ISLAMABAD: The deadly heatwave in southern Pakistan and outcry against unrelenting power cuts proved telling in a well-cooled National Assembly on Monday, provoking an opposition walkout that gave the government a godsend walkover for unopposed approval of nearly 50 budgetary demands for important ministries and divisions.
Opposition leader Khursheed Ahmed Shah sought and got a mini-debate held on the devastation caused by the weekend’s heatwave in Karachi and other parts of Sindh province as well as on power cuts before leading the march out of the house, not to return for the rest of the brief sitting.
Ninety-four of the total 143 demands for grants as part of the budget for fiscal 2015-16 were granted by the house on its last sitting on Friday without any debate because no cut motions were moved in respect of any of them to warrant a discussion.
However, opposition lawmakers had tabled scores of cut motions regarding the remaining 49 demands that were due to be debated and voted upon on Monday and Tuesday.
That could have inspired some interesting discussion on the conduct of important ministries or divisions like foreign affairs, interior, water and power, cabinet and establishment divisions, as well as on the role of paramilitary Pakistan Rangers.
QUESTIONABLE ABSTENSION: But that could not happen, as the opposition parties, while walking out of the house, also took an unprecedented, and apparently questionable, decision to forgo their cut motions and an opportunity to criticise the government.
That left Finance Minister Ishaq Dar with a much easier task of making a quick work of the process by merely reading out motion after motion for the grant of 49 demands as he did on Friday and listening only “aye” from the members of his ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N and its allies present in the house.
A member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Imran Zafar Leghari, once sought to disrupt the process towards the fag-end of voting by coming back to the house to say that the house lacked quorum.
But after a head count, during which some ruling party members came back from the lobbies, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, declared the house in order.
Thus the process, which would have continued until late afternoon and on Tuesday if the cut motions had been debated, was finished in about half an hour.
That led to some speculation in galleries about a possible understanding between the government and the opposition finish the budget session a little early, using the saved Tuesday to adopt to supplementary demands for grant for the outgoing fiscal year and the new Finance Bill.
Most opposition members who spoke during the debate earlier on the heatwave and power cuts, accused the government of not doing enough to diminish electricity loadshedding and making misleading claims about the power supply position, especially after the start of Ramazan.
But there was no immediate government response to the criticism, nor was there any apparent move to bring the opposition back to the house.
PPP member Shazia Marri called for an immediate session of the Council of Common Interests to deliberate on the power situation, a demand supported by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vice-chairman Shah Mahmud Qureshi.
“What did you do in the past two years?” asked Jamaat-i-Islami parliamentary leader Sahibzada Tariqullah, alleging up to 20 hours of loadshedding a day in parts of his Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed challenged the whole house to shut down air-conditioning for day’s sitting “if you really care for the poor”, and suggested that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constitute an electricity council, including lawmakers from both sides of aisle and other stake-holders to tackle the issue that, he said, could not be done by a ministry alone.
Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao complained of frustration among people due to lack of a promised relief from loadshedding during Ramazan and spoke of protest “azan” being proclaimed from mosques in unspecified parts of KP with calls to people to come to protest.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2015