ISLAMABAD: The Senate witnessed unprecedented scenes on Wednesday when a federal minister was asked to leave the upper house of parliament after he refused to tender an apology over remarks that had offended the opposition.
Matters came to a head after a scathing verbal duel in the house between Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Mushahidullah Khan, with the latter insisting that the minister apologise over his comments about corruption that he made in the lower house of parliament last Thursday.
In that speech, the minister had termed opposition leaders “robbers and thieves”, and accused Senator Khan of indulging in nepotism, prompting the opposition to stage a walkout. The threat of a protracted walkout from the National Assembly had forced Mr Chaudhry to tender an apology.
Verbal duel between Fawad Chaudhry, PML-N senator gets ugly
On Wednesday, when he showed up in the Senate, the opposition members said he should tender another apology.
The minister, however, was in no mood to give in to the opposition’s demands easily.
The unseemly episode began when the minister took the floor to explain the remarks he had made against Senator Khan in the National Assembly. But Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and the PML-N senator asked Mr Chaudhry to apologise for his remarks first.
The minister retorted by saying he was ready to apologise but he wanted to place some facts before the house first.
Pandemonium broke out in the house as lawmakers from the opposition rose and began shouting when Mr Chaudhry tried to justify his remarks.
Directly targeting Mr Khan, the minister alleged that during the tenure of the last government the PML-N senator got his brothers, who were working for the Pakistan International Airlines, posted at key positions abroad. He also repeated some of the remarks that he had made last week.
Reacting to the continued demands for an apology, Mr Chaudhry said there was no reason for him to apologise because “calling a thief a thief was no crime”.
At this the Senate chairman said: “This house cannot be run in this way. You cannot talk in such a manner about a member of this house.” Senator Khan, meanwhile, kept on shouting that the minister should be asked to leave the house.
Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq said the minister should tender an apology first as the directive of the chairman was binding on every senator. At this, Mr Chaudhry again remarked: “Why should I apologise to those who looted public money.”
Chairman Sanjrani then asked the minister to leave the house. Mr Chaudhry, however, neither left the house nor tendered an apology.
As angry members from the opposition benches kept on protesting, the chairman adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes. He then asked the leader of the house, Shibli Faraz, and Mr Chaudhry to come to his chambers.
After the proceedings resumed, Mr Chaudhry apologised over the remarks he had made in the National Assembly.
“My intention was not to hurt anyone; if anyone has any issue over my statement, I apologise over the remarks,” he said.
The minister added that key state-owned institutions were facing a loss of billions because of inefficiency on the part of previous governments and all such organisations were overstaffed. The PIA faced a loss of Rs45 billion in 2017 and its total losses have gone up to Rs 356bn.
Mr Chaudhry referred to a news story and read out its headline: “PIA promotes two brothers of PML-N leader Mushahidullah Khan.”
The opposition parties, particularly the PML-N, began protesting over the minister’s remarks and staged a walkout from the house. The chairman then adjourned the proceedings till 1.30pm on Friday.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2018