ISLAMABAD: The opposition-dominated Senate Friday witnessed adoption of the government’s four bills, including the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Bill and the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, as torn-up agenda copies flew amid the opposition’s protest.
Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani faced criticism, first from the treasury benches for not putting some bills, including two relating to women harassment and child protection, for adoption and instead referring to the House committees concerned, already adopted in the National Assembly, and then from the furious opposition senators, who gathered before his podium, asking him to refer the four bills to the House standing committees concerned, as being the laid down procedure.
The other two bills, passed in the House are: the Higher Education Commission (HEC) (Amendment) Bill and the laws relating to HEC amendment bill. The last two of these bills, brought in the House through supplementary agenda, raised eye-brows and the opposition strongly agitated. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani observed that the opposition was in the habit of blaming him if and when it suffers a defeat on account of failure to bring its members to the House.
He insisted that the decision on taking up a bill for ‘consideration at once’ has to be taken by the House and he had no role to play in it. He advised the opposition to ensure presence of its members, instead of blaming him.
Upon taking up of the supplementary agenda, the protesting opposition senators assembled close to the chairman’s podium tearing apart copies of the supplementary agenda and throwing them up in the air. Senate ex-chairman and PPP stalwart Mian Raza Rabbani also held an argument with the chair over taking up the bills directly for voting. “Do not tell me this, please. It has frequently happened in the past as well. You did it a million of times during your days as chairman,” Sanjrani quipped.
“It appears, we did not vote for you and as if you are chairman of the opposition only,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan remarked when the bills, which the treasury wanted to be passed with no major amendments to them, were referred to the House committees.
The minister complained all decisions were being taken as per the wishes of the opposition and the bills requiring immediate consideration of the House were also referred to the House standing committees. To this, the chairman said he had equal respect for members from both the sides and advised the minister not to target the chair. He added that his impartiality depended on cooperation from both sides of the aisle.
Leader of the House Dr Shehzad Waseem said that the opposition claimed to respect the chairperson but said their respect was selective so was their approach to democracy. “They are respectful when the decision is in their favour, but term all things won through a majority ‘bulldozing’,” he said.
However, the scene changed altogether when the government sensing the thin presence of the opposition, insisted on voting to decide on whether the HEC Amendment Bill should be taken up for consideration. The House allowed immediate consideration with a 34-28 majority vote and subsequently the two bills seeking to amend the HEC Act were passed.
Before moving the second bill, Ali Muhammad Khan disclosed that some supplementary agenda was also there. The presentation of supplementary agenda sparked uproar in the House.
Under the amendment in the NAB Ordinance, the Prosecutor General Accountability shall hold office for a period of three (03) years and shall be eligible for re-appointment for a similar term or terms. The Journalists and Media Workers’ Protection Bill is meant to promote, protect and effectively ensure the independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of journalists and media professionals.
Both the bills were passed by a 35-29 majority vote. It is interesting to note that the six-member group, led by Senator Dilawar Khan, also voted in the government's favour. PPP Parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman while talking to reporters, later regretted that instead of sending bills to committee as per the norm, the government introduced a sneaky supplementary agenda right before Frida y prayers.
She said it was clearly pre-planned and in direct contradiction to the assurances given to the Leader of Oppositions office that all bills will be as per agenda, and that they will go to standing committees.
Senator Sherry pointed out that the government introduced a supplementary agenda at 12.35pm Friday, without laying bills, and they had kept summoned back to bulldoze a person specific HEC bill and then introduced a NAB Ordinance on the supplementary agenda despite the absence of certain members due to the Friday prayers.
She contended that the pre-planned and malicious move goes against all parliamentary norms with which business is conducted in the House. She went on to assert, “It is clear that by attacking the Senate, the government is not ready to allow the provinces to speak and breathe, nor is it giving us the right to ask questions about Pakistan's sovereignty, whether it is about the IMF or amnesty agreements. We are not allowed to question the government's position on issues which have significant consequences on the future of our country. Sindh is being marginalised and its grievances are not being addressed. The government is evading its responsibilities as they are unwilling to hear us on vital issues of the census, water or any resource shared between the provinces. What is happening in the National Assembly and during joint sessions is worse than the kind of martial law assemblies that we have seen”.
She charged, “They are trying to make the Senate ineffective. The bills bulldozed today were not even circulated amongst the members. Even IMF has asked for bills to be passed, and opposition is no longer accepting legislation passed through ordinances. Unfortunately, this is the only way this government knows how to govern the country. Their mala fide intent is obvious by how they tried to convert opposition’s majority into minority but we will fight back on the floor of the Senate”.
The government was bulldozing bills in the Senate and trying to bring the National Assembly’s chaos here. However, she rejected what she called the treasury’s artificial majority and declared emphatically, “We will not let them pass the bills without consultations, especially the bill regarding State Bank’s Autonomy”.
Earlier, during the question hour while replying to a supplementary question by JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad about Pak businessmen detention for 17 years at Guantanamo Bay and why the government had been silent on handing over thousands of Pakistanis to US and would there be any accountability of Pervez Musharraf, and what the government was doing about the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said that indeed great injustice was done in the past.
He continued that the State Department has said the US government has reported that Saifullah Paracha's detention at the Guantanamo Bay detention center has expired and that the two countries are in touch in this regard and necessary formalities are being completed for the extradition of Saifullah Paracha to Pakistan.
The minister asserted that Senator Mushtaq was giving them lectures today, Pervez Musharraf sent people out but it was sent with their cooperation. He explained that MMA was his ally and had supported the LFO and the 17the Amendment and accepted him in uniform.
He said both Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUIF) had given LFO to Musharraf. “They should stop exhibiting double standards,” he remarked. The minister then hit out at PMLN government for accepting the jurisdiction with regard to Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and gave right to appeal. He added it was Nawaz Sharif, who as Prime Minister, not a single time took name of Indian spy and when on visit to India, he did not meet Kashmiri leadership.
Responding to Senator Mushtaq’s criticism of legislation regarding Kulbhushan Jadhav the other day, the minister said the government was only fulfilling the international commitment.
Senator Taj Haider of PPP asked if the government was seeking compensation from the US regarding Saifullah Paracha detention, as this will improve Pakistan's foreign reserves while PMLN Senator Afnanullah said that Ali Muhammad Khan should only tell how many of the people who were with Musharraf, are in government with him.
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