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Opposition assails govt over power cuts, Karachi deaths

June 25, 2015

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Heat waves affected people being shifted to Civil Hospital for treatment, in Hyderabad. —PPI
Heat waves affected people being shifted to Civil Hospital for treatment, in Hyderabad. —PPI

ISLAMABAD: Opposition lawmakers lashed out at the federal government in the National Assembly on Wednesday over the relentless power cuts and what they called “inaction” following the deaths of hundreds of people in the Karachi heatwave.

Water and Power Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif tried to absolve the government of blame over the situation in Karachi at the outset of a heated debate on the prevailing energy crisis, but he angered many opposition members by citing power thefts or non-payment statistics, mostly from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

Leader of Opposition Khursheed Shah interrupted the minister to make a fervent appeal to refrain from opening an account book like a shopkeeper while hundreds of people were dying in Karachi and actually find a way out of this crisis.

“Opening the account books at this time is like pouring salt on the nation’s wounds,” he said, warning the government that unspecified people are waiting to see politicians fight among themselves, in the hopes of a possible intervention.

But, he said, “we want this government to complete five years” of its term.

However, the minister was undeterred and unaffected, even by the pleasant weather in Islamabad.

After receiving a chit from Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, he said he would try to follow his colleague’s “instructions” as far as possible, but did not reveal what his advice was.

The lawmakers from both Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-i-Islami talked about losses from some electricity feeders located in the constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s PTI Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and Jamaat chief Senator Sirajul Haq.

Then, after the opposition leader had doled out his advice with arms crossed, the minister alleged that several big defaulters were from Mr Shah’s hometown of Sukkur.

But the minister reserved special ire for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), whose members have been staging walkouts from the house over the past few days to protest Mr Asif’s remarks about them and asking for his resignation.

“You should be ashamed,” shouted someone from the MQM benches as the minister said his government was grieved over the deaths in Karachi but was not responsible for them.

MQM loadshedding?

At one point when MQM’s Iqbal Mohammad Ali Khan tried to interrupt him, the minister said: “You are also going to experience loadshedding…by this evening.”

The remark seemed intriguing at the time, but hours later, after the BBC put out a story alleging that the MQM had received funds and militant training from India, it appeared that he had foreknowledge of what was to come.

Naveed Qamar, a senior parliamentarian of Pakistan People’s Party, called the Karachi situation a manifestation of “our collective failure” and said that a solution had to be found and the federal government machinery should have already started moving.

PTI member Asad Umar wondered how the federal government could shirk its responsibility to Karachi while it received most of its revenue from the country’s commercial capital. He also noted that preventing power theft was the responsibility of the water and power ministry.

While the MQM deputy parliamentary leader suggested calling an all-party conference to ponder the situation, his party colleague Asif Hasnain demanded that both Khawaja Asif and Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali resign or “we will demand the government’s resignation”.

PPP’s Nafeesa Shah said the solution to the country’s energy crisis lay in power generation through Thar coal and by tapping the rivers flowing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and demanded that parliament take charge of the country’s energy policy.

Corridor oversight

During the debate, the house authorised Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq – through a motion moved by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar – to name a 21-man committee of members from both houses of parliament mainly to oversee the implementation of projects of the planned China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

It said the committee may make rules to regulate its procedure with functions to oversee CPEC projects to ensure implementation of a consensus reached at an all-party conference held on May 28; monitor projects to recommend their speedy and timely implementation; suggest improvements that may result in cost and time reduction as well provision of better services to the public; endeavour to promote consensus and support for CPEC in country; and present periodical reports to the National Assembly.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015

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