Govt decides to amend constitution for Senate election

Published January 27, 2021
Information Minister Shibli Faraz speaks to the media on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
Information Minister Shibli Faraz speaks to the media on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

• Cabinet rejects proposal for mortgaging F-9 park to issue Islamic bond
• Formation of commission of inquiry on the Broadsheet issue approved

ISLAMABAD: Despite no decision of the Supreme Court on a presidential reference filed recently to seek guidance whether coming Senate elections can be held through open ballot, the federal cabinet on Tuesday decided to table a bill in the parliament to amend the constitution for holding the polls through open vote.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while presiding over the cabinet meeting, directed authorities concerned to submit details of expenditure the country had so far borne on litigation in international/foreign courts as the meeting was told that over $100 million had so far been spent to pay fee of lawyers for pursuing cases in international/foreign courts.

The meeting rejected a proposal for issuance of Sukuk bonds by mortgaging Islamabad’s Fatima Jinnah Park, commonly known as F-9 Park, as the prime minister expressed annoyance why the public park was marked for the purpose and why not a state-owned building.

“The government wants the [Senate] polls to be held in a transparent manner and without horse-trading. This is why we want Senate polls to be held through open ballot so everyone knows who is voting for whom,” said Information Minister Shibli Faraz in a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

“It is a fact of history that in Senate elections, money is doled out and people and votes are bought. ... What is the use of an upper house in which people come through purchasing votes?” he said, adding that people opposing the proposed move were forgetting that their own party [in the past] had demanded open ballot.

“The government will present a constitutional amendment bill in the parliament so that Senate polls are held through open ballot,” he said adding that a government bill in this regard was already lying in the National Assembly.

Replying to a question about the opposition stance against the proposal of open ballot, the minister said: “When the bill is presented, everyone will see who opposes [the constitutional amendment] and why. They will have to tell the nation whether they support a system in which people use their votes for money.”

When contacted, a cabinet member told Dawn that Prime Minister Khan tasked his adviser on parliamentary affairs Dr Babar Awan with tabling a bill in the National Assembly for holding Senate elections through open ballot when the adviser was giving a briefing on the status of the government’s reference in the Supreme Court.

The prime minister was told that the Senate elections were not far ahead and therefore the government should not wait for the apex court’s decision.

Mr Awan said the government had already laid two bills — Constitution Amendment Bill and Electoral Reforms Bill — in the parliament on the basis of which desired legislation could be done for open ballot.

The cabinet member said Mr Awan had called a meeting of his ministry and its legislation branch to devise a roadmap on how to proceed with the matter in the parliament.

It has been proposed that since Senate polls could not be held through show of hand because every voter has to show his preference in the ballot paper. Therefore, to ensure open identity of the voter, the voter should be required to mention his name on the back side of the ballot paper.

Broadsheet probe

The cabinet also approved constitution of a one-man commission of inquiry comprising retired Justice Azmat Saeed to look into the issue of Broadsheet LLC. Mr Faraz told the press conference that the commission had been tasked to submit its findings on the matter within 45 days.

During the cabinet meeting, the prime minister was apprised that Pakistan had paid over $100m in lawyers’ fees for pursuing cases in international and foreign courts. On this the prime minister ordered an investigation to determine which lawyer had taken how much money.

“The prime minister was unhappy that such a hefty amount has been paid to pursue cases in international/foreign courts and therefore he sought details of the amount spent in this regard,” said federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry while talking to Dawn.

Later in a private TV programme, he said the investigation into the Broadsheet saga had been completed and that leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, who is presently in jail, had paid $7.5m to National Accountability Bureau but the amount was returned to him on the directives of the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Mr Chaudhry said former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf had given concession to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif after which Mr Sharif had flown to Saudi Arabia. “No one including Gen Musharraf has a right to forgo national wealth,” he added.

Information Minister Faraz said time had come for everyone to know who played what role in the destruction of national economy [and] the network of debts that was laid. “All such corrupt practices would be expose in 45 days after the inquiry commission completes its probe,” he said.

F-9 Park

The cabinet rejected a proposal regarding issuance of Sukuk bonds against F-9 Park after Prime Minister Khan expressed displeasure why a public park was marked for this purpose. “The prime minister issued directives that some building should be mortgaged in place of F-9 Park for Sukuk bonds,” the information minister said.

The cabinet decided that now Sukuk bonds would be issued against Islamabad Club, an elite club.

F-9 Park is a public recreational park that spans the entire Sector F-9 of Islamabad and is spread over 304 hectares (750 acres) of land.

The park is mostly covered by greenery with a few man-made structures dotting the landscape. Most of the park area is effectively a wildlife sanctuary, except for a few areas that are close to residential areas.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2021

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