ISLAMABAD: The opposition in the Senate on Thursday snatched defeat from the jaws of victory when the government managed to get three bills passed from the upper house of parliament, despite opposition protests.
Before the two controversial Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) bills, cleared by the concerned Senate standing committee, could be taken up for consideration, the opposition raised technical objections and sought deferment of the bills to allow members to introduce amendments.
However, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Yousaf Raza Gilani agreed to cooperate with the treasury after assurances from Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan and Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem that amendments to be moved by the opposition would be entertained.
However, the scene changed when Mushtaq Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami stood up while one bill sought to make the gas price as per revenue requirements of SNGPL and SSGCL on the dictates of the IMF, the other was aimed at empowering Ogra to determine the rates without public hearing.
Minister says regulators being empowered to make them free from executive influence
Mr Ahmad said that an approval from the Council of Common Interests (CCI) was required before the legislation. He said a document of the Ministry of Petroleum confirmed that the legislation was being made under a commitment given to the IMF, which too had asked the government to get an approval from the CCI before December 31, 2019.
Shibli Faraz accused the opposition of selectively citing rules and distorting facts. He said it was the job of the regulatory authorities to look after the public interest and the government was empowering them to make them free from the executive’s influence.
Taj Haider of the PPP noted that the way forward was use of modern technology to control line losses and not the frequent hike in tariff. He also called for work on the Pak-Iran gas pipeline project to get gas at a much cheaper rate.
Raza Rabbani referred to Article 154 of the Constitution, which reads: “The Council shall formulate and regulate policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List and shall exercise supervision and control over related institutions.”
He said the two bills must go to the CCI, otherwise they could be challenged in a court of law.
PPP parliamentary leader Sherry Rehman expressed concern over the steps towards making regulatory authorities directly answerable to international multilateral institutions.
She said despite subordinating Pakistani institutions to the IMF, Pakistan would stay on FATF grey list.
PML-N parliamentary leader Azam Nazir Tarar called for seriousness in legislative business and stressed that the Constitution must be kept in view while passing laws. He regretted that the bills having far-reaching effects had been passed by the house within one-and-a-half minutes. He wondered how bills with grave legal lacunae landed in the house in the presence of an ‘intelligent law minister’.
The minister of state for parliamentary affairs told the house that according to information available with him, one of the bills had been passed by the CCI on December 23, 2019, while the other which came before the cabinet was referred to cabinet’s committee on legislative cases based on a Supreme Court judgement that the CCI was important but not a supra body.
The opposition’s bad time started when the chair deferred consideration of the two bills and took next agenda item — the Allied Health Professionals Council Bill. When Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan moved the motion seeking permission to introduce the bill, the opposition members objected to it.
The motion was put to vote through division, but tied with 29 votes each. Following a casting vote by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, the motion was passed.
Surprisingly, no voice of ‘No’ was heard from the opposition benches during the clause by clause reading and the bill was passed unanimously.
After voting on the bill to make provisions for the establishment of an Allied Health Professionals Council, the opposition staged a walkout.
It was then that the Dr Shahzad Waseem asked the chair to take up the Ogra amendment bills for consideration.
The Ogra (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the Ogra (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022 were then unanimously passed in absence of the opposition and the house was prorogued sine die.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2022