Opposition alarmed over disappearance of key human rights bills in black hole

Published June 19, 2021
In this file photo, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman addresses the Senate. — DawnNewsTV
In this file photo, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman addresses the Senate. — DawnNewsTV

• Sherry claims countless progressive bills vanished from parliamentary agendas
• PTI lawmaker slams former rulers for extravagance

ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Friday expressed alarm over its key human rights (HR) bills disappearing in a black hole to emerge in the form of government bills.

“A wrong practice is going on for quite some time which is a disincentive for members of the Senate who work hard on the bills with the civil society and their colleagues,” Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentary leader Senator Sherry Rehman said while raising the issue in the house.

She regretted that instead of using parliamentary committees for scrutinising and reviewing bills, countless progressive bills had just vanished from parliamentary agendas under the PTI government.

“It is shocking how my Bill, ‘Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2020’, has been silently omitted from the agenda. ‘The Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention and Punishment) Act 2019’ has been cleared by the Senate committee but has not been placed for voting in the Senate whereas the ‘Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2019’ has also disappeared from the National Assembly despite being passed in the Senate,” the senator added.

“When questions are asked in both the houses of the parliament, no one informs us of the progress. Why are the bills being omitted even after the smooth passage in one house of the parliament,” questioned Sherry Rehman.

Highlighting the importance of the human rights bills, the senator said: “Instead of prioritising these bills, they have been silently omitted from the committee rooms. The relevant minister must supervise the smooth passage of the bills, and not put them on the back burner.”

“What is more alarming is that our bills suddenly appear as the federal government’s bills in the end. The way bills have been tabled in the parliament is unprecedented. The government must inform the parliament regarding the current status of the disappearing bills. This is not how a parliamentary system works,” concluded PPP vice president Senator Sherry Rehman.

PML-N’s Azam Nazir Tarar also touched upon the issue of ‘missing bills’.

The issue was raised after the opposition blocked the attempt to bring two government bills in the house for passage through supplementary agenda.

Standing Committee on Human Rights chairman Walid Iqbal had presented reports of the committee on the bills to establish an effective system of protection, relief and rehabilitation of women, children, elders and any vulnerable person against domestic violence [The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2021] and the bill to provide for the well-being, comfort and dignity of senior citizens residing in the Islamabad Capital Territory [The Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizens Bill, 2021] passed by the panel with amendments introduced by the opposition, but senators from the opposition insisted they wanted to go through the proposed changes.

The matter was deferred till Monday.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said the upper house was not bound to comply with any agreement made by the National Assembly and it would move forward under the rules to take up any of those 21 bills that were earlier passed by the lower house.

Taking part in the budget debate, PTI Senator Ejaz Ahmad Chaudhry criticised the previous governments for their extravagance.

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan had moved forward with his agenda of cutting down government expense.

Mr Chaudhry said that before 2018, the PM House’s expense was Rs590 million per annum but PM Khan spent Rs339 million in 2019 and Rs280 million in 2020.

Similarly, before 2018, the PM Office was spending Rs514 million annually but the prime minister brought the expense down to Rs305 million in 2019 and Rs334 million in 2020, he added.

Making a comparison between PM Khan’s foreign visits with his predecessors, Senator Chaudhry said the then president, Asif Ali Zardari, spent $11.73 million on 134 foreign visits, former PM Gilani spent $7.02 million on 47 tours, ex-PM Sharif’s 92 visits cost $17.7 million while PM Imran Khan spent only $1.3 million on 28 visits.

“This is how public money was wasted on excursion tours,” the senator said.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2021

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