Lawmakers play blame game in NA over Covid-19

Updated May 14, 2020

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House witnesses ruckus; both sides trade barbs over Imran, Shahbaz's absence. — APP?File
House witnesses ruckus; both sides trade barbs over Imran, Shahbaz's absence. — APP?File

ISLAMABAD: Lawma­kers on Wednesday turned the National Assembly debate on the Covid-19 pandemic into a political point-scoring match as members on both sides of the aisle kept on hurling allegations and counter-allegations during more than six-hour-long proceedings of the house.

While sticking to their respective party positions, almost all lawmakers delivered political speeches in which they even targeted each other’s leadership and passed some personal rem­arks forcing Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri to expunge them from the proceedings.

The house witnessed ruckus on a couple of occasions when members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) protested against Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Raja Pervez Ashraf’s remarks terming them “rented soldiers” and later when the PPP members protested over the use of objectionable words against party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA from Karachi Faheem Khan.

The PTI MNA actually responded to similar remarks passed by PPP MNA Abdul Qadir Patel about PM Khan and Communications Minister Murad Saeed.

Mr Ashraf took exception to Sheikh Salahuddin’s remarks about Mr Bhutto-Zardari.

“Yesterday, you were sitting with us and speaking for us. Today, you are part of the present government. You are rented soldiers,” said Mr Ashraf prompting a noisy protest by MQM lawmakers.

The treasury members lashed out at the opposition parties for their “undue criticism” of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI government whereas opposition lawmakers accused government members of intentionally spoiling the atmosphere through their provocative speeches to hide their “incompetence and failure” in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Ashraf took exception to the opening speech of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the house on Monday and termed his outburst against the PPP and the Sindh government uncalled for.

When the opposition targeted the prime minister for not attending the session, the treasury members reminded them that Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif came back to the country from the UK to take part in the nation’s war against coronavirus, but now he was unwilling to come out of his home on the pretext of medical grounds.

The other issue on which the two sides confronted each other was the imposition of the lockdown.

The opposition members were of the view that the government had failed to come out with a “national strategy” to fight the pandemic and it did not even have the required data to make a policy.

“We don’t know the actual number of cases. We are only focusing on those in hospitals or travel history,” PML-N leader Dr Nisar Ahmed Cheema said while calling for random testing in the country.

“Give us some statistics to gauge the situation. The government has imposed the lockdown without revealing the data and lifted the lockdown in the same way,” declared another PML-N MNA from Gujranwala Khurram Dastagir Khan.

“The data is wrong. The country’s Covid-19 testing capacity is the bare minimum. The government has no idea how many people have been affected with the virus or how many are dying,” said another PML-N lawmaker Khawaja Saad Rafique.

PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi challenged the government over its claim regarding the announcement of Rs1.2 trillion relief package.

Both of them alleged that the actual amount which the government allocated was only Rs400 to Rs500 billion.

Mr Abbasi said it seemed that the government considered the 18th Amendment as the main cause of spread of Coronavirus and it believed that the pandemic could be eliminated if this amendment was repealed.

He said the government had not developed any strategy to deal with the current health crisis. He said though the government had launched websites, it did not run an effective awareness campaign. He also raised questions over the ambiguity of the government’s lockdown plan as well as protocols designed for testing and treatment of patients.

Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP) expressed concerns over lack of awareness about the novel coronavirus noting that there were many people who had refused to get tested because of the stigma attached to the virus.

Independent lawmaker from erstwhile federally administered tribal areas Mohsin Dawar questioned the effectiveness of the lockdown, claiming that the police and law-enforcement personnel were not even aware of the concept.

The Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement (PTM)-backed MNA also raised the issue of the recent killing of Arif Wazir in a terrorist attack. When the chair asked him only to talk about the pandemic, he said they could not allow human rights violations in the garb of coronavirus. He also said that taking advantage of the coronavirus situation, terrorists were regrouping in tribal areas.

Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood dismissed claims that the centre had not helped provinces. On the one hand, he said, they were making hue and cry over the issue of 18th Amendments and on the other they were exceeding their jurisdiction under 18th Amendment. He asked the opposition not to politicise every issue and advised them to have a balanced approach.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2020