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Govt, Senate lock horns over ban on minister

Updated November 16, 2018

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Nobody has right to humiliate cabinet members like this, Fawad quotes PM as saying in meeting. — File
Nobody has right to humiliate cabinet members like this, Fawad quotes PM as saying in meeting. — File

ISLAMABAD: A ruling by the Senate chairman on Thursday placing a ban on Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry from attending the ongoing session of the house unless he tenders an apology over his outburst against the opposition has invited the ire of the federal cabinet, apparently putting the executive on a collision course with parliament.

“Nobody has the right to humiliate members of the federal cabinet like this,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan as saying during the cabinet meeting later in the day.

Briefing reporters about the cabinet meeting, the minister said the entire cabinet, including the prime minister, expressed annoyance over the ruling. “We will also have to formulate a strategy if the chairman cannot strike a balance (in the conduct of the house proceedings),” he said, hinting that the cabinet might boycott the Senate proceedings, if this issue was not addressed.

Mr Chaudhry said he was being asked to apologise for asking where trillions of rupees provided to Baloch­istan over the last 10 years had been spent. He also chided Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani by saying that he (the minister) had been elected by securing a large number of votes while the Senate chairman had not been directly elected.

Nobody has right to humiliate cabinet members like this, Fawad quotes PM as saying in meeting

The minister said the prime minister had tasked Defence Minister Pervez Khatak to amicably resolve the issue with the Senate chairman.

A day after the opposition staged a walkout from the Senate as a mark of protest against the information minister’s remarks against top politicians — including Asif Ali Zardari, Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman — Leader of the Opposition Raja Zafarul Haq, at the very outset of the proceedings, said it had been decided on Wednesday that the minister would tender an apology.

“There has been a lot of bad blood in the house and it is affecting the house’s pride,” he said.

“We do not have any other solution to this than just walk out until an apology is offered. The rest is all meaningless,” the opposition leader said.

Senator Hasil Bizenjo joined Raja Zafarul Huq in saying that the opposition would not attend the session unless the minister apologised to the house for his utterances.

Leader of the House Shibli Faraz suggested that the record of Fawad Chaudhry and Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s remarks be analysed by a committee to see whose remarks were more offensive. He also offered an apology on behalf of the information minister.

However, the entire opposition staged a walkout from the house during which the proceedings remained suspended for some time.

When the house reassembled, the chairman ruled that the information minister should come to the house and apologise over his remarks. “If he does not apologise I place a ban on him from attending rest of the sittings of the ongoing session under rule 13 (4) read with rule 264 (of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate, 2012),” he said.

Referring to bitterness being witnessed in the house for some days, he said it was incumbent upon all to exercise caution. Mr Sanjrani said he had been saying that more responsibility lay on the government for smooth functioning of the house.

The ruling by the chairman was welcomed by the opposition. Describing the ruling as a historic decision, PPP parliamentary leader Sherry Rehman said such steps had been taken in the past as well. Criticising the use of objectionable language by government representatives, she regretted that the “status of lawmakers is questioned when they ask a question”.

Deploring that the government started calling the opposition “thief” and “dacoit” when questions were raised, she said that this was non-parliamentary attitude of a party which had entered corridors of power for the first time. “They want a media trial of the opposition while sitting in the parliament”, she remarked.

In a related development, Pervez Khatak called on the Senate chairman to deliver him a special message of the prime minister.

A press release issued by the Senate secretariat said views were exchanged on conducting the house proceedings with a spirit of conciliation.

The meeting was also attended by Shibli Faraz, Minister for Science and Technology Azam Swati and Chairman of the Senate standing committee on information Faisal Javed.

The press release appeared to be in contrast with the information minister’s briefing about the cabinet meeting as it said the defence minister assured the Senate chairman of his cooperation.

“Supremacy of parliament and promotion of democratic attitudes is prime responsibility of all. The prime minister’s role for supremacy of the parliament is appreciable”, it quoted Mr Sanjrani as saying.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for Interior Shaheryar Afridi, in a policy statement on the abduction and killing of SP Tahir Dawar in Afghanistan, disclosed that none of the over 1,800 closed-circuit cameras installed in the federal capital under the Safe City Project had the capability to read number plates of vehicles and recognise faces of commuters. He said 600 of these cameras were out of order.

He said 95 per cent of the amount had been released with the signing of the memorandum of understanding on the procurement of cameras and called for an inquiry to identify those who had received kickbacks in the deal.

On this, the chair remarked that it was the duty of the interior minister to hold an inquiry. The minister insisted that his ministry would hold an inquiry but then nobody should say that political victimisation was being committed.

The minister said that the culprits involved in the killing of the SP would be made an example for others, no matter where they were.

“The incident raises a question on the performance of police and on state and on all of us,” Mr Afridi said.

He said that some people from Afghanistan side wanted instability in Pakistan.

After the abduction of SP Dawar from Islamabad on Oct 26, he was kept in Punjab for one or two days and then shifted to Afghanistan while using the route through Mianwali district,” the minister said. There was no patrolling on the border from Afghanistan side, he added.

The opposition benches rejected the minister’s policy statement on the killing of SP Tahir Khan Dawar in Afghanistan that the dysfunctional cameras of Islamabad were the main cause of the police official’s kidnapping and then his shifting to Afghanistan.

The lawmakers said that the incident showed complete negligence and failure on part of the law enforcement agencies and the state institutions. They said if a police official was not safe in the capital, how common citizens could be safe. They said that the incident had demoralised the entire police and demanded that the martyred police official should be awarded the highest medal of the country. The termed it a dangerous trend and said that such incident could also happen with the politicians.

“The statement of the state minister has made joke of the house… I reject this non-serious report,” said PPP Senator Sherry Rehman and added that Prime Minister Imran Khan, having the portfolio of interior minister, should himself present the report in the house.

She stressed that the Foreign Office should not keep silence on the killing of SP Dawar and ask Afghanistan how its territory was used for this. She also sought a report from the Foreign Office on this incident.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2018

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