All opposition parties in the National Assembly have reaffirmed their demand that the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should be given to the leader of the opposition, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif announced on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting of the joint opposition leadership, Shahbaz said the opposition parties had once again concluded that the opposition leader should become the PAC chairman, "which has been the tradition for the past 10 years".
Accompanied by PPP and Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal leaders, Shahbaz said the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had been giving the "lame excuse" that he, being the PML-N head, could not preside over the audit review of matters pertaining to his party's previous government.
Shahbaz said the opposition parties had devised an alternative to avoid this possible conflict of interest: He (Shahbaz) can be nominated as the PAC chairman, but he will not head meetings in which audit paras of the previous PML-N government are scrutinised. Instead, a sub-committee can be formed to examine matters related to the previous administration, and the PTI can nominate its own chairman for the sub-committee, Shahbaz added.
"[But] the opposition has made it clear that the PAC chairman will be the opposition leader," the PML-N president said, adding that he was thankful to the opposition parties for reposing their confidence in him through their "rightful stand".
Shahbaz said the opposition parties also resolved to devise a joint strategy for NA and prevent the "wastage of time" of the lower house.
The PML-N president criticised what he referred to as official "high-handedness" over the placement of his son, Hamza Shahbaz's name on the no-fly list. He said it was a sign of a "civilian dictatorship".
Shahbaz also condemned the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) move to issue summons to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in a property case and to take PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Salman Rafique into custody. He once again alleged that NAB and Prime Minister Imran Khan were in an "unholy alliance".
Shahbaz later met Speaker Asad Qaiser in his chamber and informed him about the decision of the opposition parties that the PAC chairmanship should be held by the opposition leader.
PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf while talking to reporters said the opposition parties had suggested that while Shahbaz could be named as the PAC chairman, the committee would be chaired by a PTI lawmaker during meetings in which audit paras of the Nawaz Sharif government are to be scrutinised.
"This issue is not as complicated as it has been made," he said.
Standing committees a 'top priority': speaker
Also on Tuesday, the speaker chaired a meeting of senior government leaders to find ways to kick-start legislative business in the lower house.
The meeting was attended by the ministers for defence, foreign affairs, law and justice, Kashmir affairs, parliamentary affairs; NA deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri, PTI chief whip in NA Malik Aamir Dogar and the parliamentary secretary for law and justice.
Participants of the meeting gave their suggestions to make the legislative process expeditious and effective.
Speaker Qaiser directed the ministers to start communicating with opposition parties to jointly work on promoting issues of national and public interest.
He said it was his "top priority" to remove all obstacles in the formation of standing committees. He expressed the hope that all such hurdles would be removed in the current NA session.
The National Assembly had gone into its sixth session from Monday with Speaker Qaiser still struggling to end the deadlock between the government and the opposition over the issue of the PAC chairmanship.
Last week, Qaiser during a chat with reporters had stated that he was in contact with both the government and the opposition parties over the issue of the committees and hopefully it would soon be resolved “amicably”.
The speaker had 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 did not offer the PAC chairmanship to Opposition Leader Shahbaz as per the “parliamentary traditions”.
The opposition parties claim that Qaiser in a meeting with them had previously agreed to their demand of nominating Shahbaz as the PAC chairman, but later backtracked from his commitment due to resistance from his party members.
The PTI is unwilling to give the PAC chairmanship to Shahbaz, saying it could not allow him to review the projects that had been initiated and executed by the government of his elder brother Nawaz Sharif.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has stated many times that the government could go ahead with the formation of the committees without the opposition.
The inordinate delay in the formation of the committees has started to affect the functioning of the parliament, which has almost become dysfunctional as far as legislative work is concerned. With the present government already completing its 100 days in office, the NA has been able to only pass the Finance (Supplementary) Bill.
Under the rules, the speaker was bound to constitute all the standing and functional committees “within 30 days after the election of the Leader of the House (prime minister)”. Since the prime minister was elected on August 18, the speaker had time till September 17 for the formation of over three dozen house committees.
All the opposition parties had already handed over the names of their members for the committees to the NA Secretariat as per rules, but the speaker had to stop the process when the opposition announced that its members would withdraw from all the committees if the PAC chairmanship was not offered to them as per tradition.
Although there is no restriction on the government in the rules to give the chairmanship of the PAC to the opposition parties, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition for the past 10 years that the office is given to an opposition member in order to ensure transparency in financial matters.