• Opposition challenges vote count, boycotts proceedings
• Five other bills, including two about PMDC, also passed

ISLAMABAD: Parliament on Wednesday witnessed a significant day when the government managed to pass eight important bills, including three related to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and two others to replace the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) with Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), amid ruckus in the House and boycott by the opposition.

The bills were passed in a joint sitting of parliament that President Dr Arif Alvi had summoned to get the FATF-related bills, which had been rejected in the opposition-dominated Senate, passed.

A good number of legislators turned up in the National Assembly hall and the first bill was passed with the majority of 10 votes as the number of treasury members was found 200 in the count while opposition members were said to be 190.

However, the opposition not only challenged the count done by the NA staff but also objected to the move by Dr Babar Awan, who presented the bill, for being an adviser to the prime minister. The opposition lawmakers were of the opinion that an adviser to the prime minister could not be counted as a member of the NA and was not entitled to present any bill in the House under the Constitution.

While raising the objection, Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Raza Rabbani said that advisers did not have the power to move bills in the assembly according to a court judgement. Law Minister Farogh Naseem, however, said the judgement quoted by Senator Rabbani was regarding special assistants of the prime minister. “There is no law against advisers tabling bills in the National Assembly,” he insisted before admitting that “they cannot vote”.

The opposition members lodged a strong protest, thronged Speaker’s dais and torn copies of the bill besides staging a boycott of the proceedings of the joint sitting. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari wanted to speak on the floor of the House, but Speaker Asad Qaisar did not allow him after Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vice chairman and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said: “If Bilawal has not proposed any amendment in a bill, then how he can be allowed to speak”.

The three FATF-related bills passed in the joint sitting were namely Anti-Money Laundering (second amendment) Bill-2020, Anti-Terrorism Act (third amendment) Bill-2020 and Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Bill-2020 for proper management and administration of Waqf properties. The other five bills were titled Pakistan Medical Commission Act-2019, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Right of Persons with Disability Act-2020, The Surveying and Mapping (amendment) Bill-2020, Islamabad High Court (amendment) Bill-2019 and Medical Tribunal Act-2019.

In Anti-Money Laundering (amendment) Bill-2020, clauses 8 and 9 were omitted and inserted in Anti-Terrorism Act (amendment) Bill-2020 that PTI lawmaker Faheem Khan presented. The inserted clauses said: “The investigation officer may with the permission of the court, within sixty days of such permission, use techniques including undercover operations, intercepting communications, assessing computer system and controlled delivery of investigation of offences of money laundering, associated predicate offences and financing of terrorism. The aforementioned period of sixty days may be extended up to further period of sixty days by the court on a request made to it in writing. The court may grant extension, if it is satisfied on the basis of situation or reasons given in the written request. The provisions of this sub-section shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other law for the time being in force.”

The joint sitting was scheduled for 4pm, but Speaker Asad Qaiser started the proceedings at 5:13pm after the arrival of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who witnessed the entire proceeding that lasted four hours.

Mr Khan keenly observed the passage of the bills and frequently gave instructions to his adviser Babar Awan and other members who were presenting the bills.

The opposition started the protest after treasury members pressured an independent member from Sindh Ali Nawaz Shah to stand up and vote in favour of the first bill while some opposition members asked him to take seat. The lawmaker finally decided to leave the House.

As soon as the session began, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Awan tabled the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Waqf Properties Bill, which was initially passed through a voice vote, but the NA Speaker asked for a vote count requesting members to stand up from their seats after the opposition shouted in protest. The bill was passed with 200 members voting in favour and 190 voting against it.

A clause-by-clause reading was done with each clause being approved by the House. However, through a voice vote, members also rejected some amendments to certain clauses. The ruckus continued as opposition members chanted slogans during the voting process.

Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ghani, who introduced amendments in several clauses, accused the NA Speaker of “passing legislations illegally” and complained that the chair did not allow him to speak on his turn.

While amendments were being introduced other opposition members also insisted that they be allowed to speak, but NA Speaker Qaiser insisted that only those lawmakers who wanted to move amendments should address the parliament. The Speaker then requested the PM’s adviser on parliamentary affairs to read out the rules regarding addressing the parliament during the voting process. Dr Awan referring to Rule 130 of the Rules of Business of the National Assembly said that only lawmakers seeking amendments to bills could speak during a vote count.

Amid the rumpus, PTI lawmaker Maleeka Bokhari introduced amendments to several clauses of Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill, all of which were passed, as the opposition staged a walkout. Dr Awan then tabled the Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill, which was passed through a voice vote without any opposition.

The PM’s aide also tabled the Islamabad High Court (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the House, which was passed without any opposition. Another bill regarding the rights and inclusion of differently-abled persons in the society, which was tabled by Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, was also passed. The session was also presided over by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani for some time.

Earlier in the day, the opposition-dominated Senate rejected the Anti-Terrorism (Third Amendment) bill, 2020. As many as 34 lawmakers from the opposition voted against the bill, which was supported by 31 members from the treasury benches.

The House, however, passed another FATF-related bill namely The Cooperative Societies (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

In the morning, the NA session was held but it was adjourned when one of the PML-N members pointed out lack of quorum.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2020


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