Questions raised in Senate over ‘secrecy’ in census

Updated 14 Mar 2017


Staff at Pakistan Bureau of Statistics give information on public helplines on Monday about the census.— AFP
Staff at Pakistan Bureau of Statistics give information on public helplines on Monday about the census.— AFP

ISLAMABAD: Questions were raised in the Senate on Monday over lack of transparency in the process of the national population census, prompting the chair to direct the government to appoint a point minister to respond to complaints related to the exercise.

The issue was raised by parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Taj Haider who said Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah had written a letter to Federal Minister for Finance and Statistics Ishaq Dar highlighting lack of transparency in the census.

In his letter, Mr Shah has said that while personal information of people should not be disclosed, general information must not be kept secret. Reading from the letter, Mr Haider said it should be disclosed how many people had been included in a block and how many houses had been marked.

He said census teams were to submit details to assistant commissioners, but these were also kept as a guarded secret. The Sindh chief minister has said census-related details should be placed on the website of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. He has also called for putting in place a procedure under which complaints about the census could be lodged and addressed at the office of assistant commissioner.

Taj Haider said the equipment from the data processing centre in Karachi had been shifted to Islamabad on the pretext of a threat of manipulation in the results of the census. He expressed the fear that it had been done to manipulate the census results and asked the chair to help.

Rabbani asks govt to appoint a point minister to respond to complaints

Senator Kulsoom Parveen also called for ensuring transparency in the census and said an SMS service should be introduced on the pattern of the service introduced by the Election Commission of Pakistan for voters before 2013 general elections.

Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani observed that issues would continue to crop up as the process advanced and asked the government through Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq to appoint a point minister on the census. He asked Mr Haq to give a response either on Wednesday when the house would meet again or the next day. The chairman said a special committee of the Senate would be formed to take up census-related complaints with the point minister.

Bloggers’ plight

Speaking on a motion on the recent mysterious disappearance of some bloggers, Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP urged parliament to play its role in unearthing the elements behind the mysterious disappearance and equally mysterious reappearance of the bloggers.

“Police and state agencies have failed to find out the truth and the bloggers and their families are not willing to talk,” he said. “In such a situation parliament must step forward and fulfil its responsibility towards citizens’ freedom.”

He warned that if it was not done and parliament shirked from its responsibility, the practice of making people disappear with impunity would become a norm and it would have grave implications.

He said that during the period of the bloggers’ disappearance, a campaign of incitement to violence was run against them, accusing them of blasphemy in a section of the media and on the internet.

Mr Babar said if the bloggers were indeed guilty of blasphemy, they must be punished in accordance with the law. However, condemning them in the media without proof and without trial raises serious questions about the motives behind their disappearance.

“There is a lingering suspicion that those criticising the state narrative on security issues are sought to be silenced by accusing them of blasphemy, thereby exposing them to public wrath,” he said and warned: “If this is true and if this is not checked in time it will spell disaster.”

He urged parliament to play a role in encouraging the bloggers to tell the stories of their disappearance and reappearance and to ensure that the issue was not allowed to be hushed up.

The practice of watching disappearances and reappearances from the sidelines as if nothing had happened was abdication of responsibility and it must not be allowed to gain roots, he said.

Mr Babar said the road to rule of law might be long and tortuous, but it should not deter parliament from ensuring that rule of law prevailed in the country.

Parliament must back the investigators and extend assurances to ‘missing persons’ and their families to reach the truth and thus help end the practice, he added.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2017