ISLAMABAD: The absence of a meaningful opposition in the National Assembly was filled by senior parliamentarian and Minister for Water Resources Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah on Wednesday when he lambasted the “non-serious attitude” of his colleagues in the federal cabinet during the ongoing budget debate and threatened to disrupt the proceedings by pointing out quorum, if the speaker did not ensure the presence of Finance Minister Miftah Ismail in the house.

The aggressive speech by PPP leader compelled Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, also from the PPP, to suspend the proceedings in order to provide time to lawmakers and the ministers to come to the house.

The speaker had suspended the proceedings for 30 minutes, but the house met again after nearly 90 minutes and only after State Minister for Finance Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha, who was attending a parliamentary committee meeting, came to the assembly hall.

“Look at the house today. No cabinet minister is present here,” said Mr Shah while addressing the speaker and pointing towards the empty seats.

PPP minister threatens to disrupt proceedings by pointing out quorum

“I had come to you [the speaker] yesterday with the same complaint. In principle, as a member of the cabinet, I should not have talked like this but I am compelled to do so because first I am a parliamentarian,” said Mr Shah who belongs to the PPP, a major partner in the ruling coalition under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“I have even told the prime minister that he should come here. Parliament is the first. Governments cannot be run without giving respect to the parliament,” said Mr Shah as little over two dozen lawmakers present in the house watched him speaking in anger.

The PPP leader from Sukkur, who had served as the opposition leader during the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, reminded the speaker that he had asked him in his chamber on Tuesday to call the prime minister, stating that if the things were not changed then “we will also not come to the house”.

“Where is the finance minister? This is his responsibility to be present here. We have made the parliament a joke,” said Mr Shah.

“What is the fault of these MNAs who come here and go home after two hours feeling insulted,” the PPP leader said while asking the speaker to adjourn the proceedings till the arrival of the members, stating that otherwise he would point out lack of quorum, for which the presence of one-fourth (86 members) of the 342-member house is required.

Mr Shah recalled that how successfully they had ensured the presence of the members at the time of the tabling of no-confidence resolution against former prime minister Imran Khan.

“We come here (in the assembly) after begging for votes before the people. We touch their feet and seek apologies. And (we) get party tickets through lobbying and after staying at the houses of our leaders for three days only to reach the parliament.

“We have given sacrifices of our lives for democracy and the supremacy of the parliament and not for receiving TA/DA [Travel and Daily Allowances],” he went on saying.

Mr Shah regretted that no member was ready to speak on the budget despite the fact the government had presented a balanced budget under the prevailing severe financial crisis.

Later, at one point of time, Mr Shah prevented another senior PPP MNA Nawaz Yousuf Talpur from delivering his budget speech, asking him to speak on Thursday in the presence of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Mr Talpur wanted to highlight the issue of water scarcity in Sindh when Mr Shah, who is the minister for water resources, approached him to prevent him from delivering the speech.

For the past two days, the speaker had been running the house without quorum and in a non-serious atmosphere. The submission of en masse resignations by lawmakers of the formerly ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) at the time of the election of Shehbaz Sharif as the prime minister has almost made the National Assembly non-functional.

At present, a group of 20 PTI dissidents and four members of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) are sitting on the opposition benches. Though a PTI dissident Noor Alam Khan on Tuesday protested over the absence of the ministers from the house during the crucial debate on the budget, he said he would not point out quorum.

The speeches of the young PPP MNA from Rahimyar Khan Syed Mustafa Mehmood and GDA’s Saira Bano were the highlights of the assembly’s proceedings on the third day of the general debate on the federal budget.

Mr Mehmood gave some valuable suggestions to the government to improve the country’s economy while giving examples of European countries, including Switzerland and Norway.

The PPP MNA from South Punjab, however, also put the speaker to test when he questioned as to why he was not issuing the production order of independent MNA from erstwhile tribal areas Ali Wazir.

“When we needed his vote, he [Mr Wazir] was brought here,” said the MNA while asking the speaker to issue the production order. The speaker, however, preferred to keep mum on the issue.

GDA’s Saira Bano predicted more “mini-budgets” in the coming days. She said the government had presented the budget in line with the “dictation” from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the finance minister had simply read out a “script” while presenting the budget.

Ms Bano said on one hand, the members were giving examples of Switzerland when the country was not able even to compete with Bangladesh.

“I don’t want to say this, but this country has not been left worth living,” she said while criticising the past governments. She said those who could not run institutions like PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills were talking about running the country.

The National Assembly will meet again at 2pm on Thursday and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is also expected to attend the sitting.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2022

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