–PPP’s Raza Rabbani says amended NAB law only targets parliamentarians
–Says govt’s ‘incapability and incapacity’ has landed armed forces in an embarrassing position
–Opp lawmakers protest over convening of session in haste, premier’s absence from it
ISLAMABAD: Opposition senators on Wednesday lashed out at the newly approved ordinance that has clipped the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s actions have rendered the parliament ineffective.
Addressing the first Senate session of the year, convened by the government on a 24-hour notice, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Mian Raza Rabbani raised questions on the amendments proposed by the government to the country’s accountability law.
He said that the government has exempted businessmen, bureaucrats, judges and the military from being proceeded against under the law through the amendments. “Who is then left? Only you and I are left,” he said, addressing the Senate chairman.
“Is the NAB law only there for politicians?” he asked, suggesting that the parliament should be allowed to “try the parliamentarians”.
Otherwise, he said, if the government really wanted to conduct accountability, then “the only path to meaningful accountability is one law, one bureau [and] across-the-board accountability”.
Rabbani said that there should be “no holy cows” under a fair accountability law, which according to him, should apply to the judiciary and military as well as the bureaucracy.
He said the government was not following the Constitution and its actions have rendered the parliament ineffective.
Speaking about the issue of extension in the service of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, which underwent strict scrutiny in the Supreme Court (SC) in November last year, Rabbani said the PTI government due to its “incapability and incapacity” had landed a national institution (army) into an “embarrassing position”.
“What kind of a government is this which cannot issue three or four notifications?” he said, urging the government to let the parliament and the Senate play their constitutional roles.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said that the Constitution maintains the balance between the four institutions of government and the opposition and the military and the judiciary. “However, the four institutions appear to be at odds with each other as the country enters a new year,” he added.
“I think these four institutions are neither culpable in all matters nor blameless in all matters,” he said, adding that all four of the branches are susceptible to making mistakes.
The minister said that the country’s priority should be finding ways to provide a better future to its very young population. He said that it was natural for the government and opposition to have differences on fundamental issues, “but the country cannot function […] if we cannot appoint members and chairman of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and develop consensus on what the accountability process should be”.
The minister said that the government and opposition should move forward on issues on which consensus can be developed such as the appointment of ECP members, accountability laws and the pending legislation regarding the army chief’s tenure.
“The army is not only the PTI’s; it equally belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F),” he said.
Fawad said that although he had great respect for the Supreme Court (SC) and the judiciary, the courts “want to judge all of us parliamentarians on the basis of Articles 62 and 63 [of the Constitution] and hold us accountable, but the judiciary itself is not ready to come to the Public Accounts Committee. How will things functions when public money is involved in all of this?”
Addressing the treasury and opposition benches, the minister added, “On this first day of the new year I want to request that we devise a minimum common agenda which can include the ECP, the accountability system and other big issues.”
Communications Minister Murad Saeed said that the government had already introduced an amendment to the rules to allow ‘PM Question Hour’. “The issue is still being debated,” he said. He also assured the members of the lower house that the “difficult time has passed” and that the “new year will bring prosperity”.
“The government is launching Ehsas programme on January 8 and all of you are requested to participate in the programme,” he added.
Later, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq expressed disappointment over the fact that the government had called the Senate session only after the opposition submitted a requisition. He said that the upper house had been “kept in the dark” regarding the promulgation of the NAB ordinance. He alleged that the accountability process is being carried out in a “unilateral, oppressive and illegal manner” in the country.
Haq said that the opposition had submitted the agenda for the Senate session but a “negative mindset” prevented it from being included in the scheduled of proceedings.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said that they had found out through newspapers that a Senate session had been called for today. She said that some members were unable to attend because of the prevailing smog.
She also said that ministers were not present in the house even though the session had been called after such a long gap. In addition, questions and answers were not made part of the agenda “which means that the government was not prepared”, she alleged.
She lambasted the government for promulgating 25 presidential ordinances last year, saying, “The parliament cannot be run from Bani Gala or Aiwan-e-Sadr.”
The PPP leader further said that the government had failed to issue a proper notification regarding the army chief’s tenure extension and has now filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement on the issue. “What does the government going into review indicate?” she asked.
She also criticised the government for “doing nothing but giving a speech” regarding the issue of occupied Kashmir. She questioned why the foreign minister was not coming to the parliament to brief the lawmakers on the latest situation in the region.
CRITICISM OVER ISPR’S STATEMENT:
JUI-F Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri expressed concerns over the statement issued by the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), on the verdict announced by a special court in the high treason case against former military ruler General (r) Pervez Musharraf.
He said that the debate on the verdict against Musharraf should have taken place in the parliament, and added that the statement given by the director general of the ISPR regarding the judgement had sparked “an exchange of statements”. He added the matter of Gen Bajwa’s service extension should also have been discussed in the parliament. Because that was not done, the country had to “face embarrassment”, he added.
OPP PROTESTS OVER ‘URGENT’ SESSION:
Meanwhile, members of the opposition bench protested over the sudden convening of the session.
PML-N leader and former NA speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked the speaker to defer the question posed by the members who were absent from the house.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Syed Naveed Qamar questioned the logic behind the decision. “Many members have been unable to reach Islamabad from their constituencies,” he said. Former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf also protested the convening of the session at such short notice.
“The members are sitting at Karachi and Multan airports. People are unable to come from Balochistan. The session has been convened on a less-than-24-hour notice. The members are asking you to defer the questions whereas no written replies have been given to most of the questions. This is a joke,” he said.
The former premier went on to criticise what he termed “the height of irresponsibility” on the part of the government. “The government has increased petroleum prices. We register our protest. This house is not truly representing the people. We want a debate on the price hike,” he demanded.
PML-N’s Parliamentary Leader in the NA Khawaja Asif said that Prime Minister Imran Khan “had promised that he would himself come to the house to give replies to the questions”. “The PM has not come to the assembly for the last whole quarter starting from October. The session was scheduled to start from January 10, but the government has suddenly summoned the sitting,” he added. He urged the government “to maintain the sanctity of the rules”.
‘GOVT OUT OF MIND’:
Earlier on Tuesday, PPP MNA Shazia Marri had said that the government was “out of mind” as it wanted to run parliament in a haphazard way, just as it was running the country. According to Marri, the members were informed at 5 pm on Tuesday through media about the parliament sessions to be held the very next day.
Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz, however, had termed the opposition’s clamour as surprising and had said that the parliament’s sessions had been convened on their request.
He had said that after the opposition submitted a requisition with the Senate secretariat on Monday, he had contacted Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, Sherry Rehman and other parliamentary leaders and had told them that the government was convening the Senate as a session on their requisition would need 14 days.
He had said that important developments had taken place since the last session was held and the government wanted to take the house into confidence, adding that premier would attend the coming Senate session.
It is pertinent to mention here that the federal cabinet on Wednesday approved amendments in the Army Act to define the service term and extension in tenure of an army chief. The amendments are expected to be tabled before the parliament in the ongoing session.