PML-N lawmaker Khawaja Saad Rafique on Friday appeared in the National Assembly for the first time since his incarceration, after his production orders were issued by the speaker.
Rafique, who is currently being probed over corruption charges, termed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law as a "black law that had been used to victimise political opponents since its inception". He raised questions over the accountability process, claiming that it was not fair and transparent.
"Even the accountability during the PML-N government was not transparent," Rafique said during his NA speech.
The former Railways minister lamented the delay in the issuance of his production orders and said that if NA Speaker Asad Qaiser had issued them earlier, the assembly proceedings would not have been interrupted.
"The parliament is still not independent," Rafique claimed. "If it were truly independent, the speaker would have issued my production orders on the first day. I have met the speaker a few times and he is a genuine and strong man. I realise that he faced a lot of pressure and as a result of your (assembly's) efforts, today I got the chance to speak here."
Referring to his arrest in the Paragon Housing Society scam, he said that the NAB could not produce any evidence of wrongdoing against him. He claimed that a "dear old friend" of his was forced to turn into an approver, however, even "he had failed to produce anything" against the PML-N lawmaker.
Rafique said that the assets and income that he had been declaring in his tax returns for years was now being used as "a charge sheet" against him. He warned that members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) that will soon have to face the same fate as opposition leaders "in order to create a balance".
"We don't want to see anyone behind bars," he said. "Does the Pakistani electorate vote for us so that we can hurl accusations at each other and damage each other's reputations?"
Rafique said that the opposition and government benches must stop fighting each other and instead fight against poverty, illiteracy and other challenges that the country is facing.
He also commented on the speculation of former president Asif Ali Zardari's looming arrest and warned that the event will cause disturbance throughout the country.
Shahbaz Sharif elected PAC chairman unopposed
Leader of Opposition in the Parliament Shahbaz Sharif was unanimously elected as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Shahbaz's name for the position of PAC chairman was suggested by PML-N lawmaker Sheikh Rohail Asghar and was accepted without opposition. The PML-N president thanked the parliament for placing their trust in him and promised that he will ensure that the "accountability process is transparent".
Furthermore, he stressed the importance of improving the process of accountability.
Shahbaz also congratulated PPP leader Khursheed Shah, the former PAC chairman, for running the committee effectively.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's Aamir Dogar, who was also present on the occasion, congratulated Shahbaz on behalf of the government.
The first formal PAC meeting will take place on Dec 28, Shahbaz announced.
Shahbaz's election as the PAC chairman comes after a nearly four-month impasse during which the government vehemently objected to his nomination due to his alleged involvement in the Ashiana scam that is currently being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau.
Shahbaz is one of the prime accused and is currently under judicial remand. His designated residence in Islamabad was declared as a sub-jail after the National Assembly speaker issued his production orders so that the PML-N chief could attend the ongoing parliamentary session.
The opposition had refused to nominate another member, arguing that according to parliamentary tradition, the leader of the opposition heads the PAC.
The government finally relented to the opposition's demand last week.
Meanwhile, PTI's Riaz Fatyana was elected as chairman of Standing Committee on Law unopposed.
'Statement regarding girls taking drugs unfortunate'
PPP lawmaker Shazia Marri objected to a recent statement issued by State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi, where he had claimed that 75 per cent of female school students in the federal capital use drugs.
Marri claimed that Afridi's statement was "unfortunate" as it can make parents wary of sending their daughters to schools.
"A country that is already facing challenges with regards to girls' education and where we are trying to change an environment [that discourages female education], news that 75 per cent of the girls use drugs will discourage parents from sending their daughters to schools," Marri argued, adding that instead of issuing alarming statements, the government should take action.
Responding to Marri's objections, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, said that Afridi's statement had been "misunderstood". She claimed that the state minister was talking about "private, elite schools" where the consumption of drugs by female students had "increased by 75 per cent".
She disagreed with Marri's stance that the minister should not have given this statement, saying that such issues cannot be "swept under the carpet" and needed to be addressed.
"What we don't see we don't care about," said Mazari. "I believe that we should ring alarm bells in our society, this is a big issue.
"Parents who send their children to these elite schools do not want to know... Maybe this is the sort of alarm bells (sic) that was needed." She assured that the issue had come up in the cabinet meeting and the ministries of education and interior had been directed to devise policies to deal with the "growing issue" of drug usage in educational institutions.
Marri, in response, reiterated that the government should be "careful" on sensitive issues and instead take tangible actions such as "making it compulsory for schools to take drug tests of students".
To this Mazari agreed, adding that a law must be passed that would make it mandatory for private schools to hold drug tests.
'WEF report on gender disparity in Pakistan is wrong'
Mazari also contended the veracity of the World Economic Forum's recent report on gender disparity in Pakistan.
She acknowledged that gender inequality exists in Pakistan but denied that it was as severe as portrayed in the report.
"The report placed us behind Saudi Arabia," the minister said. "This is wrong. "We are talking to WEF to correct their record.
"The report says that no woman in Pakistan had ever become a minister. We have had female ministers in the past and now as well. The government is taking more steps to end gender inequality."