ISLAMABAD: The opposition-dominated Senate rejected on Friday a bill seeking to convert Pakistan International Airlines Corporation into a public limited company.

The bill, already passed by the National Assembly, will now be taken to a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament where the numerical strength of the ruling PML-N will make it possible for the government to get it easily adopted. The joint sitting is expected to be held on March 10.

Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid sought to move the bill, titled Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Bill, 2015, but after an objection raised by Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan the house scuttled the move through the voice vote.

The issue of enforced disappearances was again raised in the house by Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP who was speaking on a calling-attention notice to discuss the European Commission’s report on the human rights situation in the country.

“The situation of missing persons will get worse if we continue to deny the need for introducing a measure of transparency, oversight and accountability in the working of the nation’s security agencies.”

He said parliament was not unmindful of the issue, indeed it had done its job and there was a 2013 report of the Human Rights Committee along with draft legislation that was unanimously adopted by the Senate.

He urged the government to at least come up with its observations and objections, if any, to the recommendations and a draft legislation for a dialogue and discussion to address the issue of missing persons, to begin with.

Mr Babar called upon the government to submit its report to the Senate’s bipartisan oversight committee within a month.

If the committee is satisfied with the report it will share the progress with the house, otherwise it will recommend that the bill may be moved as a private member’s bill by leaders of all parliamentary parties.

Mr Babar urged the minister in charge to inform the house about the government’s position on the issue.

According to him, another step forward in addressing the issue is to review the progress made in the implementation of the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation in tribal areas. The 2011 regulation was given retrospective effect from February 2008 to enable security agencies to present in courts matters relating to people who had already been in their custody for the past four years but had not been produced before any court of law. He asked the minister to inform the house about the number of people who were in the custody of security agencies since 2008 and surfaced in 2011 together with their present status — under trial, convicted or in detention.

“This information should not be secret and no-one should feel scared as the regulation provides for indemnity but it will help throw light on the issue of missing persons and illumine the path of addressing it earnestly,” he said. He urged the minister to come out clean on it.

Mr Babar said the European Commission’s report had highlighted the issue of torture in custody. Pakistan had signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture and it was obligatory to enact a legislation to prevent torture and degrading punishments.

He said that in March last year the Senate had unanimously passed the anti-torture bill which had been sent to the joint session of the Parliament as the National Assembly could not pass it in the mandatory period of 90 days.

He asked the government to immediately convene a joint session of the parliament to consider the bills against torture, honour killing and other issues referred to it under the Constitution.

The Senate unanimously adopted a resolution moved by Mr Babar calling upon the government to release funds for payment of salary of employees of Federal Lodges. It also asked for release of funds on a priority basis for the refurbishment and rehabilitation of the Federal Lodges.

The resolution came in the wake of discussion in the Senate on Wednesday on a call-attention notice in which the minister had candidly admitted the hardships caused to the employees due to irregular payments and the dilapidated condition of the Federal Lodges.

Opposition members walked out of the house when Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that no province was self-reliant in gas.

Aijaz Dhamra of PPP rejected the minister’s claim, saying that Sindh was producing 72 per cent of gas while it consumed 26 per cent. “How Sindh is not self-reliant in gas,” he remarked before staging a walkout from the house which was also joined by other opposition members.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016

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