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Shahbaz named PAC chief under opposition pressure: Fawad Chaudhry

Updated December 15, 2018

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Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry terms opposition as "blackmailers". — File photo
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry terms opposition as "blackmailers". — File photo

ISLAMABAD: Terming Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and his party “blackmailers”, the government revealed on Friday that the decision to make him chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had been made “under pressure”.

On the other hand, the opposition continued its protest in the National Assembly over non-issuance of a production order for detained MNA Khawaja Saad Rafique and boycotted the proceedings of the lower house by staging a walkout.

Take a look: Now that PAC impasse has been resolved, parliament must turn to its legislative responsibilities

During the assembly session, Prime Minister Imran Khan was criticised for appointing his aides and close friends as his advisers and assistants and the opposition sought details of expenditure being incurred on their salaries, perks and privileges.

Prime Minister Khan claimed many times in recent past that he “would neither come under any pressure nor compromise on his principles” while making decisions on national issues.

Boycott of National Assembly continues in protest against non-issuance of Saad Rafique’s production order

However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, talking to reporters in Jhelum, explained why the government took another U-turn and agreed to appoint Mr Sharif as PAC chief, saying the decision was taken because of the opposition’s pressure.

“In fact Shahbaz Sharif and his party — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — are ‘blackmailers’ and we made him PAC chief because they are not letting the proceedings of the National Assembly run,” he said.

The minister said the opposition was bent upon creating hurdles in the way of proceedings of the National Assembly and, therefore, parliament was not fulfilling its basic responsibility — legislation.

He said the opposition leaders facing NAB (National Accountability Bureau) cases were using the floor of the house to give clarifications about their “misdeeds”. “They are not discussing in parliament how problems of the people can be solved and what agreements the government had recently made with Saudi Arabia, China, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, but cursing NAB for investigating them,” he added.

Fawad Chaudhry said the government had thought that the opposition would calm down and stop its agitation in parliament after the decision to make Mr Sharif PAC chairman. “However, the opposition continued with its confrontational way in the house on Friday on the pretext of non- issuance of production orders of Saad Rafique,” he said.

As Mr Rafique was arrested by NAB after cancellation of his bail by the Lahore High Court, Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaisar was looking into legal aspects whether under such circumstances the production orders of the MNA could be issued or not, the minister said.

Responding to a question about the Panama Papers cases involving former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he said the Flagship Investment references was in its final stages and predicted that Mr Sharif would be in jail soon.

Earlier, speaking on the floor of the house, Shahbaz Sharif called upon of the speaker to issue a production order of Mr Rafique. “We have been demanding for the last three days the production orders of the honourable member of this house but to no avail,” he said.

Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party also demanded that Mr Rafique be allowed to attend proceedings of the assembly and hailed the government’s decision to appoint Mr Sharif PAC chairman. “According to the old tradition of the house, the production order of a detained members is always issued,” he added.

The chief of his own faction of the Balochistan National Party, Akhtar Mengal, also urged the speaker to issue a production order of the PML-N leader and said he was not talking about the production of any Baloch leader but a leader from Punjab. “I know there is no law in the country under which ‘missing or detained Baloch MNAs’ can be produced in the house, but today I am asking for production orders of Saad Rafique,” he added.

Mr Mengal said the National Assembly was being run as a Mughal Darbar, before staging a walk-out in protest. He was followed by the entire opposition and the speaker adjourned the session till Monday evening.

PM’s advisers/assistants

Earlier, during the question hour session, PML-N MNA Murtaza Javed Abbasi raised a question over the appointment of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aides and close friends as his advisers and assistants and sought details of expenditure being incurred on their salaries, perks and privileges.

“There was no need to have advisers and special assistants in the presence of ministers concerned. For example there was no need to appoint the PM’s media advisers as the information minister is already there and the Press Information Department is also available to cover activities of the premier, he added.

Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha, another PML-N MNA, accused the government of appointing some legal advisers in different government departments who did not meet the criteria nor had the experience required for the offices.

Aliya Kamran of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party also questioned the salaries and other benefits, if given, to the members of various task forces formed by the prime minister on different issues.

MNA Shahnaz Baloch demanded that representation of Balochistan be ensured in all task forces.

Replying to queries, Minister of State on Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said the appointment of the PM’s advisers and special assistants was not a new phenomenon as previous prime ministers also had advisers and assistants in their cabinets. “PM’s Adviser Zulfi Bukhari (Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari) on overseas Pakistanis has spent a long time abroad and, therefore, he can understand the problems of overseas Pakistanis in a better way,” he added.

On inexperienced legal advisers, the state minister said he would definitely ask the relevant ministries and departments to take action on the matter.

PIA ROUTES: Responding to a question of MNA Aslam Bhootani on lack of air travel facility between Quetta and Gwadar, the state minister said the government had decided to revamp the crippled Pakistan International Airlines Corporation to transform it into a revenue generating organisation from a loss- incurring entity.

He said important routes of national flag carrier had been abolished like PIA flights to Washington, New York, Boston and Chicago in the US, Glasgow and Bradford in the UK, Moscow, Cairo, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Bangkok, Amsterdam etc.

Waseem Ashraff Butt also contributed to this report from Gujrat

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2018