PML-N ministers conspicuous by their absence in the parliament

Published August 23, 2013
During the question hour of the National Assembly, it’s only Sheikh Aftab who tries to fill in for his absent colleagues. -File photo
During the question hour of the National Assembly, it’s only Sheikh Aftab who tries to fill in for his absent colleagues. -File photo

The PML-N government is fast approaching the first 100 days in power, but it seems the party is yet to find its feet, at least in the Senate and National Assembly.

In other words, its performance is far from impressive.

Not only are the PML-N ministers found missing in the house, the overall attendance on treasury benches is not encouraging. Considering the initial months of the new National Assembly, the ruling party’s legislators’ lack of interest in the business of the house is not a good sign.

Notably, during the question hour of the National Assembly, it’s only Sheikh Aftab who tries to fill in for his absent colleagues in the name of collective responsibility. However, he is unable to fully respond to the questions concerning ministries other than his own portfolio of parliamentary affairs.

Last Tuesday, the atmospherics became tense when opposition members demanded a full-fledged minister for communications as they were not happy with the answers given by Mr Sheikh. The ministry of communications is still with the prime minister, as he is yet to find a suitable lawmaker to look after its affairs.

Sahibzada Tariq Ullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami, a member of the National Assembly from Upper Dir, said communications was an important public sector department which needed a full-time minister.

He said over the past few years, the roads’ infrastructure in the northern part of the country had been severely damaged because of flooding but the reconstruction had been slow due to lack of supervision.

Not to be left behind, Sheikh Rashid of the Pakistan Awami League, in his usual witty manner, came to Mr Aftab’s rescue and said it was not his (Mr Aftab’s) fault as the Sharif brothers were in the habit of running a one-man show.

His words hit home as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is still holding on to important ministries such as defence, foreign affairs, law and justice and communications with him.

But it is not just Mr Aftab who faces the opposition onslaught.

The young Khurram Dastagir, who was initially given the charge of Science & Technology and then shunted off to the privatisation sector, has been given the additional burden of answering the questions concerning the ministry of foreign affairs during the question hour in the parliament.

This is because this important division is being handled by Tariq Fatemi and Sartaj Aziz.

Mr Fatemi is the special assistant in the foreign ministry and as a result, he cannot sit in the parliament. Similarly, advisor Sartaj Aziz, because of the workload and his age, is unable to attend the sessions of both the houses.

“As a result, the government needs someone for question hour,” a senior official of the foreign ministry told Dawn.

Mr Dastagir is not the only one carrying out a juggling act.

Zahid Hamid, who was first handed the law and justice ministry in the cabinet, was forced out because of the controversy over his past affiliation with former President General Pervez Musharraf. Mr Hamid was the law minister under the former dictator when an emergency was imposed in 2007.After the controversy broke out, he was shifted to the Science & Technology ministry but he continues to manage the law ministry behind-the-scenes.

On Monday, when Sheikh Aftab was handling the questions concerning the law ministry, Mr Hamid was sitting beside him, whispering instructions into the ears of the former.

“Zahid Hamid is our de-facto law minister and chief advisor to the prime minister on legal issues,” commented a senior PML-N office bearer, who did not wish to be named.All this does not escape the sharp eyes of the opposition that does not miss the opportunity to lash out at the government.

On Wednesday, the treasury and opposition exchanged barbs because Anusha Rehman, the information technology minister, was not there to answer questions about her ministry.

The opposition refused to listen to Mr Aftab and demanded the presence of Ms Rehman.

The minister for defence production, Rana Tanvir Hussain, came to the rescue of Sheikh Aftab and explained that Ms Rehman was busy with the visiting prime minister of Thailand.

Despite Mr Hussain’s vociferous defence, the opposition was not impressed or convinced.

Even a newcomer such as Dr Shireen Mazari of the PTI commented on the floor of the house that the ministers of the former ruling party, the PPP, had been more particular about attending the house, adding that the attitude of the PML-N members of the National Assembly and its ministers was “Sharmnak”.

Though the speaker ruled that her remarks were un-parliamentary, they seemed to resonate with many of her counterparts.

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