ISLAMABAD: Federal Min­is­ter for Information Fawad Chaudhry was forced to eat his words and tender an apology on the floor of the National Assembly on Thursday after opposition members from the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz staged a walkout from the house and threatened to boycott the session over the use of unwarranted and undignified language by the minister while criticising them for alleged corruption and nepotism during the eras of their governments.

The opposition members returned to the house only after the minister on the insistence of some treasury members agreed to apologise and take his words back.

It was apparently the opposition’s threat to boycott the session that made the minister tender the apology. “I regret over my remarks which created bitterness. The opposition leader (Shahbaz Sharif) has ordered me and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is also here. I also apologise to Syed Khursheed Shah and take my words back in respect of the house,” said Mr Chaudhry soon after the opposition members returned to the house.

Uproar in National Assembly when Fawad Chaudhry compares previous rulers to ‘robbers’

The opposition members had protested against Mr Chaudhry for constantly calling them “robbers and thieves”. The minister in his speech said the past rulers had “shamelessly” used “looted money” like “robbers do at a Mujra”.

The use of the term “Mujra” evoked a strong protest by the opposition members who insis­ted that the minister apologise.

As the situation worsened, Speaker Asad Qaiser expunged the objectionable words used by the minister — without explaining exactly which words he had expunged — and directed the minister not to use un-parliamentary language. But Mr Chau­dhry continued assailing the opposition members, and went on saying that “these people should be hanged upside down”.

The minister alleged that these people had destroyed institutions like the Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Television, Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Steel Mills and now they desired that nobody should talk about it.

At one stage, the speaker while having an argument with the minister said that “you are responsible for running the government and I am responsible for running this house”.

It all started when, at the outset of the session, the PPP’s Dr Nafeesa Shah moved a privilege motion against the information minister for accusing her party’s stalwart Khursheed Shah of recruiting 800 people in the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in just “three hours” during the PPP government in 2008-13.

The PPP MNA read out a tweet by Mr Chaudhry in which he had alleged that the PPP had “destroyed all institutions, including the PBC by filling [it with] its own cronies”.

The information minister had stated that “Khursheed Shah filled 800 people in Radio alone,” putting an additional burden of Rs70 million (on the national exchequer). “The government is drowning Rs5bn every year only on Radio, thanks to the PPP’s visionless policy,” Ms Shah quoted from the minister’s statement on social media.

Khursheed Shah asked the speaker to refer the matter to a committee before which the minister should be asked to prove the allegations. He said that a minister should not make any irresponsible statement. Responding to the minister’s allegations, Mr Shah said that he had never been an information minister, and secondly, a minister could not directly recruit people in any institution.

However, Mr Shah said, he would be happy if he could get a chance to provide jobs to needy and poor people. The PPP had not only provided employment to the people, it had also provided job security to them, he added.

Khursheed Shah termed the word “mujra” “derogatory and unbecoming of a parliamentarian”.

The opposition members then staged a walkout, raising slogans of “lota lota” [turncoat] against the information minister, who had previously been a member of the PML-Q and the PPP before joining the PTI.

Mr Chaudhry maintained that he had not uttered any objectionable word. Despite warnings from the speaker against using “un-parliamentary language,” he said that if he did not call “a robber a robber” and “a thief a thief,” then which term he should use.

The minister also justified his tweet, saying Khursheed Shah had headed a committee that had regularised 800 employees of Radio Pakistan in a matter of hours. Mr Chaudhry said that the PBC was incurring a loss of over Rs10 million and it could face closure in four years if things were not improved.

Without naming anyone, he said “a taxi driver was called back to the country from New York” and made director general of the PBC. He further said that PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s brother and cousin were working abroad on key positions in the PIA.

Minister to face the music in Senate too The information minister could face a similar situation in the Senate also as Mushahidullah Khan has announced that he would submit a privilege motion against the minister for his allegations against him.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Khan said that his brother had been working in the PIA even before his joining of the PML-N.

Meanwhile, responding to a calling attention notice on “major crime of child abduction in Karachi threatening human rights,” Minister of State for Interior Shahryar Afridi said that he was not getting any cooperation from the Sindh government and that he had not even been provided a report of a recent incident of child abduction. After the 18th Amendment, the minister said, he could not even visit police stations in provinces.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2018

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