LAHORE: An assertive Speaker Pervaiz Elahi on Monday snubbed the provincial food minister, directed the law minister to bring legislation to rein in the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) and apprised the House of the alleged excesses committed by the PFA.
It all started when Malik Arshad questioned when a PFA office was established in his hometown of Sahiwal. The food minister tried to answer, but the chair had more queries: What are the standard operating procedures of the authority? Where does it draw its legal strength from? How does it decide fines; it has been fining with impunity from a few thousands to hundreds of thousands of rupees? What is its professional strength? All the questions beg answers, he asserted.
Food Minister Chaudhry Samiullah tried to defend the PFA, saying it was not slapping exorbitant fines as being claimed. If the speaker has proof of the claims he should present them to the House and the required action would be taken, he added.
This seemed to have touched a raw nerve of the chair: “Why should I bring them to the House? When I’m saying it, what kind of proofs do you need?”
Session sees tension between speaker, food minister
He asked the law minister: “Come up with legislation to control this authority as its actions are impacting social and business circles in the province. Is its head a food technologist? How can he summarily pronounce judgements on food quality and announce discretionary fines? Since the minister for food does not know the matter, you should do it.”
The law minister tried to remind the chair that it has already formed a special committee for the purpose and the matter could be referred to it.
The food minister kept trying to respond to the chair, but was pulled back by colleagues sitting next to him.
The minister came under more pressure from the speaker when he stood up to answer a question regarding the ongoing wheat procurement. “I have been in charge of the procurement drive (as the CM) and know such routine instructions do not work. You must ensure that it is only procured from the farmers without favour or fear – wheat is wheat and does not carry a stamp of the PML-N, PML-Q or the PTI. It is only a six-week affair. Induct people from all departments in the process to make it smooth.”
Being continuously disallowed to speak, the minister stood up to leave, but was pulled back by colleagues.
The assembly saw some sloganeering towards the end when food minister accused the opposition of dishonesty: “Since we are not favouring the opposition in wheat procurement, it is dishonestly accusing the government of wrongdoings.”
The opposition whose benches were overpopulated responded with deafening sloganeering. It wanted to respond to the allegations, but was disallowed, and a pandemonium ensued.
The treasury used the mayhem to its advantage by tabling two ordinances and introducing five bills, including the Punjab Local Governments Bill 2019.
The chair then adjourned the proceedings till Tuesday morning.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019