ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday abruptly prorogued the National Assembly session even without completing the question hour after failing to meet the requirement of quorum following a noisy protest by the opposition when a minister informed the house that the Prime Minister Office had “dropped” the complaint of a woman alleging harassment to her and her family by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal.
The opposition, while criticising Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan over the reply, lodged a strong protest when Speaker Asad Qaiser refused to refer the matter to a house committee.
After failing to control the protesting opposition members, the speaker announced a 20-minute break for Asr prayers. However, when the house resumed proceedings after nearly 30 minutes, a number of women members from the opposition gathered in front of the speaker’s dais.
The opposition got agitated over the remarks of the minister who had not only opposed the demand for referring the matter to the committee but also alleged that the opposition members were raising the issue only to pressurise NAB which was hearing corruption cases against their leadership.
The opposition members later staged a walkout leaving behind Shahida Rehmani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to point out quorum, which was clearly lacking, thus forcing the speaker to again suspend the proceedings. The speaker came back to the house after nearly 25 minutes only to read out the president’s prorogation order.
It all started when PPP MNA from Karachi Abdul Qadir Patel, who had put a written question asking about the status of the complaint that had been posted on the Pakistan Citizen Portal (PCP) of the PM Office by a woman named Tayyaba against the NAB chairman in May 2019, expressed his surprise over the reply of the minister that the complaint had been “dropped” as it was unfit for further processing.
“Since the complaint does not qualify to be processed through the PCP, hence it was dropped from the system on July 2, 2019,” says the written reply.
The answer also produced the text of the complaint which reads: “Chairman NAB is harassing me and my family. He is making fake cases against me and my husband just because I didn’t make any relation with him. NAB is threatening me. I am a law student. How he disrespects a woman like this. He is a morally ill person; I have all videos and audio recordings against him, I am attaching some screenshots of videos.”
Mr Patel alleged that the government was giving a wrong reply as the woman had been told that her complaint had been referred to the Ministry of Human Rights. He said the complaint had been filed by the woman on the PCP on May 10, 2019 and the controversial audio and videos of the NAB chairman went viral on mainstream and social media on May 17.
The PPP MNA said the NAB chairman had at a news conference claimed that he was being blackmailed by the woman and her husband. “I have three questions. Number one how could the PCP leak this video? Secondly, why a wrong answer had been submitted here and number three where this woman should now go to seek justice?” he asked.
Mr Patel said it was surprising that NAB had the licence to harass anyone, including the politicians, but no one could ask any question from it.
The house witnessed a rumpus due to a noisy opposition’s protest when the parliamentary affairs minister instead of giving specific response started criticising the PPP government in Sindh over the recent killings of some journalists.
The minister said that NAB was an independent institution and if the government would take any action against the bureau, it would be seen as “targeting” the institution. He said that if someone had complaint against a judge or any institution which did not fall under the government’s domain, the person could take the matter to courts which were functioning independently.
“The question is why NAB is being made controversial by raising such matters,” he wondered.
PPP’s Shahida Rehmani termed it “a very important matter for the women of this country”. She wondered where women would go if some influential person harassed them. She asked the speaker to either refer the matter to a house committee or constitute a special committee to take up the matter.
The minister said the issue could not be sent to a house committee as NAB did not fall under the government’s domain. He alleged that the incident was being used for political gains and to put pressure on NAB. He said they received thousands of such complaints which were taken up on merit. This case, he said, did not fall within the jurisdiction of the PCP.
Ali Mohammad Khan said if the opposition believed that there should be no accountability process in the country and Pakistan should be free for all then they should say it in clear terms.
Earlier, the opposition members had also protested in the house when in response to a question by PPP’s Agha Rafiullah, Parliamentary Secretary for Finance Zain Qureshi admitted on the floor of the house that two special assistants to the prime minister — Zulfi Bukhari and Shahbaz Gill — had so far not filed their tax returns and they had sought extension and more time to do it.
Riaz Pirzada of the PML-N said that on one the hand, warrants were issued for the parliamentarians for not submitting tax returns and, on the other hand, the government was not taking any action against the two SAPMs.
Mr Qureshi, however, said the two SAPMs had been given time according to rules and expressed the hope that they would submit their returns within the given time frame.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2021