Legal status of CPEC Authority questioned in Senate

Updated 24 Oct 2020

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This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV
This file photo shows a Senate session in progress. — DawnNewsTV

ISLAMABAD: Months after expiry of an extended term of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority Ordinance, legal status of the CPEC Authority was called into question in the Senate on Friday.

“Under which provision of the law the CPEC Authority is operating,” PPP leader and former chairman of the Senate Senator Raza Rabbani asked while speaking on a call-attention notice.

He pointed out that the ordinance promulgated last year had been extended by the National Assembly through a resolution in January for 120 days. Therefore, the extended life of the ordinance came to a close in June.

Through the ordinance promulgated by the president on Oct 8, 2019 a 10-member CPEC Authority had been established with the task of expediting projects related to the multi-billion-dollar road and rail networks that link Chinese territories to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan.

The authority was given the mandate to find new drivers of economic growth and unlock the potential of interlinked production network and global value chains through regional and global connectivity.

Opposition members walk out of house over delay in tabling of Pida ordinance

Senator Rabbani said the CPEC Authority had its own funds and bank accounts and wondered how these were being operated to pay salaries to employees and make other payments.

He also voiced concern over the promulgation of Pakistan Island Development Authority (Pida) Ordinance. He regretted that the federal government finalised the ordinance on its own, without discussing the matters involved with Sindh and Balochistan.

He said the controversial Pida ordinance was kept under wraps for many days “to take ownership of the properties and assets” that rightfully belonged to the two provinces.

Senator Rabbani said that under Article 89 of the Constitution an ordinance has to be laid in both the houses of parliament during their first sessions after it is promulgated. He said there were rulings in this regard by both the Senate chairman and the National Assembly speaker.

An ordinance remains in force for 120 days, unless a house disapproves it through a resolution, he said. He asked Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to either order the Ministry of Maritime Affairs to lay the ordinance in the house or refer his motion about breach of privileges to the standing committee concerned.

He regretted that the parliament was not allowed to do what it was supposed to do on its own. After that, the opposition members walked out of the house in protest over the delay in tabling of the ordinance.

In the absence of the minister concerned, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said that CPEC was the country’s “flagship programme” and that it would be “taken forward” even though some people wanted it to fail.

About the delay in tabling of the Pida ordinance in the house, he cited Article 89 of the Constitution and said the government could lay the ordinance within 120 days of its promulgation. The government would do so within the given time period.

He claimed the Sindh cabinet in its July 6, 2020 meeting had decided to “make the said land available to the federal government” and this decision was conveyed to the Centre through a letter.

“[Mr] Rabbani should advise his party’s Sindh government to honour the cabinet decision,” he concluded.

After the opposition members returned to the house, Senator Rabbani said the Sindh government’s letter had mentioned certain terms and conditions while the federal government promulgated the ordinance on Sept 2 without consulting the provincial government.

He said the ordinance was neither shared with the provincial governments of Sindh and Balochistan nor the media until the matter came into public domain on Oct 3. He said the Sindh government had withdrawn its letter because the terms and conditions had not been agreed upon.

The PPP senator was of the view that the state minister had interpreted the Constitution wrongly as the time period of 120 days had been allowed only for moving a resolution of disapproval.

“If the minister’s claim is accepted, then the government can lay the ordinance on the 120th day since its promulgation, thus depriving the house of its constitutional right to move a resolution of disapproval,” he said.

Later, the house was adjourned until Monday.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2020