ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former president Asif Ali Zardari on Monday lashed out at the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the floor of the National Assembly, demanding that the chairman of the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog be summoned before parliament for his recent actions against parliamentarians.

Speaking on a point of order on the opening day of the National Assembly’s new session, Mr Zardari, who is facing charges of money laundering through fake bank accounts, suggested that the cases of parliamentarians should be referred to the house committee on law and justice before being sent to NAB.

“Why should we go to the NAB chairman? The NAB chairman should appear before parliament,” Mr Zardari said in an apparent reference to a move by some opposition members to write a letter to NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal, seeking an appointment with him to discuss alleged one-sided actions of the bureau against the opposition members.

“I have faced many NABs and will continue to face them,” the PPP leader said, adding that he was concerned about the time when members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) would be summoned by the bureau.

“The real issue is that what will happen when you are summoned (by NAB)?” he asked with a meaningful smile, addressing the treasury benches.

Mr Zardari asked the government to “tighten” NAB in order to reduce the prevailing “insecurity” among bureaucrats as “a federal secretary is not even ready to sign a file”.

Shahbaz Sharif questions award of Mohmand dam contract to firm owned by PM’s adviser

“Nowadays I and my family are facing JIT (Joint Investigation Team). Thanks to the Supreme Court,” he said in an apparent reference to a recent report of the JIT constituted by the Supreme Court to probe the fake bank accounts case against him and his sister Faryal Talpur. He termed the formation of the JIT “uncalled for”, saying the JIT having people from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was “above the law”.

Referring to the SC decision of upholding the Islamabad High Court’s verdict suspending the sentence of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz in the Avenfield reference, Mr Zardari said they were happy to see Nawaz Sharif getting relief.

He also severely criticised the government’s economic policies and warned that the country was sliding towards becoming a “failed state”.

“Considering the financial situation at present and the way decisions are being taken arbitrarily... the country cannot be managed in this manner,” the former president said, adding that no foreign power, be it China or any other country, could save Pakistan “once it starts its journey towards becoming a failed state”.

“I don’t know how long your government will last. We will not bring down your government, you will fall on your own,” he said while looking towards the front treasury benches.

Earlier, when Mr Zardari entered the hall amidst desk-thumping by the opposition members, Mr Sharif went to him and had a handshake.

Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif questioned the government’s move to award the contract for the Rs309 billion Mohmand dam project to Descon — a company owned by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood — and termed it an issue of “conflict of interest”.

He said that though the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules allowed the award of contracts on a single bid basis with certain conditions, the manner in which the contract had been awarded put question marks on the entire procedure. “What was the urgency in awarding the contract? Why was rebidding not done?”

Mr Sharif, who is also president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, claimed that the previous PML-N government had resolved the energy crisis by taking a number of steps on a war footing basis which resulted in the elimination of worst loadshedding from the country. He regretted that due to the PTI government’s “negligence and incompetence”, the country was again facing the energy crisis.

The opposition leader also criticised the government for allowing increase in the prices of medicines.

Mr Sharif, who has been in NAB custody since October last year in connection with an inquiry into the Ashiyana housing scam and attending the sessions after issuance of his production order by the speaker, said the credit for the aid from Saudi Arabia did not go to Imran Khan as they had received this money by showing the face of the army chief (Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa).

The opposition members staged a walkout as soon as Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda took the floor to respond to the speeches of Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari.

When Speaker Asad Qaiser asked Mr Sharif not to leave the house, the latter said they could not sit in the house to listen to abuses.

An opposition member later claimed that Mr Sharif was upset because of the use of some objectionable words for him by some treasury members when he was delivering the speech.

Before the opposition’s walkout, the house witnessed rumpus for a brief time when Minister for Housing and Works Tariq Bashir Cheema said they would not allow the opposition members to run parliament according to their whims and for staging walkout after delivering their speeches.

Firebrand PML-N leader Khawaja Asif declared that they would also not let the government members use such threatening tone. He also questioned the long absence of Prime Minister Imran Khan from the assembly.

Speaking in the opposition-less house, Mr Vawda defended the government’s move to award the contract of Mohmand dam to Descon, alleging that Shahbaz Sharif had wrongly interpreted the PPRA rules.

Mr Wavda said the politics of Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif had been buried and they would either go to jail or in exile.

Minister for Communications Murad Saeed in his usual style also blasted the opposition, saying the two main parties had joined hands in order to save each other.

The NA also unanimously passed a resolution condemning the murder of former Muttahida Qaumi Movement MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi in Karachi. Through the resolution, read out by MQM MNA Aminul Haq, the house called upon the federal and Sindh governments to arrest the culprits and ensure protection of the life and property of every citizen.

In the absence of the opposition, the NA passed a bill seeking to repeal the West Pakistan Prohibition of Smoking in Cinema Houses Ordinance 1960 to the extent of Islamabad Capital Territory.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2019

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