ISLAMABAD: After facing a nerve-racking situation and amid noisy protest by the opposition, the government on Wednesday finally managed to get two bills related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) passed through a majority voice vote during the extended sitting of the National Assembly.
The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the United Nations (Security Council) (Amendment) Bill 2020, which had been introduced by the government earlier this year in order to fulfil certain conditions of the FATF on terrorism, were both moved by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan after the house witnessed some fireworks between the treasury and opposition members over their differences on the proposed changes to the accountability laws.
Both NA Speaker Asad Qaiser and his deputy Qasim Suri were seen struggling in running the house smoothly soon after a fiery and hard-hitting speech by parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Khawaja Asif in response to Tuesday’s speech of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and they had to even suspend the proceedings three times after their failure to maintain order in the assembly when the members from both sides ignored their calls to show restraint and maintain decorum.
Senate likely to approve ATA, UNSC bills today
The opposition through its strong protest successfully prevented Mr Qureshi from speaking on a point of personal explanation as Mr Asif had made some personal attacks on him. The foreign minister was given the floor by the chair three to four times, but he said he would speak only when there was complete silence in the House.
The treasury members later did not allow Asad Mehmood of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) to deliver his speech and kept shouting “diesel, diesel”, a slogan used by party opponents to highlight alleged involvement of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the smuggling of diesel.
Later in the evening, the government introduced in the Senate the two bills, which were referred to the committees concerned after the opposition demanded that the parliamentary procedure be followed in letter and spirit. When the two major opposition parties PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party agreed to hold talks with the government on the two bills, the JUI-F made a categorical announcement that it would support the legislation.
The bills are expected to be passed by the Senate today (Thursday).
Earlier in the National Assembly, responding to Tuesday’s speech of Mr Qureshi in which he had blamed the opposition for the deadlock in the talks between the government and the opposition over key legislations, PML-N lawmaker Khwaja Asif alleged that the minister had “crossed all the limits of propriety” by disclosing the details of an informal meeting that was held at the Speaker’s residence on Tuesday. He was of the opinion that there was no need for bringing the informal discussion on record.
“Nine members of the 25-member special parliamentary committee were having an informal meeting to discuss legislation on FATF and NAB (National Accountability Bureau). The issue was to go back to the main committee, but the foreign minister disclosed the details on the floor of the House,” he said.
The firebrand PML-N member from Sialkot further said that the minister had tried to give a wrong impression that the opposition was only interested in changes to the NAB Ordinance and was trying to make a bargain with the government in return to its support to the FATF legislation.
Mr Asif, who had served as the foreign minister in the previous PML-N government, regretted that Mr Qureshi intentionally did not tell the House that in the same meeting, the two sides had reached a consensus on two bills, which were on the agenda of the assembly.
“We do not want any relief,” he declared, adding that the opposition had already faced 80 per cent of the cases and was ready to face the remaining and warned that the time was near when those sitting on the treasury benches would reap what they have sowed.
“You will not get any indemnity,” the PML-N leader said while pointing towards the treasury benches, announcing that they had decided not to “communicate further” with the government over the NAB issue and this law would now soon be applicable in the same form on those sitting today in the government.
Mr Asif said the opposition never wanted to make the FATF legislation controversial and wanted to see Pakistan coming out of the grey list.
“We do not want any concession. We will not use NAB laws as leverage,” he said.
Accusing the government of using NAB for political victimisation, the PML-N lawmaker said why NAB was silent on the mega scams like BRT, Malam Jabba, Billion Tree Tsunami and PTI’s foreign funding case.
In a direct attack on the minister, who is also a caretaker of a shrine in Multan, the PML-N leader said the income obtained through graves (shrines) should also be accounted for and should fall in NAB’s purview. Mr Asif alleged that those who deprived devotees from earrings and openly collected money while sitting on stage “should not come here to lecture us on nobility”.
The lawmaker then said that before joining the PTI, Mr Qureshi had attempted to join the PML-N. “He had a meeting with me and (former prime minister) Nawaz Sharif, but later met Gen Pasha,” Mr Asif said while referring to the former director general of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) who is accused by the opposition of patronising the PTI.
Former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervez Ashraf blamed the government for the delay in the passage of the bills which, he said, remained pending before the committees, merely because of the absence of Adviser on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh.
Instead of Mr Qureshi, Minister for Communications Murad Saeed responded to the opposition and repeated his old speeches, accusing the Opposition of attempting to seek relief from the government for their alleged corruption.
Earlier, the lawmakers from Karachi staged a walkout from the House to protest over the alleged highhandedness of the K-Electric and Sindh government’s failure to establish a drainage system in the city, which was exposed after the two days’ heavy rains.
The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2020, passed by the assembly, suggests an increase in the punishment, including the fine amount from existing Rs10 million to Rs25m, besides introduction of a jail sentence for 10 years for those found involved in terror financing through illegal money transfers.
The UNSC bill has been passed to ensure effective implementation of the UNSC Act 1948 which allows the federal government “to pass orders directing the authorities in Pakistan to implement various measures in the UNSC resolutions, including the freezing and seizure of assets, travel bans and arms embargo”.
Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020