National Assembly witnesses war of words between Shehbaz, ministers

Published September 22, 2021
In this file photo, Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif speaks in the National Assembly.— DawnNewsTV/File
In this file photo, Leader of the Opposition Shehbaz Sharif speaks in the National Assembly.— DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly for the third consecutive day on Tuesday failed to complete its business due to lack of quorum, following a verbal clash between members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as both sides accused each other of rendering a large number of people jobless during their respective terms in the government.

Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif, who is also the PML-N president, himself took the floor thrice to respond to criticism of his party made by the two members of the federal cabinet while opposing tabling of a resolution to express solidarity with 16,000 government employees who became jobless as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision last month declaring the Sacked Employees (Reinstatement) Ordinance Act (SERA), 2010, illegal and unconstitutional.

The house witnessed a rumpus when the opposition members lodged a noisy protest against federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari for constantly interrupting Mr Sharif despite repeated requests by chairman Amjid Ali Khan, who presided over the sitting in the absence of Speaker Asad Qaiser, who was busy in negotiations with representatives of the Parliamentary Reporters Association (PRA) over closure of the press gallery during the joint sitting of the parliament on Sept 13.

It all started when Shazia Marri of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) sought permission from the chair to move a resolution to express solidarity with the 16,000 government employees. She claimed that the treasury members had also extended their support.

Assembly session adjourned due to lack of quorum for third consecutive day

The chairman, however, did not allow her to move the resolution terming it a sub judice matter.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan also stated that there was no need for the resolution as the government had already decided to file a review petition against the SC’s decision and the attorney general had already been issued the directives.

Everything was going smoothly and the members were discussing whether a resolution to express solidarity with the sacked employees could be tabled or not since the matter was sub judice when after a speech by PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif in support of the resolution, Dr Mazari took the floor and lashed out at him for speaking in support of the sacked employees while recalling that these employees had been first sacked by the PML-N government itself.

The PML-N leader had suggested that many of the sacked employees were near retirement and the government should offer them a golden handshake. He said this was a humanitarian issue as many government employees who had completed 16 and 18 years of service were sent home with just one stroke of pen, adding that “it is terrible to make people jobless in the present time”.

“Mr Speaker, I am surprised. It seems they have no realisation. They should be ashamed as it was their (PML-N) government which had sacked all these people,” said Dr Mazari as soon as Khawaja Asif took his seat. She said the PTI government had reinstated these employees but then came the court’s decision.

“They had no sympathy (with these employees) when they had sacked them first time. Have some shame Khawaja Asif ,” she said amid noises from the opposition benches.

Instead of Khawaja Asif, the opposition leader took the floor to respond, saying that the language used by the minister is “condemnable”.

Dr Mazari again stood up and started speaking without mike which caused ruckus as a number of opposition members, including Khawaja Asif, also responded to her without mike.

“Who has sacked thousands of employees from PIA (Pakistan International Airlines)? Did we sack them? Who rendered thousands of Pakistan Steel Mills employees jobless? Did we sack them?” said Mr Sharif, alleging that the present PTI government had promised to create 10 million jobs whereas it had rendered five million people jobless during its three-year rule.

The opposition leader accused the government of ruining the country’s economy and the poor people had now started begging to get onetime meal. He said medicines had gone out of reach of the people. The finance minister, he said, during the budget speech had stated that the government had not imposed any new tax, but they had now hiked the prices of electricity and petrol.

“There had never been such a storm of price hike in the country,” said Mr Sharif, while terming the present government “worst” in the history.

“Do a little heart-searching before talking,” Mr Sharif said while pointing towards treasury benches, amid desk-thumping by his colleagues on the opposition benches.

Dr Mazari again took the floor and reminded Mr Sharif about his promise made during the election campaign that he would “drag the corrupts on the roads” and recover the looted money. Instead, she said, “his (Shehbaz’s) own brother has fled (the country) after looting it.”

Mr Sharif, who enjoys the privilege to take the floor anytime being the opposition leader, said since she had talked about his person, so he wanted to settle the accounts with her right now. He said they had paid Rs6 billion loan to banks after selling the land and the machinery of Ittefaq Foundries which had been set up by their elders and a not a single penny had been written off. He said it was the PML-N government which ended loadshedding from the country and spent billions of rupees on improving infrastructure and transport system.

At this point, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan repeated that it was the PML-N government which had sacked these government employees in 2017. He recalled that when the Panama issue surfaced, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had stated on the floor of the house that he had the money trail to prove his assets, but later he did not press it before the Supreme Court and brought a letter from a Qatari prince.

The minister said Prime Minister Imran Khan had been declared Sadiq and Ameen by the court and asked Nawaz Sharif to also return to the country and face the court.

Mr Sharif said that he did not want to spoil the atmosphere and it would become difficult for the ministers to listen to facts, if he started presenting them.

“I want to finish my statement by saying that Nawaz Sharif was convicted in Iqama and not Panama,” he said.

PPP MNA Shazia Marri asked for the floor, but the chairman gave it to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) MNA Usama Qadri.

The PPP members protested over it and Abdul Qadir Patel pointed out lack of quorum. The chairman adjourned the sitting till Wednesday (today) even without ordering a headcount.

Earlier, the chief whip of the PTI announced on the floor that the issue of the closure of the press gallery had been resolved amicably during a meeting of the PRA representatives and the speaker. He, however, did not provide any details.

Later, the National Assembly Secretariat issued a statement, quoting the speaker that he was quoted out of context when he had said that the decision to lock the press gallery had been taken by him in consultation with the PRA. There was no official announcement from the PRA in this regard.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021

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