Senate passes FATF-related bill amid opposition protest

Published July 17, 2021
The bill was passed by majority vote as the opposition kept on expressing its reservations. — Photo courtesy Senate website
The bill was passed by majority vote as the opposition kept on expressing its reservations. — Photo courtesy Senate website

ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday passed another FATF-related bill amid an outcry from the opposition which suffered back-to-back defeats in the house where it otherwise enjoys dominating numerical strength.

When Railways Minister Azam Swati tabled a motion seeking permission to introduce the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Amendment Bill, the opposition members opposed the move. The motion was put for voting through division and was carried by 43 against 33 votes, marking first blow to the opposition in the day.

The amendments proposed by Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamaat-i-Islami, who said the bill was against fundamental rights, constitution, principles of natural justice and national interest, were also rejected by a voice vote.

The bill was passed by majority vote as the opposition kept on expressing its reservations.

Saadia Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was also among those opposing the bill, but sensing the situation she dropped her amendments.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill reads: “Increase in transnational organized crime has made it necessary for international community and Pakistan to improve effectiveness of legal instruments. Lack of uniformity in law and weak coordination mechanism between countries affects combating of crimes across borders, in order to overcome these challenges, essential legal cover is required. International cooperation in criminal matters through mutual legal assistance and extradition is intended to bridge existing gaps in respective countries toward effective law enforcement. The requested state will provide mutual legal support to the requesting state by executing necessary actions on its territory in any specific criminal case warranting shared assistance.”

Senator Ahmad called it a black day in the parliamentary history of the country, and said the government could take action against a person by confiscating his property made through money laundering etc. under the law without issuing him a notice and this was against the principles of justice. He said the government would hand over Pakistani nationals to other countries without any notice. He alleged that the government was paving way for the release of Dr Shakeel Afridi and Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav through the proposed bill but the allegation was rejected by the government later.

Responding to the opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Mohsin Aziz said the bill blocked the way for money launderers and thieves. He argued that if demand for prior notice was met, the accused would get time to transfer his ill-gotten assets to his family members.

The house also passed a bill about the regulation of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. The bill was moved by Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar.

Senator Raza Rabbani raised an objection against a clause under which Nepra itself would be empowered to notify power tariff if the government failed to do so in a stipulated time, insisting that the government should retain its authority. He however did not press his amendment to this effect.

The already enraged members of the opposition rose in their seats to voice their protest when Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan brought two bills in the house through supplementary agenda for their consideration at once.

It was pointed out that one of the bills had been found by the standing committee concerned to be ‘not fit for passage’ and in such a case the bills under the rules were referred to a select committee.

The motion for leave to introduce the Reorganisation of Federal Medical Institutes and Teaching Hospitals Bill was put to vote and carried by 39 against 35 votes.

The opposition lawmakers gathered in front of the chairman’s podium to stage a protest, with Senator Rabbani scolding the secretariat staff over their failure to provide the supplementary agenda to the opposition. Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani asked Mr Rabbani not to rebuke the secretariat staff. “You can reprimand me, but don’t do it with the staff,” he said.

PPP Senator Rubina Khalid said the purpose of the bill was to introduce a new health system in the country on the pattern of the US where only those got free health facility who had an insurance policy.

Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem rejected her claim and said the bill was part of the health reform programme of the government. “It seeks to provide such health facilities to the poor which only affluent class can afford,” he added.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman said the atmosphere of the house had been polluted and the sanctity of the house breached by circulating supplementary agenda after voting. “The house cannot be run like this,” she said.

The opposition after protest in front of chair’s dais also staged a token walkout.

In the opposition’s absence the house passed another bill – the Reorganisation of National Institute of Health Amendment Bill.

The Senate also passed the Parliament (Salaries and Allowances) (Amendment) Bill.

The mover Senator Sarfraz Ahmed Bugti explained that the proposed amendment was procedural in nature and did not increase the perks, privileges and salaries of lawmakers.

Responding a call attention notice, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan told the house that the reports about issuance of four to five million fake computerised national identity cards (CNICs) in Sindh were false.

He said less than three million CNICs had been issued in the province over the last four years, including 592,000 in Karachi — most of which had been issued to genuine applicants.

“How can the authority issue fake CNICs in such a huge number when the number of total issued cards is less than the number of fake cards being alleged?” He said 39 officials of the National Database and Registration Authority in Karachi had been suspended on allegations of issuing fake cards and cases had been registered against 10 people also.

The chair referred the matter to the standing committee concerned on the insistence of Muttahida Quami Movement-Pakistan Senator Syed Faisal Ali Subzwari, the mover of the call attention notice.

The CNIC issue also echoed in the National Assembly where the proceedings remained suspended for some time due to lack of quorum.

The assembly passed two bills, including the Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizens Bill, 2021 for well-being and dignity of senior citizens and the Special Technology Zones Authority Bill, 2021. The house will now meet again on Monday.

The National Assembly also extended the period of three ordinances for another 120 days by adopting separate resolutions amid the opposition protest against the “rule through ordinances”.

These included the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Ordinance, Higher Education Commission Amendment Ordinance (IX of 2021) and Higher Education Commission Second Amendment Ordinance (X of 2021).

Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N said in the last three years, the government had promulgated 50 ordinances.

Former prime minister Raja Parvaiz Ashraf also opposed extension in the period of the ordinances relating to the HEC saying first an ordinance was promulgated to reduce tenure of the HEC chairman and then another was promulgated to place the commission under the ministry of education.

PML-M member Khurram Dastgir Khan said those ordinances meant to reduce tenure of the HEC chairman from four to two years because the government wanted to remove the sitting chairman.

He said the HEC chairman did not accept illegitimate demands of the government.

Other opposition members, including Syed Naveed Qamar, Dr Nafeesa Shah and Shahida Akhtar Ali, also opposed extension in the period of the ordinances.

“The government is breaching privilege of the National Assembly by using it to extend ordinances,” Dr Shah said, adding an ordinance was an emergency law.

She said it was condemnable that the government decided to reduce tenure of heads of certain institutions through promulgation of ordinances.

Adviser to the Prime Minister Ali Nawaz Awan rejected objections of the opposition on promulgation and extension of ordinances.

He said the previous government had promulgated 23 ordinances every year while the incumbent government had promulgated 17 ordinances every year.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2021

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