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Budget debate marred by PTI, PML-N’s trade of barbs in Punjab Assembly

Updated June 20, 2019

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PTI MPA claims Shahbaz secretly used funds in 2015 for construction at Jati Umra. — APP/File
PTI MPA claims Shahbaz secretly used funds in 2015 for construction at Jati Umra. — APP/File

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MPA Saadia Sohail Rana ignited an otherwise dull Punjab Assembly session on Wednesday by presenting an “investigative report” on alleged construction at the Sharifs’ Jati Umra estate in 2015 with the secret usage of provincial funds and demanded their recovery, initiating a prolonged and uncontrolled exchange of vociferous slogans of “chor” (thief) from both the PTI and PML-N.

This sudden mention of, what she called, corruption by Mr Shahbaz Sharif and recovery of Rs270 million from him temporarily clouded the debate on budget 2019-20, creating a rumpus in the house.

MPA Rana unveiled her investigative report when she was allowed to speak on the budget by Mian Shafi, who was in the chair, after PML-N’s seasoned lawmaker Begum Zakia Shahnawaz presented her budgetary proposals in her trademark polite English. She even abided by the chair’s reminder that her allotted time was over.

PTI MPA claims Shahbaz secretly used funds in 2015 for construction at Jati Umra

The PTI MPA, quoting a newspaper report, started accusing Shahbaz of secretly using public funds worth Rs270m for some construction at Jati Umra in 2015. She claimed to have documentary proof of the alleged corruption and demanded recovery of the funds.

Her statement irritated the PML-N benches occupied mainly by its women members at that time. Upon this, the chair stopped MPA Rana from speaking further, but she continued to repeat her claims amidst blaring slogans of “thief” by PML-N members. Prosecution Minister Chaudhry Zaheeruddin added fuel to the fire, saying that the Supreme Court had already found the real thief, referring to former premier Nawaz Sharif.

Young PTI MPA Wasiq Qayyum Abbasi was the next to stoke up the fire with his diatribe against the PML-N leaders. He said neither the PTI government nor its budget was the problem of the PML-N, adding that it was actually disturbed at the National Accountability Bureau’s action against its “corrupt” leaders.

Deputy Speaker Sardar Dost Muhammad Mazari, who dashed to the house from his chambers to replace Mian Shafi, immediately controlled the pandemonium.

PML-N’s Waris Kalloo said Saadia Rana had violated the tradition of talking about the budget only during a debate on it. “Suspend her for the misconduct,” he demanded, saying that “if you talk of Jati Umra, we will mention Banigala”.

The deputy speaker expunged whatever was wrong in the battle of words that also disrupted the otherwise smooth business of the house. “Listen to a speech and respond to it with a better speech,” he said, adding that some visitors to his chambers were watching all of this on CCTV cameras to the sheer embarrassment of the house. “Mind it, you are being watched by the entire nation,” he said.

Earlier, the opposition objected to the presence of chief minister’s spokesman Dr Shahbaz Gill in the official gallery.

“He is clapping over the speeches of PTI members, which he cannot,” said PML-N’s Samiullah Khan. “Please inform him of the rules.”

Law Minister Raja Basharat said Mr Gill was sitting in the gallery in his official capacity. “No one will clap. Please do not indulge in unnecessary issues. The members who talked to him were wrong, not him,” he added.

Minister Zaheer looked angry over the issue and taunted that he had seen the ‘decency’ (protest) of the PML-N members during the presentation of the provincial budget.

As many as 20 members from the treasury and opposition benches took part in the budget debate. As usual, the PTI members congratulated the government for giving, what they called, the best-ever people-friendly budget, and the opposition MPAs severely criticised it, terming it an anti-people budget full of lies.

They all, nevertheless, were unanimous in demanding, at the end of their speeches, funds and projects for their respective constituencies.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2019