LAHORE: Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi on Wednesday ordered that the forensic audit report of Sasti Roti (low-priced bread) scheme, run by the PML-N’s provincial government between 2008 and 2013, be presented in the House during the next session.
The orders came during the question hour when responding to a question put up by a member, Momina Waheed, the minister concerned informed the House that the food department issued 504,325 tonnes of wheat during the five years, with a total subsidy cost of Rs13.37 billion.
When the chair inquired if the department conducted any inquiry into the scheme, the minister responded in affirmative, prompting the chair to order production of the audit report in the House. The minister, responding to another question, informed the House that his department, which was holding 7.6 million tonnes of wheat, had brought the stocks down to 3.1m tonnes. The chair advised the minister to try and further reduce the stocks as new crop was only a few weeks away.
The media crisis also reverberated in the House when shortly after the start, the Press Gallery staged a walkout. The chair sent the local bodies minister, Mian Mahmoodur Rasheed, to bring the media persons back. After short negotiations, the minister returned to inform the House that the boycott was aimed at highlighting the overall media crisis, and was not over any issue in the assembly. He also told the members that the journalists also complained that despite the House passing a resolution in their favour in the last session, there had been no improvement in the situation as the media organisations were continuing with shedding the staff and applying salary cuts – a situation, they found unacceptable.
“In these circumstances, it would be futile to pass another resolution,” said the chair. The speaker suggested that instead of passing another resolution, a three-member committee be constituted headed by Punjab information and culture minister. The committee, he said, should also include a member from the opposition and must come up with concrete recommendations after consulting with the stakeholders. The recommendations could then be sent to the provincial government to help resolve the crisis.
The agenda for the day included introduction of two bills – Kidney and Liver Research Centre and the Assembly Secretariat Employees bills – and both were introduced in the House. The House was supposed to pass three bills – Prevention of Conflict of Interest Bill, Skill Development Authority Bill and Technical Education and Vocational Authority Bill – that it could not because of poor attendance. It had taken up the second bill (Skill Development Authority) and the treasury was trying to bulldoz the amendments moved by the opposition, when Zaibun Nisa (an opp member) requested the chair to count the members. On counting, their number fell far short of the mandatory -- 93 and the House was adjourned for five minutes. After some 15 minutes, another counting took place and the quorum was still short, forcing the chair to adjourn the House till Thursday (today) morning.
The House was due to take up all-important pre-budget discussion on Wednesday for which the session was convened. However, it could not do so as the treasury failed to ensure the presence of required number of members in the House.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019