ISLAMABAD: A crucial joint sitting of parliament that commences on Monday (today) will not only determine the future of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), but will also set the tone for the two remaining years of this government’s tenure.

Yet again, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — who is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s point man — will attempt to take the opposition into confidence over the government’s intentions regarding PIA, before the joint sitting on Monday.

Treasury and opposition benches have been sparring over the PIA bill since February, and it has twice been rejected by the opposition-controlled Senate. The government then put its majority in the National Assembly to use, getting approved the legislation that would turn the national airline into a public limited company.

The opposition has argued that by doing so, the PML-N government is paving the way for the airline’s privatisation, a charge the government rejects by saying they are merely trying to improve the management of the debt-stricken flag carrier.

Dar to brief opposition on plans for flag carrier ahead of the session

On Friday, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq told the lower house that he would host the heads of all parliamentary parties in his chambers at 2pm on Monday to decide fate of bills placed on the agenda of the sitting. The speaker had said that only one bill regarding gas theft would be taken up on the first day of the session.

The government can, if it wants to, have the bill passed in a joint session through sheer strength of numbers. In a combined house of 446 members — 342 MNAs and 104 senators — the government’s 187 MNAs and 25 senators give it a distinct advantage.

“Having convened a joint sitting, the government has made its intentions clear; the PIA bill will be passed, come what may. The only trade-off that the opposition can possibly squeeze in is the passage of the bills that were passed by the Senate but lapsed because the National Assembly didn’t vote on them within the mandatory 90 days,” said a PPP lawmaker who didn’t want to be named.

PTI MNA Asad Umar told Dawn the opposition would try to get clear-cut written assurances that by turning PIA into a public limited company, the government would not, in fact, be privatising its operations, or laying off its employees.

Separately, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has called a meeting of the house Business Advisory Committee on Monday, which is unusual ahead of a joint sitting of the house.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the procedure of convening a joint sitting of parliament, in the light of his own ruling of August 3, 2015.

In the ruling, the Senate chairman sought changes in the rules for convening a joint sitting. At the moment, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs moves a summary and on the basis of that, the prime minister advises the president to summon the session.

However, Mr Rabbani is of the view that on the issue of legislation, both the National Assembly speaker and Senate chairman should also have powers to call a joint sitting and their advice should be binding on the president.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2016


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