LAHORE: Catching the opposition unawares, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Punjab government on Wednesday amended the provincial assembly’s rules of procedures in a sudden move, allowing for the first time in its history, the creation of a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) exclusively for the audit of local bodies finances.
The move was out of the blue as it was not enlisted in the assembly’s agenda for the day, and was made after Speaker Chaudhry Pervez Elahi replaced Deputy Speaker Dost Mazari all of a sudden.
It shocked the opposition, particularly the PML-N, as it appeared that the PAC would perhaps rummage around financial affairs of only the local councils which worked under the Shahbaz Sharif’s rule.
Law Minister Raja Basharat said the rules were being amended in response to a letter written by the auditor general of Pakistan in 2003, requesting creation of a PAC in the Punjab Assembly exclusively for checking the books of the local councils for which the AG office had created district level offices.
Asked as if the PAC would check records from 2003, a smiling minister later told Dawn that the time period would be decided later on.
Shocked by the announcement, the PML-N MPAs loudly protested in confusion. But the rumpus could not stop the determined speaker and the law minister from amending the rules. The approval by the majority treasury members was equally loud.
The speaker then began to play with the opposition. He said: “You are protesting without knowing the reality. The AG office had asked for the PAC in 2003 and we have provided for it because of the pending 900 audit objections against local governments. We will consult you while creating it,” he said.
“There is a system of local audit, but it is useless in the absence of the supervision by the provincial assembly. The credit goes to you for amending the rules to provide for the PAC 16 years after the request. Sit down and stop making noise,” the speaker said.
Former speaker Rana Iqbal just complained of hurry in which the rules were amended, saying the opposition should have been heard before going for the move. The law minister snapped back: “Please don’t object to the long overdue step which you avoided.”
PML-N’s Samiullah Khan said he had smelled the rat when the speaker suddenly took over the house. He asked as to why the new PAC could not be formed when the PAC-I, supposed to be headed by Mr Hamza Sharif, had not been constituted.
He alleged that this was done under the prime minister’s instructions. Mr Hamza was not being appointed PAC head merely because of some NAB allegations against him, he said, adding that if this was the reason, all those facing allegations should resign no matter if they were ministers or the speaker.
The speaker mowed down his remarks by saying that he had already clarified that some things took time to settle. “We are still trying (to appoint Hamza as the PAC head),” he said, denying that the prime minister was running Punjab. “Is it not true that ex-premier Nawaz Sharif used to preside over the cabinet meetings and overrule decisions by his chief minister brother,” he said.
When Rana Mashhood raised the issue of registration of a case against the Lahore mayor and some PML-N MPAs for protesting against the new local government law in front of the assembly on Tuesday, the speaker asked him to give him a copy of the FIR and he would handle it.
The law minister said mere 250 members of the local governments were protesting, suggesting that the rest of them agreed to the new law.
PML-N MPA Malik Muhammad Ahmad said an FIR had also been registered against him, by a party which had, when in opposition, gone for civil disobedience.
After this, health parliamentary secretary Nazir Chauhan embarrassed his own government by refusing to respond to an adjournment motion by Azma Bukhari on the endemic hepatitis, saying as he had no office, he could not take any briefing.
Earlier, the speaker coached Education Minister Murad Raas on how to handle questions of the members during the Question Hour. This he did after Samiullah Khan termed Mr Raas an under training minister as the latter repeatedly offered to personally supply the information demanded by some members. The answers are the property of the house and not the members, Mr Elahi said.
Replying to questions by PML-N MPA Hina Pervaiz Butt, Mr Raas admitted that there were 5,216 private schools as compared to 1,128 run by the government in Lahore. But, instead of opening new schools, the government would prefer to improve the existing ones, he said.
He said private schools could increase just 5 per cent of their fees. Anyone doing otherwise without any permission would be dealt with sternly.
Replying to a question by Syed Usman Mehmood, the minister said the government was trying to withdraw schools given to NGOs by the past government.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019