ISLAMABAD: Opposition members in the Senate Standing Committee on National Health Services (NHS) on Thursday removed Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Senator Mian Ateeq Shaikh from the position of chair, replacing him with independent Senator Sardar Mohammad Shafiq Tareen.

However, Senator Shaikh has questioned the legality of the move, alleging that this violates the rules because chairmanship of a committee is allocated on the basis of a party’s position in the upper house.

The committee’s last meeting on Sept 12 was postponed after its members walked out of the meeting to protest against Senator Shaikh. Because the opposition members had announced that they would replace the chair, Senator Shaikh had verbally announced his resignation.

NHS committee chair argues chairmanship of committees is allocated on basis of party’s position in upper house

The committee members later discussed the matter in the office of the Senate chairman and a notification was issued on Oct 2 that said that an election for the committee chair would be held on Oct 3.

On Thursday, opposition members said they would not even accept Senator Shaikh as a committee member, and added that Khushbakht Shujat, who also belongs to the MQM, could not become the chair.

But Senator Shaikh argued that chairmanship of parliamentary committees is allocated on the basis of a party’s position in parliament, so the MQM should retain chairmanship of the NHS committee as one of the two committees it is supposed to head.

While opposition members wanted to elect Senator Tareen as the chair, the committee secretary said he could not chair the committee because he already chairs the narcotics control committee.

PPP Senator Dr Sikandar Mandhro said he was against Senator Shaikh’s chairmanship, adding that the meeting should be postponed because the schedule for the election should have been announced at least 48 hours in advance.

Opposition members also said the rules did not state that a senator could not chair two committees. They announced that voting to elect the chairman would be held.

Seven senators, including Dr Ashok Kumar, Dr Asad Ashraf, Dilawar Khan, Bahramand Khan Tangi, Ghous Mohammad Khan Niazi and Dr Mandhro, voted for Senator Tareen.

Senator Niazi then led Senator Tareen to the seat of the committee chair by hand and asked him to take the seat.

Senators Shujat, Shaikh, Sana Jamali, Dr Mehr Taj Roghani and Liaqat Khan Tarakai walked out in protest.

Senator Shaikh told Dawn that after the last committee meeting, the Senate chairman had decided to swap the chairs of committees headed by MQM senators.

“Since the MQM has to get chairmanship of two committees, the Senate chairman decided that I would become the chairman of the standing committee on postal services and would leave the chairpersonship of postal services and become chairperson of the standing committee on NHS. However, the members opposed this.

“If chairpersons were elected by voting, the opposition parties would not get a single chairpersonship of the National Assembly standing committee as the government coalition has a majority in all the committees,” he said.

“Prime Minister Imran Khan has praised my performance, as I played a role in reducing the prices of 500 medicines and suggested I play a role to reduce the prices of thousands of other medicines,” he said.

In response to a question, Senator Shaikh alleged that some committee members were running medical colleges and were against him because he was aware of all of the colleges’ moves to earn money through illegal means.

“I fear that in the future, the opposition will forcefully remove the Senate chairman and make someone else sit at his seat. However, I can only say that if the MQM will have only one seat, Ms Shujat will remain chairperson of the committee. The ball is now in the Senate chairman’s court, and he will decide on the committee’s chairmanship,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2019