ISLAMABAD: Opposition members during a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) on Thursday lambasted the government for its decision to establish a “Tiger Force” and for handing over key affairs to non-elected people.
Informed sources told Dawn that during an in-camera meeting of the committee, headed by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, members belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) unanimously rejected the idea of establishing the volunteers’ force, alleging that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was politicising ongoing national efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the sources, the committee members witnessed a brief heated exchange of arguments between PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi when the latter defended Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to establish the Tiger Force, claiming that the youth from any political party could join it.
Pointing towards Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razzak Dawood, who were participating in the meeting through the video links, Mushahidullah Khan objected that the two men were non-elected and they had been given the most important portfolios.
Similarly, the sources said, the PML-N senator pointed out that Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and head of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Lt Gen Mohammad Afzal, the two key personalities leading the nation’s war against Covid-19, were also non-elected.
PML-N says technocrats should not be allowed to formulate policies
He was of the view that technocrats should not be allowed to formulate policies as they were not directly answerable to the people.
The PML-N senator also criticised the government for closing all dispensaries, medical stores and OPDs of hospitals across the country, as this government step was causing problems for the masses. He said even the Chief Justice of Pakistan had made adverse remarks over the issue when he had to face difficulties in getting the treatment of his wife due to closure of the dispensary.
He alleged that there was a lack of coordination between the Centre and provinces.
The parliamentary committee meeting took place only a day after the prime minister made an appeal to the country’s youth to get themselves registered with the Coronavirus Relief Tiger Force (CRTF) to help the poor and daily-wage earners and provide them food and medical assistance. The prime minister had also disclosed that already 750,000 volunteers had got themselves registered with the CRTF.
Parliamentary leader of the PML-N in the National Assembly Khawaja Asif said it was an inappropriate act of the government to use official resources for the publicity of the PTI through printing of party flags, banners and shirts during relief activities in the fight against Covid-19.
“Do not use official resources for the promotion of a particular political party,” he said.
“There is a need for national unity on a national crisis. Don’t divide the nation on different grounds as this is not the time to do politics,” the PML-N leader said, adding: “The use of Tiger Force is nothing but politics. It is against the national spirit to fight Covid-19 jointly.”
Khawaja Asif also condemned the use of police force against protesting young doctors in Balochistan and expressed concern over shifting of coronavirus-affected people from quarantines to provinces.
He alleged that the federal government was itself responsible for the spread of coronavirus in the country as 50 per cent of the people tested positive had been sent to provinces by it.
Meanwhile, according to an official handout, the parliamentary committee approved 12 terms of references (ToR) prepared by a sub-committee, headed by Minister for Narcotics Control Azam Swati.
The opposition members raised a number of questions about non-availability of ventilators, testing kits and other equipment required for treating coronavirus patients, utilisation of funds and distribution of relief items.
Foreign Minister Qureshi said the main objective of the committee was to collect inputs from political leaders and send them to the National Command and Control Centre and the National Coordination Committee for taking further inputs and decisions and for implementation.
He said the role of the parliamentary committee would be oversight of the activities of the government relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Qureshi said that food items would be distributed to 12 million people as per old data and four million people as per new data and prescribed procedure was being finalised for distribution of food, protective gear and testing kits and all data would be available on the website.
The next meeting of the committee will be held on April 20.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020