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Torn-up gas bills, barbs fly in rumpus-hit NA

Updated February 23, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Friday witnessed rowdy scenes with gas bills torn up by opposition members flying in the house and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle trading allegations, taunts and unparliamentary remarks.

The opposition members also staged a walkout from the house as a mark of protest against the recent hike in gas and electricity tariff. They besieged the speaker’s rostrum, refusing to accede to the chair’s repeated requests to take their seats.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Soori chaired the session.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi protested over what he called the unwarranted action of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) against people holding constitutional offices. “The Sindh Assembly speaker has been arrested. Who will apprehend the Punjab Assembly speaker?” he asked.

Murad Saeed criticises opposition for clamouring over arrests; Khaqan Abbasi speaks against NAB actions

He wondered where the opposition should talk about the NAB actions, if not in the house. He also slammed the non-issuance of production order for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s stalwart Khawaja Saad Rafique, saying that he was being deprived of his right to represent his constituency. He insisted that the production order for Mr Rafique be immediately issued. He also spoke against the increase in gas and electricity rates and called for reversal of the decision.

Rumpus ruled the house when the chair gave the mike to Communication Minister Murad Saeed as the opposition members tore up copies of the agenda and gathered close to the speaker’s podium, chanting slogans against the hike in gas and electricity tariff. Later they walked out from the house.

In his speech, Mr Saeed hit hard at the opposition for what he called clamouring over arrests of the corrupt. He said the people of India-held Kashmir were being subjected to the worst kind of oppression by the occupation forces, which warranted that personal interests should be set aside. But in the same breath, he targeted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, claiming that his irresponsible remarks had been used as a tool by the Indian counsel during the Kulbhushan Jadhav case hearing before the International Court of Justice.

He said Pakistan’s counsel gave strong arguments to prove that the Indian spy was involved in acts of terrorism in Pakistan, but the Indian counsel named ex-PM Sharif and said “he had also said what we are saying”, amidst slogans of ‘shame, shame’ from treasury benches.

Mr Saeed also referred to the “mysterious visit of Indian steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal to Pakistan without a visa” and said he had also been taken to Murree. He said Maryam Nawaz tried to justify the visit by saying that “we have personal relations with him”. He also pointed out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the wedding ceremony of Mr Sharif’s granddaughter.

Gas and power tariff

When the opposition members started shouting during Mr Saeed’s speech, the chair asked the minister to speak about the money bill.

Mr Saeed, however, said that he was just responding to what had been said by Mr Abbasi. He rejected the opposition’s criticism of increase in gas and power tariff, pointing out that the present government inherited gas companies running in losses to the tune of Rs150 billion and the circular debt as high as Rs1.25 trillion. “We want to raise the issues concerning the nation, but they keep on questioning arrests of those involved in corruption and theft,” he added.

When the opposition members started raising slogans, Mr Saeed again said those who were now in the opposition had stolen the national wealth when they were in power. This followed heightened tension and an exchange of arguments and even inappropriate remarks between the two sides. Mr Saeed alleged that the opposition was trying to create a division in a bid to save “thieves and dacoits”.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2019