National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Wednesday chaired a meeting of opposition leaders and government ministers to find ways to break the impasse over the nomination of Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif as the chairman of the all-powerful Public Accounts Committee.
The meeting ended without any agreement between the opposition and the government, however, with the two sides vowing to remain engaged on the PAC chairmanship issue and the formation of the standing committees.
"I am hopeful that ... God will resolve this problem [deadlock] before 2019 starts," said Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, who along with Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Finance Minister Asad Umar represented the government during the meeting.
Talking to reporters after the meeting at the speaker's office, PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah said the opposition parties maintained their demand that Shahbaz should be named the PAC head.
"Several options were discussed with the government and both sides gave their recommendations," he said. Other opposition leaders in the meeting were PML-N's Ayaz Sadiq and Rana Tanveer and PPP's Naveed Qamar.
Sanaullah refused to provide details of the recommendations that were presented to end the deadlock, saying the two sides would discuss them internally before further talks are held.
He also said the PML-N representatives had requested the speaker to issue the production orders for former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, who was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday.
Sadiq said Speaker Qaiser had assured them that the orders will be issued. However, state minister Ali said no decision had been taken in this regard as yet, and that the speaker will decide the matter as per rules.
PPP's Qamar said they had suggested to the government that a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) nominee could chair PAC sessions in which audit paras concerning the previous Nawaz Sharif-led government are to be reviewed, to avoid a possible conflict of interest that could arise with Shahbaz presiding over such sittings.
"The government cannot reject our recommendation," he said, adding that whatever is decided will be decided through consensus.
The PPP leader clarified that the opposition was not considering the name of MNAs other than Shahbaz to lead the PAC.
A delegation of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) members of the National Assembly also separately met Speaker Qaiser and some ministers to discuss the obstacles in the setting up of standing committees.
The speaker was quoted as saying during the meeting that it was his top priority to grant equal rights to members of all parliamentary parties.
He urged the treasury and opposition members to play their role for the smooth running of the lower house's proceedings and move forward on ending the impasse that is hindering legislative business and the formation of standing committees.
"It is the right of every member and every party to have a dissenting opinion but it is the collective responsibility of all to maintain a favourable atmosphere," Qaiser said.
The MMA delegation assured the speaker of their support in the effective functioning of the house.
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.
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.
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.
'Difficult time but no disappointment'
Also on Tuesday, Shahbaz chaired a meeting of the PML-N's parliamentary group and attended a luncheon arranged for the party's lawmakers. In attendance at the luncheon were senior PML-N leaders, MNAs and senators, and National Party chief Mir Hasil Bizenjo.
In his address at the gathering, Shahbaz criticised NAB for taking action against PML-N leaders.
He hailed the "political services" of Saad Rafique, saying he had enabled the Pakistan Railways to stand on its own feet. He said Saad's brother, Salman Rafique, had been a member of his cabinet in Punjab and used to work "honestly and diligently".
The PML-N president said NAB had issued a notice to his party's spokesperson and former information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb on an "unknown complaint" in order to "silence her".
He said the era of Nawaz Sharif's government was the best in Pakistan's history and it was during this period that the country achieved "unprecedented" goals of development.
While in detention, Shahbaz said he had told NAB officials about each and every project initiated by him "which amazed them".
"It is indeed a difficult time [for the party] but there is no disappointment ... the people are with the PML-N," he told the audience.