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KARACHI: Opposition legislators on Monday thoroughly grilled a parliamentary secretary during the question hour in the Sindh Assembly as he could not satisfy their supplementary questions, and repeatedly asked that a fresh question be submitted.

The scene was created during the question hour that pertained to the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and the Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (STEVTA). Presided over by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, the session began an hour and 10 minutes behind the scheduled time of 10am as mentioned in the order of the day.

SWD and STEVTA both are headed by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah who was not present in the assembly during the question hour and so queries related to SWD were responded to by Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro and those relating to STEVTA by parliamentary secretary Shahid Thaheem.

Mr Thaheem, while responding to PML-F legislator Nusrat Abbasi’s and other legislators’ supplementary queries, kept on reading the written answers and then repeatedly said that supplementary questions did not relate to the main question so fresh questions be submitted. The speaker finally intervened and said that Mr Thaheem had not been properly briefed by his departmental secretary, Mohammad Ali Shah, who was himself not present in the assembly to assist and provide information to Mr Thaheem.

Ms Abbasi’s question was related to capacity building programmes that had been conducted and who had received the trainings etc costing around Rs71 million in the past two years under the World Bank’s funded Sindh Skill Development Project. To this Mr Thaheem said that a fresh question be submitted. PML-F legislator Mahtab Rashdi raised the issue that this information should be present with Mr Thaheem and that secretary Shah should also be present in the assembly.

MQM legislator Rana Ansar asked about which machinery and buildings were repaired under the project and Mr Thaheem responded that he had no such information readily available. MQM legislator Khalid Ahmed said that a secretary and an institute principal had gone on foreign tours utilising World Bank funds and asked questioned about where they had gone and what training they had received. Again, Mr Thaheem said that this question was not related to the main question, so fresh questions be submitted.

Responding to another question by Ms Abbasi regarding a lack of teachers in STEVTA’s institute at Faiz Gung, Khairpur, as well as other institutes, Mr Thaheem responded that the vacant posts had been advertised to be filled a few days back. She followed up by asking the number and location of the posts advertised, to which he said that he had not yet seen the advertisement and did not know the details and that a fresh question be submitted.

The speaker said that secretary Shah not only should have properly provided information pertaining to the questions asked by legislators but also have properly briefed Mr Thaheem so that he could adequately respond to them. He asked Mr Thaheem to get proper information from STEVTA and answer the legislators in a day or two. The speaker also noted that departmental secretaries and the chief secretary rarely came to the assembly and that the issue would be taken up with the chief minister so that the presence of bureaucrats in the assembly could be ensured.

Responding to a question by Khalid Ahmed concerning different services provided under the Medical Social Work Project and if it had been closed down, Dr Mandhro said that free medical treatment, medicines etc was provided under the project and it had been shut down during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime in 2001 owing to its downsizing / rightsizing policy. Pakistan Peoples Party’s Iram Khalid asked why a project for the benefit of the poor was closed down and what happened to the employees, to which the minister responded that none of the staffers were sacked and they were absorbed in other departments and only the facilities – free medicines etc -- that the project provided to poor deserving people were withdrawn.

Responding to a question by PPP legislator Khairunnisa Mughal about whether SWD’s Darul Aman in Karachi had been handed over to an NGO, minister Dr Mandhro said that it had been handed over to an NGO, under an agreement, by the former city nazim Mustafa Kamal in 2007 for 10 years. To her other question about why the government was not operating it and why it had been given to an NGO, the minister responded that the government wanted the inmates to have better facilities so when the government could no longer fund it and an NGO offered to take its responsibility, the government, after evaluating the proposal, handed it over.

Ms Abbasi questioned why the Darul Aman at Sukkur was in a poor condition and the inmates had tried to escape many times in the past as had been reported in media. She further inquired why its condition was not being improved and not being handed over to an NGO.

The minister responded that the government cannot hand over the premises to any organisation without a proposal being submitted and carefully evaluated. He elaborated that it must live up to the standard and then only can possession be handed over. In the meantime, efforts were being made to improve the situation at Sukkur Darul Aman, he added.

MQM legislators Dr Arshad Vohra, Heer Soho and Sindh Health minister Jam Mehtab Dahar, and others also participated.

The assembly also offered fateha for, among others, five children who, according to opposition leader Shaharyar Mahar, were crushed to death when an advertisement board related to speaker Agha Siraj Durrani fell on them in Shikarpur a few days back.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2015

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