Monday September 27, 2021

At NA and Senate: Govt, opposition exchange barbs over Khokhar Palace, NAB working

ISLAMABAD: The government and the opposition Friday exchanged barbs in the National Assembly over the issue of Khokhar Palace and in the Senate over the performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The members of the PML-N lodged protest in the National Assembly after Speaker Asad Qaisar reserved his ruling on a privilege motion sought to be moved on Malik Afzal Khokhar against retrieval of state land allegedly occupied by the parliamentarian in Lahore.

The PML-N members gathered in front of the speaker’s dais after he announced reserving his ruling on admitting the privilege motion to refer it to the Privilege Committee. The situation forced the speaker to adjourn proceedings till Monday afternoon.

The speaker and PML-N parliamentarian Ahsan Iqbal indulged in a verbal clash twice when the latter was not given the floor. Ahsan while lodging protest with the chair said the speaker is allowing ministers to insult opposition members and their privilege motions are not being entertained.

“Is this the way to speak in the House. You also remained a minister and call yourself a professor,” the speaker in his immediate reaction said as the PML-N raised slogans of Na Manzoor while the speaker reserved his ruling on the privilege motion.

Afzal Khokhar while challenging the allegations of the adviser on parliamentary affairs said he and his family members are bona fide purchasers of the land, demanding that the privilege motion should be referred to the Privilege Committee where he would produce evidence. “Action against my family was undertaken to serve political motives and as an attempt to change loyalties,” he said.

The PML-N member said his legal property was demolished whereas a huge property of Prime Minister Imran Khan in Bani Gala was regularized on payment of just Rs1.2 million. “I am being harassed so that I cannot participate in proceedings of the House,” he said, demanding that the adviser should apologize to him for levelling allegations against him.

As Afzal Khokhar was speaking, his colleague and party’s spokesperson Marriyum Aurgenzeb occupied the seat next to him, encouraging him to speak against the prime minister and mention his Zaman Park residence and business of sewing machines. “If I am a Qabza group, Imran Khan is also a Qabza group,” Khokhar said. On the dictation of Marriyum Aurengzeb, he said neither he occupied land to construct the Zaman Park residence nor he took funds from the government to purchase sewing machines.

Meanwhile, talking to media persons outside the assembly, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the government has resorted to mean actions like demolishing houses of daughters and sisters. He said the speaker did not even admit the privilege motion of Afzal Khokhar and referred the same to the Privilege Committee. He said Imran Khan did not even know details of a report of the Transparency International on increasing corruption in Pakistan and believed in what his advisers said that the report is based on data of the past government.

Adviser to Prime Minister Dr Babar Awan who opposed the privilege motion said there is no law which could allow a constitutional institution to protect land mafia. The adviser while citing Rules 31 and 97 said the two rules disallow admissibility of the privilege motion particularly when an issue is under litigation. He said if according to the opposition member, the matter is under litigation, as per Rule 31, the subjudice issue could not be brought in the parliament. He said the Lahore High Court had admitted the government plea that it wanted to take action for retrieval of state land and there is also no stay order by a civil court.

The adviser said the action against land mafia was taken in the daylight and 45 kanals of state land was recovered. He said there are 10 big Qabza groups only in Punjab and they constructed colonies and petrol pumps. He said the privilege motion could not be admitted as neither it is a question of privilege nor it is anybody’s right, adding that the House could not give protection to any criminal act.

Babar Awan said democracy and land mafia could not go side by side. “There are political elements who while standing with land mafia hurl threats to the institutions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Shahzad Akbar on Friday informed the National Assembly that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) made recoveries to the tune of Rs339.33 billion in the last two years.

He said that ARU which comprises representatives from NAB, Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), was established to implement recoveries of illegal assets abroad.

Responding to supplementary question during the question hour, Shahzad Akbar said that NAB recovered Rs290 billion while ARU made recoveries of Rs37 billion from illegal foreign assets in two years since its establishment in September, 2018. The ARU so far had detected unlawful foreign assets worth Rs318 billion.

Shahzad Akbar told the House that the Pakistan government at present has no working relationship with the Broadsheet. He recalled that agreement with Broadsheet was signed during the year 2000 which continued till 2003. He said contract between then government and Broadsheet was made in 2008 when it was paid 1.5 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the government and the opposition in Senate had a verbal clash over the performance of the NAB, as the House was told that a total of Rs481 billion were recovered in the last 10 years, including Rs390 billion during the last two years.

The House was given categorical assurance that frontline health workers, then health workers and aged persons, and not the politicians, ministers, judges or generals or bureaucrats were the government’s top priority for COVID-19 vaccination.

During the question hour, giving break-up of the recovery, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said that NAB performance could be gauged from the amount recovered during the two years of the incumbent government, which did nothing but allowed the anti-graft body to work freely of any pressure or interference.

However, this statement was not welcomed by some opposition senators, including Muhammad Javed Abbasi of the PML-N, who insisted that the recoveries were made possible owing to voluntary return and plea bargain, whereas the Supreme Court had rejected voluntary return option. He also questioned the plea bargain option as well. He also sought data on how many NAB cases had reached their logical end and recoveries thereby on the court orders.

To this, the minister pointed out that what was done was in accordance with the law. Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani declined to refer the matter to the House committee concerned and ordered for provision of information Senator Abbasi asked regarding conclusion of corruption cases.

Shahzad Akbar, who by that time, made his way to the House, rose to clarify that the questions and answers during the court proceedings were not a decree and added that the plea bargain had passed the court test in the Asfandyar Wali case and judicial scrutiny as well afterwards while after the superior courts reported judgments, voluntary return had been done away with.

Through a calling attention notice, PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed raised what he called the humanitarian issue besides having a legal aspect to it and it was the protest, being staged by around 250 teachers of the Federal Directorate of Education for the last two, three weeks in Islamabad, including female teachers, working in the federal capital institutions on deputation under the wedlock policy.

He said a delegation of opposition senators had visited the protesting teachers to show solidarity with them, who had been teaching here for the last 10-15 years and now being repatriated to their parent departments in the provinces, which was like dividing their families. He pointed out that the wedlock policy was given a legal cover in 2012.

Minister Ali Muhammad Khan said the government was doing what it could within the legal limits, to provide relief to the teachers. He added under the law, teachers had been working here on deputation for five years and extension in their stay was possible only by obtaining NOC [no objection certificate] from their parent departments.

The ministry concerned, he noted, had received several letters from the provincial education departments, seeking repatriation of teachers from FDE in view of their pressing requirements back in the respective provinces and after they had exhausted their legal period of five years.

He explained that some got NOC and those, who could not, went to Islamabad High Court for relief in 2020 and the same year the court issued a very strong judgement, asking for repatriation of those, who were not issued NOC, otherwise, it would the federal department’s inefficiency and delinquency and misconduct.

Afterwards, he noted these teachers opted for intra-court appeal and it had been admitted in IHC and hence the matter was sub-judice and once the court announced its judgement, it would be implemented.

Leader of Opposition Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq strongly advocated the case of the teachers and proposed that the government should review it and the House committee also come up with guidance to the government on this count, as it was a serious humanitarian issue, asking for an effective solution.

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem said that the federal minister for national education was concerned about the issue and wanted an amicable solution to it and was weighing some options as well.