THE government has decided to hold fresh sessions of the National Assembly and Senate on Sept 14 to get the Financial Action Task Force bills passed. The sessions were scheduled for Monday but were postponed for a later date because, as stated by Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, many legislators were busy in relief works after the heavy spell of rains.

The adviser said the government would not allow any delay in the passage of these bills. A few days earlier he had said if the opposition obstructed the passage of the two FATF bills, the government would call a joint session of parliament in order to get them passed. The opposition had blocked these two bills in the Senate because it had certain reservations and wanted the government to clarify them.

Prime Minister Imran Khan used harsh words against the opposition for blocking these two bills. In a meeting of party spokespeople, the prime minister was reported to have said that the opposition and India were on the same page on FATF because India was trying to put Pakistan on the blacklist. He said by blocking the passage of the bills, the opposition was trying to blackmail the government.

This was an unfortunate choice of words. There is no doubt that bills relating to the requirements of FATF are critically important and it is in the interest of Pakistan to legislate them, but the opposition is fully within its rights to raise questions about the provisions of these bills wherever required. This is what a parliamentary debate is meant for.

If the opposition feels that certain provisions of the bills could be misused for political purposes then the government must provide an explanation instead of hurling accusations. The rigid and confrontational attitude displayed by the government makes it difficult for parliamentarians to have a healthy discourse. It also creates unnecessary acrimony and makes the political atmosphere toxic. Questioning someone’s patriotism is condemnable and no one should resort to such rhetoric for political one-upmanship.

The government should therefore utilise the upcoming sessions of the National Assembly and Senate to not only table the FATF bills but answer all questions and allay fears voiced by the opposition. If need be, the provisions under question can always be amended to build a consensus on the text of the bills.

All agree that the requirements of FATF should be met not only to avoid the blacklisting but also to strengthen our laws in order to curtail crimes such as terror funding that have financed violence in Pakistan. Good legislation should not be made controversial on political grounds. The government should dial down its inflammatory rhetoric and get down to the business of negotiating with the opposition on the floor of the two houses. The need of the hour is to make these laws with consensus.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2020

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