ISLAMABAD: Instead of opposition, treasury members belonging to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Thursday blasted their own government in the National Assembly over the unprecedented increase in prices of medicines over the past two years, saying they were unable to face people in their constituencies due to the prevailing price hike.
The opposition members kept on thumping desks and raising slogans “shame, shame” as the PTI lawmakers took Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan to task when the latter tried to justify the recent decision of the cabinet to allow more than 250 per cent increase in the prices of 94 essential drugs.
Seeking a government response to their calling attention notice regarding increase in prices of medicines causing grave concern among the masses, the PTI MNAs said there had been an increase of more than 500 per cent in prices of medicines since the PTI government came into power in 2018.
The ruling party MNAs, mostly from Punjab, indirectly hit out at Prime Minister Imran Khan for giving key positions to non-elected people in the federal cabinet.
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The calling attention notice was moved by Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood from Dera Ghazi Khan, Noor Alam Khan from Peshawar, Riaz Fatyana from Toba Tek Singh, Sardar Talib Nakai from Kasur and Shoukat Ali Bhatti from Hafizabad.
Sheraz Mehmood alleged that the government had given a free hand to pharmaceutical companies. “We have been elected on PTI tickets and standing by (Prime Minister) Imran Khan, but it doesn’t mean that we will stay silent while seeing the non-elected people committing cruelty with our constituents,” said Noor Alam Khan while lambasting the government.
Mr Khan said the present government had three times allowed increase in prices of medicines, making them out of the reach of the poor people. He said for them Pakistan and its people were more important than political parties. He said that on the one hand, the government had increased prices of medicines and, on the other, Indian-made medicines were available in the market.
The MNA from Peshawar challenged the government’s claim that it had allowed increase in prices of essential drugs and said the prices had been increased across-the-board and the prices of common drugs used for treatment of diabetes, blood pressure and stomach had also been increased.
Taking the floor, Riaz Fatyana said that out of 94 drugs whose prices the government had recently increased, only 26 were imported whereas a majority of them were locally manufactured. He was of the view that instead of allowing increase in the drug prices, the government should have reduced import duty on the drugs or chemicals used as raw material in manufacturing of medicines.
The prime minister and non-elected members of his financial team have been facing criticism over the last three meetings of the federal cabinet on the issue of price hike in the country and in the wake of the opposition’s ongoing anti-government movement from the platform of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).
In response to criticism, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan asserted that the government had not increased prices of medicines, but in fact “rationalised” them to ensure their availability in the market. He said previously the people were being forced to purchase medicines on the black market. Giving an example, he said a tablet whose price was Rs2 in the market was being sold for even Rs50. Now, he said, the government had allowed Rs5 increase in its price and it was now available for Rs7 in the market, he claimed, without giving the name of the medicine.
Responding to the political points raised by PTI lawmakers, Mr Khan said they were standing by Imran Khan in the present difficult time and not in the cabinet only to enjoy ministries. He said in the past, too, specialised people were appointed in the cabinet. He said Dr Faisal Sultan was a success story and he had been running Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital successfully.
Later, speaking on a point of order, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry lashed out at the opposition for targeting the army and judiciary. He said those claiming to topple the government till January 2021 and adopting agenda against state institutions should know that Imran Khan would continue to serve as the prime minister till 2028.
Interestingly, when PML-N parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif took the floor, a ruling party MNA Ataullah pointed out lack of quorum after which Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri read out the prorogation order of the president.
Earlier, Adviser to the PM on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan introduced the 26th Constitution Amendment Bill seeking an open vote in Senate elections and allowing dual nationals to conditionally participate in the elections of parliament. Under the proposed law, dual nationals would have to renounce their foreign nationality after winning the elections and before taking the oath.
Mr Awan also laid before the house the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority Bill, 2020. The authority had previously been set up under an ordinance which had already lapsed.
The assembly also passed the Emigration (Amendment) Bill and the Control of Narcotic Substances (Amendment) Bill, besides extending three ordinances for 120 days which were to lapse in the first week of November.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020