Govt, opposition want uniform accountability law

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The government and opposition lawmakers during the Senate and National Assembly sessions on Wednesday said the accountability law must be the same for everyone and there must not be any sacred cow.

The government came under fire in the Senate for allegedly making the vital state institutions a laughing stock through its follies and amending the NAB Ordinance to only target opponents.

Opposition legislators blasted the government for the new year gift on the very first day of 2020 in the shape of fresh increase in gas, electricity and oil prices. They regretted that the session was summoned only after they had filed a requisition for its summoning and their move was hence bulldozed.

The opposition senators also criticised Prime Minister Imran Khan for cancelling his scheduled visit to Malaysia to attend the Kuala Lumpur summit, while the Parliament was also not taken into confidence on this matter. They wanted prime minister and foreign minister to come to the Senate and take the members into confidence on key matters.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani chaired the session. The role of President Dr Arif Alvi was also criticised for not applying his mind in promulgation of ordinances and not questioning the government about ignoring of legislatures. They said the Presidency has turned into an ordinance factory.

Former chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani pointed out that the government had exempted all (bureaucracy and businessmen) but politicians from accountability through the latest NABAmendment Ordinance, insisting the only path to meaningful accountability was one law; one bureau (for) across the board accountability. Rabbani said there should be no sacred cows under a fair accountability law, which should apply to the judiciary and military as well as the bureaucracy.

Leader of Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq and some other opposition senators castigated the government for alleged repeated violations of the Constitution and referred to the sudden summoning of the Senate session after four months.

It was a rare scene in the Upper House when Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry conceded that the government, opposition, the judiciary and the military at present appeared to be at odds (dast-o-garebaan).

“All of our institutions have committed mistakes. We all have made mistakes, including the government, opposition, judiciary and the military. The Constitution strikes a balance among the state institutions. How the institutions are to run in the new year. It provides us with an opportunity, which we can’t afford to let go,” he warned.

He cautioned that “if we failed to sort out matters, this new year opportunity will be missed and we have before us examples of Russia, Iraq and the Middle East. There is a dire need to evolve consensus, though there is fundamental bitterness between the government, there can be consensus on minimum common agenda, like appointment of the chief election commissioner, Election Commission members, NAB law and the military law. Can’t we evolve consensus on these matters?”

The minister said that Prime Minister was also an institution and its respect was imperative as per the Constitution as judges are respected. “I have a lot of respect for the Supreme Court and the judiciary. Our courts want to judge the parliamentarians in line with Articles 62, 63 and they want to conduct our accountability. But the judiciary is not prepared to come to the Public Accounts Committee. There is public money. You want politicians be hung while want protection for PCO judges,” he said.

He emphasised that the biggest responsibility lied on the government and the opposition to thrash out a minimum common agenda on key national matters. He said Parliament should have own system of accountability of its members.

Raza Rabbani noted that through amendments, businessmen, bureaucrats, judges and the military had been exempted from being proceeded against under the law. He asked then who was left…only politicians. “Is the NAB law only there for politicians then the Parliament should be allowed to try the parliamentarians,” he maintained.

The PPP Parliamentary Leader Sherry Rehman grilled the government for summoning the Senate session without giving 48-hour notice and charged that summoning the session in haste meant only the House should not be in quorum and the Parliament be made helpless.

“Incapability is at such peak that 25 ordinances have been promulgated and then the session called. But you can’t run the government on the basis of President House and Banigala. The matter of COAS service fell victim also their incapability,” she retorted.

“You issue notification 3-4 times and then prime minister addresses to spell out the reasons. You are not investing the wheel. You are not in the Kindergarten. It is a matter of shame that the judiciary orders you to approach the Parliament on the issue of Election Commission members. The selectors, who selected and brought you, are fed up with you know. The result is this when the session is not called for four months. The people and the state institutions are fed up with you,” she said.

The PML-N Senator Abdul Qayyum wondered how the country would move forward when the Parliament was not being allowed to play its role in relation to legislation, oversight and people’s representation.

“How will there be parliamentary oversight when the Senate was locked for four months and when members don’t turn up at the House committees meetings what to talk of ministers,” he noted.

The JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri expressed concern over the statement issued by the military’s media wing on the verdict announced in the high treason case against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf. He argued a debate on the verdict against Musharraf should have taken place in the Parliament and that the statement given by the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations regarding the judgement had led to an exchange of statements.

The PTI Senator Faisal Javed criticised the role of opposition in the Parliament and alleged that their only aim was to get relief for their held leaders, who were involved in corruption and impede legislation in the welfare and interest of masses. He added despite the opposition’s hue and cry, the government had been able to bring about economic stability and the prime minister had already declared 2020 as the year of masses.

Meanwhile, members of the National Assembly on first day of the first session of the new year, protested against gas shortage across the country and increase in prices of the petroleum products.

Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri also joined concerns raised from the opposition complaining gas shortage in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan and asked Minster for Energy Omar Ayub to explain reasons on floor of the House.

The minister, however, passed the responsibility to the past governments for the current gas shortage, saying the PTI government was making all out efforts to cope with the situation. He said in the last one and half year, an additional 50 percent gas had been added to the system.

The issue of gas shortage was raised by the PML-N parliamentarians including Saad Waseem and Romina Khursheed Alam which soon turned into a full-fledged debate.

In the course of discussion, the minister also indulged into argument with the opposition members who were protesting against his criticism against the past PPP and PML-N governments. “You will certainly feel trouble and pain whenever we speak the truth,” Omar Ayub said.

He said the PPP government in Sindh was also responsible for gas shortage in the province, saying the provincial government delayed giving Right of Way (RoW) for laying main gas pipeline which added to miseries of the masses.

Romina Khursheed Alam called into question the performance of the government in the last one and half year.

Shazia Marri of the PPP accused the government of violating the Constitution while denying provinces of natural resources which they were producing.

Syed Mahmood Shah of the JUI-F while waiving copy of a gas bill in the House said they were getting bills whereas gas was not available. He requested the chair to issue directions to stop issuance of bills.

Qasim Suri said that Quetta city and other parts of the Balochistan were also facing severe gas shortage. “I am continuously receiving messages from people in this regard,” he said.

On that the minister said a new pipeline would be laid for Quetta city to replace the old one which would resolve issue of gas shortage there. He said that gas theft was also one of reasons for shortage in the province.

Agha Rafiullah accused the minister of trying to pit Punjab and Sindh against each other. “If you cannot meet the gas shortage, you should not pit the two provinces against each other,” he said.

The PML-N Parliamentary Leader Khawaja Asif and Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP protested against summoning the National Assembly session on short notice of 12 hours. Khawaja Asif also questioned continuous absence of the Prime Minister Imran Khan from the House, saying he had not turned up here for the last several months.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirjaul Haq criticised the government for amending the NAB ordinance, terming it an attempt to protect corruption. Referring to a speech by the prime minister, he said it was a first when the prime minister was seen criticising judiciary.