The first Senate session of the year, convened by the government on a 24-hour notice, took place on Wednesday. A regular session of the Senate was last held from Aug 29 to Sept 3.
Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani while addressing the house raised questions on the amendments proposed by the government to the country's accountability law.
He said the government through the amendments had exempted businessmen, bureaucrats, judges and the military from being proceeded against under the law. "Who is then left? Only you and I are left," he said, addressing the Senate chairman.
"Is the NAB law only there for politicians?" he asked, suggesting that the parliament should be allowed to "try the parliamentarians".
Otherwise, he said, if the government really wanted to conduct accountability, then "the only path to meaningful accountability is one law, one bureau [and] across-the-board accountability".
Rabbani said there should be "no holy cows" under a fair accountability law which according to him should apply to the judiciary and military as well as the bureaucracy.
He said the government was not following the Constitution and its actions have rendered the parliament ineffective.
Speaking about the issue of extension in the service of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, which underwent strict scrutiny in the Supreme Court in November, Rabbani said the PTI government due to its "incapability and incapacity" had landed a national institution (army) into an "embarrassing position".
"What kind of a government is this which cannot issue three or four notifications?" he said, urging the government to let the parliament and the Senate play their constitutional roles.
'Senate kept in the dark'
At the outset of the session, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq regretted that the government had called the Senate session only after the opposition submitted a requisition.
He said the upper house had been "kept in the dark" regarding the promulgation of the NAB ordinance. He alleged that the accountability process is being carried out in a "unilateral, oppressive and illegal manner" in the country.
Haq said the opposition had submitted the agenda for the Senate session but a "negative mindset" prevented it from being included in the scheduled of proceedings.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said they had found out through newspapers that a Senate session had been called for today. She said some members were unable to attend because of the prevailing smog.
She said ministers were not present in the house even though the session had been called after such a long gap. In addition, questions and answers were not made part of the agenda "which means that the government was not prepared", she alleged.
Rehman lambasted the government for promulgating 25 presidential ordinances last year, saying: "The parliament cannot be run from Bani Gala or Aiwan-e-Sadr."
She said the government had failed to issue a proper notification regarding the army chief's tenure extension and has now filed a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement on the issue. "What does the government going into review indicate?" she asked.
The PPP leader also criticised the government for "doing nothing but giving a speech" regarding the issue of occupied Kashmir. She questioned why the foreign minister was not coming to the parliament to brief the lawmakers on the latest situation in the region.
JUI-F senator criticises ISPR over Musharraf statement
Jamiat Ulema-Islam (Fazl) Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri while addressing the upper house expressed concerns over the statement issued by the military's media wing on the verdict announced in the high treason case against former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He said the debate on the verdict against Musharraf should have taken place in the parliament, and added that the statement given by the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations regarding the judgement had sparked "an exchange of statements".
The JUI-F lawmaker said the matter of Gen Bajwa's service extension should also have been discussed in the parliament. Because that was not done, the country had to "face embarrassment", he added.
Army is not only PTI's: Chaudhry
Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry in his speech said the country's Constitution maintains the balance between the four institutions of government and the opposition and the military and the judiciary. However, he said, the four institutions appear to be at odds with each other as the country enters a new year.
"I think these four institutions are neither culpable in all matters nor blameless in all matters," he said, adding that all four of the branches are susceptible to making mistakes.
Chaudhry said the country's priority should be finding ways to provide a better future to its very young population.
He said it was natural for the government and opposition to have differences on fundamental issues, "but the country cannot function [...] if we cannot appoint members and chairman of the Election Commission [of Pakistan] and develop consensus on what the accountability process should be".
The minister said the government and opposition should move forward on issues on which consensus can be developed such as the appointment of ECP members, accountability laws and the pending legislation regarding the army chief's tenure.
"The army is not only the PTI's; it equally belongs to the PML-N, Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUI," Chaudhry said.
He said although he had great respect for the Supreme Court and the judiciary, the courts "want to judge all of us parliamentarians on the basis of Articles 62 and 63 [of the Constitution] and hold us accountable, but the judiciary itself is not ready to come to the Public Accounts Committee. How will things functions when public money is involved in all of this?"
Addressing the treasury and opposition benches, Chaudhry added: "On this first day of the new year I want to request that we devise a minimum common agenda which can include the ECP, the accountability system and other big issues."
PTI Senator Faisal Javed said the government had achieved numerous successes in 2019 and stabilised the economy.
He accused the opposition of coming to the parliament only to "get their companions freed from jail, have production orders issued and conceal their leaders' corruption".
"There should be accountability without discrimination" in the country, he said.
The Senate session was subsequently adjourned to meet again tomorrow at 3pm.
PM absent as opposition protests hasty session in NA
Meanwhile, during a sitting of the National Assembly, lawmakers erupted into a protest over the convening of the session in haste.
PPP MNA Syed Naveed Qamar questioned the logic behind the decision. "Many members have been unable to reach Islamabad from their constituencies," he said.
Former speaker Ayaz Sadiq asked the deputy speaker to defer all the questions asked by the members who are not present in the house.
Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also protested the convening of the session at such short notice.
"The members are sitting at Karachi and Multan airports. People are unable to come from Balochistan. The session has been convened on a less-than-24-hour notice.
"The members are asking you to defer the questions whereas no written replies have been given to most of the questions. This is a joke," he declared.
Ashraf went on to criticise what he termed "the height of irresponsibility" on the part of the government. "The government has increased petroleum prices. We register our protest.
"This house is not truly representing the people. We want a debate on the price hike," he demanded.
Meanwhile, PML-N parliamentary leader in the NA Khawaja Asif said that Prime Minister Imran Khan "had promised that he would himself come to the house to give replies to the questions".
"The PM has not come to the assembly for the last whole quarter starting from October," he pointed out, adding: "The session was scheduled to start from January 10, but the government has suddenly summoned the sitting."
He called on the government "to maintain sanctity of the rules".
Communications Minister Murad Saeed said the government had already introduced an amendment to the rules to allow 'PM Question Hour'. "The issue is still being debated," he said.
Saeed assured the members of the lower house that the "difficult time has passed" and that the "new year will bring prosperity".
"The government is launching Ehsas programme on January 8," he said, calling on all members to participate in the programme.
Opposition members clash with minister over gas shortage
During the NA session, the opposition members from Sindh and Balochistan criticised the government for gas shortage in their respective provinces.
Federal Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan became the target of the opposition's criticism when he alleged that the previous PPP and PML-N governments did nothing for gas exploration in the country. He was responding to a calling attention notice regarding "unprecedented loadshedding of natural gas across the country".
The minister held the PPP government in Sindh responsible for the gas shortage in the province. He alleged that the Sindh government was not giving the Centre the right of way for laying a 125-kilometre gas pipeline.
The minister said the government has increased 50 per cent supply to the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) which provides gas facility to Punjab, KP and other northern parts of the country. The government is giving preference to domestic consumers, he added.
Khan said the shortage of supply to CNG stations will be resolved soon.
Shaza Fatima Khawaja of the PML-N accused the minister of pitching Punjab and Sindh against each other on the gas supply issue.
Syed Mehmood Shah of the JUI-F said that 90 to 95pc areas in Balochistan are without gas and in the remaining areas, the gas pressure is very low.
The minister responded that the government had planned to change the gas pipelines in the province. "It will take time, but the situation will improve once the old pipelines are replaced," he said.
According to Khan, Balochistan generates Rs6 billion revenue whereas gas worth Rs12bn is wasted due to leakages and theft. "To avoid a possible clash, we are negotiating with the people," he said.
Agha Rafiullah of the PPP asked the minister not to create a rift among the provinces. "We are only talking about our constitutional rights," he said.
The NA session was adjourned until 11am on Thursday.
The government had called the National Assembly session for today on Tuesday. The previous NA session was abruptly prorogued on Dec 16. The NA session under a decision taken by the business advisory committee was to continue till Dec 20, but was abruptly prorogued early for some unknown reasons.
Parliament sessions summoned 'in haste'
Earlier, while the opposition appeared to be wondering as to what was the need for convening the sessions of parliament in such haste, the government said the decision had been taken to take the legislature into confidence over recent important developments.
When contacted on Tuesday, Rabbani said he failed to understand the reasons behind convening the sessions within 24 hours. He pointed out that in foggy weather, many members from other cities would find it difficult to reach Islamabad in time.
He regretted that the Senate session had only been convened a day after the opposition had requisitioned it. He said the government continues to ignore the parliament and pointed out that the Senate would be meeting after a gap of 124 days, apart from a requisitioned session convened in between.
PPP MNA Shazia Marri said the “out of mind” government wanted to run parliament in a haphazard way, just as it was running the country. According to Marri, the members were informed at 5pm on Tuesday through media about the parliament sessions to be held the very next day.
Leader of the house in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz, however, termed the opposition’s clamour as surprising, saying the parliament’s sessions had been convened on their request.
He said after the opposition submitted a requisition with the Senate secretariat on Monday, he had contacted leader of the opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, Sherry Rehman and other parliamentary leaders and told them that the government was convening the Senate as a session on their requisition would need 14 days.
He said important developments had taken place since the last session was held and the government wanted to take the house into confidence, adding that Prime Minister Imran would attend the coming Senate session.