ISLAMABAD, Oct 9: On the eve of a Supreme Court hearing against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, lawmakers rebuked their own ilk and others and did little business on the first private members’ day of the National Assembly’s present session on Tuesday.
The members themselves came in for stinging criticism for their endemic late-coming, which delayed the day’s sitting for one and a half hours, before they opened their guns at others, ranging from the federal and provincial governments to the bureaucracy and judiciary.
Although there was a substantial agenda for the third working day of the session which began on Friday, the unspoken focus of the lawmakers appeared to be on Wednesday’s hearing by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court to know from Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek what had been done to remove its objection to a paragraph of a letter to be sent to Swiss authorities to reopen disputed money-laundering charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
But while the law minister remained present in the house, not many members appeared to be aware by then of a petition filed by Attorney General Irfan Qadir later in the day, seeking a review of the Sept 18 order of the bench for the court’s oversight of the letter which the previous prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had refused to write on the grounds of a presidential immunity, incurring a contempt of court conviction and removal from office.
REPRIMAND: In the absence of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, his ministry received a quick reprimand from the chair and was asked to explain to the house privileges committee why it did not brief the parliamentary secretary in charge about the allegedly increasing ‘sheesha’ smoking in Islamabad.
Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, who chaired the proceedings, called for a report from the committee before Friday when the present session is due to be conclude, while having a dig at the interior secretary who, he said, needed to be “pulled up” by the minister.
Parliamentary Secretary for Interior Rai Mujtaba Kharal had expressed his inability to respond to a call-attention notice from four members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q about what they called an “increasing use of sheesha in the capital territory”, saying he had not been briefed by the ministry.
DUAL NATIONALITY: The deferment of this first item on the agenda opened the door for a stream of speeches on points of order to the exclusion of the remainder of the agenda with the topics of complaints including a controversy about the dual nationality of parliamentarians -- at least 11 of whom have been de-seated by the Supreme Court and all the rest asked to file fresh declarations about whether they have a nationality other than Pakistan’s.
Asked by some members what to do in response to a form sent by the Election Commission to be filled up by them, the deputy speaker said it was up to the commission to get this done and the National Assembly secretariat had nothing to do with.
Responding to a demand from Usman Khan Tarakai, an independent member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, that the house send out a “unanimous voice” about the right of vote for overseas Pakistanis, Mr Naek said that while a constitution amendment bill seeking to allow people with dual nationality to contest election was already pending in the Senate, the government would soon bring another bill to provide for facilities for overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes in an election wherever they are based.
Mumtaz Alam Gilani of the PPP, a former human rights minister, said that he, as a lawyer, found no justification to file fresh declarations about dual nationality, and wanted the house to “make it clear today that we are not bound (to do it)”.
Noor Alam Khan of the PPP from Peshawar protested against what he called wrong declarations filed by some people before elections being used to put all parliament members under suspicion and said the court better also ask for similar declarations from its own judges.
Independent Mohammad Usman from Balochistan called for the dismissal of the PPP-led coalition government in his restive province for what he called its failure to maintain law and order and urged the imposition of governor’s rule with the appointment of a new, “honest governor”.
Nasir Ali Shah, a PPP dissident from Quetta, supported Mr Usman’s demand but said he believed the federal government would do nothing because the present party was different from what it had been during the lifetime of its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, with interest only in remaining in power.
Dr Darshan, a PML-N member from Sindh, staged a solo walkout from the house to protest against what he called a “fraud” played with his province with the enforcement of a new local government law that he said had introduced two different types of systems there.
But PPP’s Shazia Marri, in a speech that was cheered by members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, decried what she called “a few mischievous elements” seeking to create confusion about something done by the majority in accordance with the Constitution, although, she said, they would not succeed in their plans.
Defence Minister Naveed Qamar told the house in response to an opposition member’s query that a parliamentary committee on Balochistan headed by him would submit its reports to the federal cabinet on Thursday, but gave no details.