Opposition & treasury clash in PA over composition of standing committees

Updated April 17, 2019

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The opposition and treasury benches clashed verbally after the opposition members used a harsh tone about the leadership of the ruling PPP, provoking the treasury to reply in the same coin. ─ PPI/File
The opposition and treasury benches clashed verbally after the opposition members used a harsh tone about the leadership of the ruling PPP, provoking the treasury to reply in the same coin. ─ PPI/File

KARACHI: The highlight of the day during Tuesday’s Sindh Assembly session was hullaballoo, as the opposition and treasury benches clashed verbally. The confrontation was ostensibly sparked by the opposition members when they used a harsh tone about the leadership of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, provoking the treasury to reply in the same coin.

The members of the PPP and the three major opposition parties — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Grand Democratic Alliance — were upset over the delay in resumption of the session, which was a scheduled private members’ day.

Minutes before Speaker Siraj Durrani entered the hall, they started chanting slogans against the government showing their anger over the persistent delays in the resumption of proceedings of the house.

As the house formally went into session, chants were heard from the opposition benches in which certain members used harsh language against PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari.

It sparked anger in the government ranks, where the members criticised the leaders of the opposition parties.

Pre-budget discussion to begin on Monday

The situation turned uglier when members from the two sides moved to the area that separates the treasury and opposition benches, and got dangerously close. The face-off was, however, averted when other lawmakers intervened and pulled them back to their seats.

Speaker Durrani tried unsuccessfully to calm them.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Chawla demanded that the opposition members tender an unconditional apology for what they had said against the PPP leadership.

Opposition leader Firdous Naqvi, in the meantime, asked the speaker to allow him to speak on a point of order. The chair asked him to speak after the day’s business was over, but Mr Naqvi insisted on speaking as he said the matter was important.

The chair allowed him to speak, but the discussion took around an hour and eventually delayed the Question Hour and affected the rest of the day’s business.

Mr Naqvi complained that the chair did not give an equal opportunity to the opposition members at which Speaker Durrani said he had always tried to equally treat every member of the house and such words by the opposition leader had “grieved” him.

“You have alleged that I support the government,” said the speaker.

Mr Naqvi went for a detailed speech to criticise the government at which the chair said it was not a point of order and the house was not a place of public meeting.

Mr Naqvi complained that the chair should have played his part to ensure representation of the opposition in the Public Accounts Committee and standing committees.

Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani said the three large opposition parties had boycotted elections on the PAC and standing committees, yet members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal did take part in the elections and were duly represented on those bodies.

“We always respect the opposition and give them due representation on elected forums, but you, the major opposition parties, do not give due share to your colleagues in the smaller groups,” said the minister.

Speaker Durrani said the opposition parties had been invited for a meeting before election for the PAC and standing committees, but “none of you turned up”.

The opposition leader said the chair should have given “just treatment” to the opposition during the business advisory committee meeting.

The chair remarked that Mr Naqvi did not attend the last two meetings of the advisory committee. Similarly, he stopped his members from taking part in the elections for the PAC and standing committees.

Mr Naqvi demanded the opposition should have been given a greater representation on the business advisory committee.

Mr Durrani said the committee was formed according to the Rules of Procedure and “if you have no trust in me, then move a no-trust motion against me”.

The opposition leader, however, said the opposition’s parliamentary leaders were ready to sit with the chair and sort out the issues. He objected to the composition of the standing committees.

Pre-budget discussion

Later, he said the chair should allocate days — five at least as per the rules — for a pre-budget discussion. Mohammad Hussain of the MQM-P said more days should be allocated for the debate.

Speaker Durrani said initially a five-day debate would begin on Monday in which lawmakers would offer their recommendations to the government before the budget for the next fiscal was presented. Mr Chawla said the debate could be extended with mutual consent.

Minister Ghani said despite the fact that elections had already been held on most of the standing committees, the government was open to the opposition to discuss the composition of the committees.

PTI’s parliamentary leader Haleem Shaikh said how a committee could effectively function when its chairperson and members belong to the treasury benches only.

Mr Ghani said things could be made better if the PTI leadership became a signatory to the Charter of Democracy. He said some members of the smaller groups of the opposition were duly represented in the committees who preferred to be part of the democratic process.

RO plants in Thar

The chair declared an adjournment motion tabled by PTI’s Sidra Imran as “not maintainable” on the grounds that much of its content was “hypothetical”.

Ms Imran asked about the “incompletion of a mega project” to set up 700 reverse osmosis plants in Thar “despite an expenditure of Rs8 billion”.

Minister Ghani said there was no such scheme in the Annual Development Plan in which 700 RO plants were to be installed in Thar at a cost of Rs8bn.

“This motion is based on everything hypothetical,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2019