ISLAMABAD, Oct 15: While the question of dual nationality is being hotly debated in other forums, something like its ghost hit a government bill for creating a new drug regulatory authority and the ruling coalition did not have enough numbers in the National Assembly on Monday to exorcise the menace.
Midway through voting on its clauses, the Drug Regulatory Authority Bill was deferred when the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) broke the house quorum by having several of its back-benchers sneak out of the chamber after a lawmaker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner, refused to withdraw his amendment seeking deletion of a single word, “only”, from a clause that requires the chief executive officer or a director of the proposed authority to be a Pakistani citizen.
While the amendment’s author, S.A. Iqbal Qadri, and National Regulations and Services Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan argued that the word’s deletion from the clause — “no person shall be appointed as the CEO or director of the authority unless he is a citizen of Pakistan only” — would only grammatically improve the text and conform it to similar wording in the constitution and within this bill, some PML-N lawmakers insisted, with some hair-splitting, that the move seemed paving the way for the induction of people with dual nationality who could serve the interests of foreign pharmaceutical companies.
The deferment came on the last day of the validity of an existing presidential decree — the Drug Regulation Agency of Pakistan Ordinance — promulgated in February to provide for a federal agency to oversee the manufacture and trade of medicines after the devolution of heath sector to the provinces under the Eighteenth Amendment.
It was not immediately clear whether the bill would be taken up again on Tuesday, which is a private members’ day mainly meant for legislation or motions proposed by private members and when the house is likely to be prorogued after a 12-day session.
Even if the bill had been passed by the National Assembly on Monday, it would not have spared the existing regulatory machinery being in limbo until the passage of the draft by the Senate, which a couple of hours earlier on Monday also deferred a private Drug Regulatory Authority Bill of an MQM member to wait for the outcome of the government bill in the lower house.
Even in the upper house, which already has on its agenda a government bill for a constitutional amendment to allow parliamentarians with a second nationality of country under an agreement with Pakistan, opposition leader Ishaq Dar of the PML-N saw the deferment of MQM member Abdul Haseeb Khan’s bill as an “example of inefficiency” of the coalition in bringing a draft while a government bill was also before the lower house.
In the National Assembly, the PML-N argument, advanced mainly by the party’s legislative guru, Zahid Hamid, and a front-bencher, Khwaja Mohammad Asif, seemed to appeal to some members of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as well with a veteran parliamentarian from Sindh province, Syed Zafar Ali Shah, demanding circulation of the bill to elicit public opinion until Nov 15, while Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, a sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, saying a meek “no” in the voice on several clauses.
Even Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi evoked some cheers from opposition benches when he said the constitutional bar on dual nationality for parliamentarians — for which several of them lost their seats after a Supreme Court ruling while others were asked by the Election Commission last week to file fresh declarations within a month — should apply also to other government functionaries.
However, PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah spoke with passion to urge the house not to a send a wrong message to overseas Pakistanis by seeking what he called a “division of Pakistanis”, and telling the opposition that the coalition would now use its majority rather than a consensus to get the draft passed, before the house was adjourned until 10am on Tuesday.
Earlier the PML-N had agreed to the rest of the bill after Ms Awan assured the house that provincial governments had been taken on board about his legislation for which, she noted, the provincial assemblies also had passed authorising resolutions.