps on the federation. He called the Islands Ordinance a bid to bring 1973 Constitution under the shadow of 1962 Constitution and an issue of usurpation of the provincial rights. He said the state seemed to be trying to revert the country to one unit while blasting the government attempts to bypass and demean the parliament by frequent promulgation of ordinances.

He alleged that under the garb of so-called transparency of the vote, the federal government wanted to destroy the pith of the Senate, which was enshrined in Article 59 of the 1973 Constitution, wherein it is stated that the Senate elections will be held on “proportional representation” and a “single transferable vote”. He stressed that the doing away of this principle will also deprive the nationalist and religious parties of being a part of the mainstream of the federation.

The veteran legislator advocated implementation of trichotomy of powers as per the Constitution and suggested revival of the intra-institutional dialogue, initiated during his stint as chairman Senate.

He was quick to clarify, “I am not talking about dialogue between the government and the opposition where the ruling elite will make compromises to accentuate their rule.”

PML-N Senator General (retd) Abdul Qayyum said the issue should have been discussed in the parliament before promulgation of the controversial ordinance. He said the president does not enjoy discretionary powers to promulgate ordinances. Rather under Article 89, he can do it under specified circumstances.

He said the prime minister blames the past governments for obtaining loans, which it was paying back, and noted that the coming government would have the same complaint against the PTI-led government. He asked the government to prepare a plan to rid the country of debt in consultation with the opposition.

PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar alleged that the Centre wanted the islands for DHAs and advised the government to strictly abide by the Constitution, as the basis of the federation was the federating units and the powers between the two were defined in the Constitution. He asked the federal government to deist from occupying provincial resources. He contended that islands belonged to the provinces.