ISLAMABAD: Asad Umar, the federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, addresses a protest camp of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in front of Parliament House on Tuesday against loadshedding by K-Electric in Karachi.—Mohammad Asim/White Star
ISLAMABAD: Asad Umar, the federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, addresses a protest camp of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan in front of Parliament House on Tuesday against loadshedding by K-Electric in Karachi.—Mohammad Asim/White Star

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Tuesday faced criticism in the National Assembly from the opposition as well as its ally Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over its ‘failure’ in managing the affairs of the Karachi Electric (KE).

The MQM members did not attend the assembly proceedings as it had arranged a sit-in outside the Parliament House on Constitution Avenue to protest against the lengthy and frequent power outages and alleged high-handedness of the KE towards the people of Karachi. However, the party sent its member from Hyderabad Sabir Qaimkhani to raise the issue on the floor of the house and to bring the government ministers to their protest, led by MQM convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and which was also attended by Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar.

A government delegation comprising federal ministers Asad Umar, Shafqat Mehmood and Omar Ayub later visited the MQM’s protest camp and assured the participants of their all-out cooperation and support to improve electricity supply system in Karachi.

The assembly also saw exchange of arguments between Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda and members of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) when the minister responded to Monday’s press conference of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and accused the PPP of paying Rs5.8 billion from the national kitty for the furnace oil that had been used by KE for power generation when the party was in power during 2008-13.

PML-N criticises closure of PTDC motels and opening of Wagah border to facilitate India-Afghan trade

At the outset of the sitting which started more than an hour late, MQM’s Sabir Qaimkhani alleged that KE had made the lives of people miserable in Karachi, which was once known as the “City of Lights”, had now been plunged into darkness. Besides unannounced and lengthy loadshedding, he said, KE was also minting money through overbilling.

Mr Qaimkhani deplored that the people of Hyderabad and Sukkur were also facing a similar situation due to lengthy power outages during the hot and humid weather and amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For God’s sake, take notice of the blood-sucking institutions. Listen to the voices of the mayors of Karachi and Hyderabad, who are also here in Islamabad to attend the protest,” the MQM legislator said, requesting the ministers to come to their camp and express solidarity with the people of Sindh.

Taking the floor, Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda said Mr Bhutto-Zardari during his presser had distributed copies of a report of the Federal Investigation Agency claiming “connivance” between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Abraaj Group, which owns KE.

The minister said the PPP chairman had in fact presented a charge-sheet against his own party’s government as the same report stated that the PPP government had suspended the gas supply to KE and asked it to get oil from the Pakistan State Oil. According to the report, Mr Vawda said instead of asking KE to pay for the oil, the PPP government paid Rs5.8bn from the national exchequer.

Referring to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s allegations that KE was being allowed illegal profiteering in Karachi only because its parent company had close contacts with Prime Minister Imran Khan and whose owner remained a key source of funding for the ruling party, Mr Wavda admitted that the KE owner was a friend of the prime minister and had funded for the party, but then asked as to why the PPP had provided benefit to the Abraj Group by paying from the national exchequer on its behalf.

Responding to the minister, PPP’s Naveed Qamar admitted that his party’s government had paid the said amount, but said they did it to provide relief to the people of Karachi, and not for the benefit of KE. He said they had stopped gas supply to KE due to its shortage in the country. And obviously, he said, when they had asked the company to produce electricity with an expensive fuel, then in order to keep the tariff same, it had paid the amount. Mr Qamar said Arif Naqvi, the owner of KE, had himself admitted that he had sponsored the PTI’s campaign in 2013 and 2018 elections.

Mr Qamar’s statement was “welcomed” by Mr Vawda and Minister for Power Omar Ayub Khan as both claimed that the PPP member had confessed to committing the corruption.

Mr Vawda also challenged the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to have a debate with the economic team of the PTI on the state of economy.

PTDC motels

The house witnessed a rumpus when the PML-N members protested over the remarks of Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan about former prime minister Nawaz Sharif while responding to a calling attention notice regarding “delay in reopening of tourism in northern areas, including Galyat, Murree, Chitral and Swat, despite formation of SOPs, recent sacking of the PTDC employees and closure of motels.

Moving the notice, PML-N members Murtaza Javed Abbasi, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Ibadullah Khan and Mohamamd Sajjad lashed out at the government for not announcing any package for the tourism and hotel industries which had been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

They said all the shopping centres, mosques and industries had been opened with SOPs, but the hotels in the northern areas and Galyat were still closed when half of the summer season had already been over. The PML-N legislators said on one hand Prime Minister Imran Khan talked about the poor and promotion of tourism but on the other hand, he had closed down all the hotels and sacked the PTDC employees.

Ms Aurangzeb alleged that the government notification to terminate services of some 450 PTDC employees was in violation of the Constitution and demanded that the matter be brought to the cabinet committee, which was the proper forum.

Instead of fulfilling its promise of providing 10 million jobs and five million houses for the poor, she said the government had deprived millions of people from their jobs and houses through its “disastrous rule”. She warned that the country’s tourism could not stand without the PTDC and any effort to destroy it would be met with extreme opposition.

India-Afghan trade

PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif criticised the government for its decision to open Wagah border to facilitate trade between India and Afghanistan under the Afghan Transit Trade. He said why the government had made such a decision on the day when the nation was observing a Kashmir Martyrs Day.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2020