ISLAMABAD: After staying firm on their stance that the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should be given to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) now seems to be ready to show flexibility on the matter and may agree on the nomination of any other party member, Dawn has learnt through reliable sources in the party.
According to the sources, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has informally conveyed to the PML-N that it was ready to offer the PAC chairmanship to anyone from the party other than Shahbaz Sharif and has also proposed the name of former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq. However, the sources said, the top PML-N leadership was considering the names of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif and Pervaiz Malik for the chairmanship of the most powerful parliamentary committee, instead of Mr Sadiq.
“You see, parliament works through its committees. And the delay in the formation of the NA committees has started to benefit the government,” said a senior PML-N leader and office-bearer on condition of anonymity, while confirming that the party is ready to show some flexibility on the matter.
Marriyum Aurangzeb denies that PTI has offered to nominate any other person for office
“The country can’t afford a dysfunctional parliament for a long time. And when we had already agreed to participate in the proceedings of the National Assembly that had come into existence as a result of fraudulent elections, then there seems to be no logic in making the PAC chairmanship an ego issue,” said another PML-N leader, adding that keeping in view the deteriorating health condition of Mr Sharif, the PML-N might consider some other person as head of the PAC chairman.
NA Speaker Asad Qaiser, who has been struggling to run the house smoothly since his election to the office due to the continuous squabbling between the treasury and the opposition members, is on a tight rope because of the ongoing tussle over the issue of the PAC chairmanship as he has to stop the process of the formation of the committees due to the opposition’s threat to boycott all the committees if the ruling party does not offer the PAC chairmanship to Mr Sharif as per ‘parliamentary traditions’.
Mr Qaiser, who is currently on an official visit to Iran, had last week met Prime Minister Imran Khan with other members of the ruling party and discussed the issue of formation of the house committees and the strategy to break the deadlock over the PAC chairmanship.
And before going to see the prime minister, the speaker had held a consultative meeting with the ruling party members and informed them about his ‘number of meetings’ with the opposition on the issue of the formation of the standing committees.
An official handout issued by the NA Secretariat after the meeting quoted the speaker to have stated that he was hopeful that the committees would be constituted during the upcoming session of the assembly scheduled to start from Dec 10.
The meeting had taken place hours after the prime minister recorded an interview with TV anchors in which he had once again declared in categorical terms that Shahbaz Sharif, currently on a judicial remand for his alleged involvement in Ashiyana Housing scam, would not be offered the PAC chairmanship. Mr Khan had said Pakistan would become a laughing stock in the world if they allowed a detained person facing corruption cases to preside over PAC meetings.
The opposition parties claimed that the speaker in a meeting with them had previously agreed to their demand of nominating Mr Sharif as the PAC chairman, but later backtracked from his commitment due to the resistance by the PTI members.
When contacted, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the government had not formally contacted them on the issue for the past almost two months. She said they were determined to stay away from all the committees, if the speaker did not fulfil his commitment of appointing Shahbaz Sharif PAC chairman which he had made with them.
She denied that the PTI had offered to them to nominate any other person for the PAC chairman office. She also expressed ignorance over the reports that the PTI had suggested the name of Ayaz Sadiq for the office. Moreover, she said that the PML-N had been unable to hold discussion on the matter so far due to the non-availability of Shahbaz Sharif, who had been under detention since Oct 6.
Ms Aurangzeb expressed the hope that the issue might come up during the meeting of the House Business Advisory Committee to be presided over by the speaker on Monday before the start of the session. Before it, she said, the top PML-N leadership would also hold a consultative meeting to be presided over by Shahbaz Sharif on the issue to finalise its own strategy.
When contacted, acting PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal also denied that the PTI had made any new offer to them, saying “the deadlock still persists”.
Mr Iqbal questioned the logic of the ruling party for denying the PAC chair to Mr Sharif and cited the examples of the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the PTI had nominated its own members as PAC chairmen.
Well-placed sources in the PTI told Dawn that the government which had already decided to make another attempt to engage the opposition parties on the issue would ask them to nominate a “clean person” other than Mr Sharif for the PAC post.
“We are making every effort to break the persisting deadlock,” said a senior PTI leader who was present in the meeting between the prime minister and the speaker. He had also claimed that the government was not interested in keeping the PAC chairmanship with it, adding that they would suggest “very reasonable options” to the opposition and hoped it would respond positively.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2018