Opposition wants PM to answer queries in NA

Published April 3, 2021
Former prime minister and senior PPP lawmaker Raja Pervez Ashraf said he along with ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani were criticised, but the fact of the matter was that both of them frequently attended the sessions of parliament. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
Former prime minister and senior PPP lawmaker Raja Pervez Ashraf said he along with ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani were criticised, but the fact of the matter was that both of them frequently attended the sessions of parliament. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

ISLAMABAD: Describing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s initiative to receive ‘direct’ phone calls from the public (in a telethon) to solve their problems as ‘an attempt to seek political mileage’, the opposition in the National Assembly on Friday asked him to answer queries of the lawmakers who represented the 220 million people of Pakistan.

Besides, the opposition lashed out at Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan for what it called damaging the image of Pakistan, its national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines and its pilots by giving a ‘wrong’ statement regarding ineligibility of pilots, as the minister’s statement did not match the written replies given by his ministry to the assembly.

The session was later adjourned till Monday evening when an opposition member pointed out the quorum amid thin attendance of the members, particularly the ministers who were conspicuous by their absence at a time when they were supposed to answer questions of the members.

Minister grilled for ‘damaging’ image of country, PIA and pilots across the world

Referring to the prime minister’s telethon initiative, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Shahida Rehmani asked why Mr Khan had replied to recorded questions of the callers instead of coming live in a telethon aired second time in recent past. “The prime minister represents the whole nation and the nation faced humiliation when it came to know that the PM’s telethon was not live but a recorded one,” she added.

Strangely enough, she added, the phone number given to the people for calling PM Khan was in fact the “fax number of the Election Commission of Pakistan”.

Taking the floor, former prime minister and senior PPP lawmaker Raja Pervez Ashraf said he along with ex-PM Yousuf Raza Gilani were criticised, but the fact of the matter was that both of them frequently attended the sessions of parliament unlike Mr Khan who rarely attended the National Assembly sessions. “It is a responsibility of the prime minister to respond to the questions of the people, but here in this house. If he [PM] takes a few phone calls of his choice, it will be good for his political mileage but not for the betterment of the people. The PM has turned this house redundant,” he added.

He said ministers should come forward and deliver to the people rather than spending all their time in political point-scoring.

Mr Ashraf also said the government should tell people when the entire nation would be finally protected against Covid-19 through vaccination.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) lawmaker Akbar Chitrali said it was a good step of the prime minister to take calls from the public, but parliament was the real forum for the prime minister to answer the queries of elected representatives of the people. “This is the real house. Let us know when the PM will come here to reply to our questions,” he added.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legislator Raja Javed Abbasi said the PM’s initiative could be a good step but “selective calls” were forwarded to him to answer. “We tried our best to talk to the PM, but in vain.”

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan claimed that the incumbent prime minister was the first one to have taken the initiative to receive people’s complaints directly through telephone calls to resolve their problems, but later added that “such an initiative was also taken by ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif but it could not sustain for a long time”.

The minister said PM Khan would again take calls of the people next week.

He explained that prime ministers never took calls of the public directly because of certain reasons and the calls were “forwarded to the PM after proper monitoring”, but there was no discrimination with the complainants over their political views.

He assured the house that the prime minister would definitely come to the assembly to give replies to the questions and complaints of people’s representatives, but for that purpose some rules were being enacted.

PML-N lawmaker Javed Abbasi, who had served as NA deputy speaker in the previous regime, intervened to say the prime minister could attend the session of the lower house of parliament any time as there was no need to make or amend any rule.

The minister said the present government had decided to release development funds to all members of the National Assembly. “In previous regime, no such funds were given to the MNAs of opposition parties, but our government will not make any discrimination in this regard,” he added.

Earlier, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan faced thorny questions of the opposition regarding PIA and aviation policy.

Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the aviation division had in the written replies claimed that only three PIA pilots had been sacked on the charge of fake degrees, while the aviation minister had told the house that “172 pilots” had fake, suspicious degrees or were appointed illegally. “That statement of the minister had maligned reputation of the country, PIA and the people before the entire world,” she said. Another PPP lawmaker Naz Baloch endorsed Ms Khar’s views.

Speaking on the issue, lawmakers Tahira Aurangzeb, Jai Parkash, Zahid Akram Durrani, Ali Gohar, Syed Ibrar Ali Shah, Shazia Mari and Islahuddin Ayubi also expressed concerns over the closure of some airports, limiting flights’ operations, sacking of pilots and other PIA employees, etc.

The aviation minister said he stood by whatever statement he had given on the floor of the house regarding fake degrees of pilots.

Besides, no PIA asset was being sold or would be sold, he said, explaining that some airports and flight operations had been closed due to low traffic amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2021

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