ISLAMABAD: In an unprecedented move, a senior member of the ruling coalition on Friday refused to take part in the budget discussion in Senate as a mark of protest against the absence of ministers in the upper house of parliament.

The issue was initially raised in the house by leader of the opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem and later supported by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani who endorsed the position taken by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) senator and said he had witnessed the same situation in the tenure of previous government but “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Before declaring that he would not participate in the discussion in protest, the PPP lawmaker said the parliament had been made redundant for past four years and it was expected the present government would strengthen national institutions, but none of the members of the huge cabinet was present in the Senate during the budget discussion at the crucial time when the country was standing at a crossroads.

At least, Senator Rabbani said, federal or state minister for finance should have been available during the session and requested Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to assert himself and take action as per rules of the House on the matter.

BAP members stage a walkout to protest theft of Balochistan’s water share

“You are custodian of the house. You are the chairman of Senate. You should ensure that ministers are present,” he said, recalling that in his tenure as the Senate chairman one of ministers had been suspended for 10 days.

“Therefore, in order to restore dignity of the parliament, I would request you to exercise your influence over the government and ask them to be present in the house,” he added.

Leader of the opposition Dr Shahzad Waseem had earlier regretted that not even a single minister was present in the house though Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif headed a 50-member cabinet. “Where are the ministers?” he asked and remarked if the members were supposed to talk to the walls. “This is a shameful scene for the parliament. Please have a look at the (treasury) row,” he addressed the chair.

There was nothing more important than the national budget, yet all ministers were absent, he reiterated and asked the chair to find out if they were on a foreign tour. “Please recover these missing persons (ministers),” he remarked.

The PTI senator said the masses were facing inflation and the government was missing from the scene, reflecting its interest in parliamentary proceedings.

The Senate chairman expressed the hope the ministers would soon come to the house as senior officials of the ministries were not only present but also taking notes.

Senator Saleem Mandviwala informed the house that Finance Minister Dr Miftah Ismail was busy interacting with the International Monetary Fund through a video link and said he would come to the house the moment he got free.

Ex-premier Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani said the then minister of state Ali Mohammad Khan used to run a one-man show during the tenure of the PTI government by answering questions raised by members pertaining to various ministries. However, he pointed out, the finance ministry officials present in the galleries were noting down all the proposals being made and concerns raised by members.

Water theft

Another highlight of the day’s proceedings was the walkout staged by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) senators to protest theft of province’s share of water.

Earlier while raising the Balochistan water issue, Senator Danesh Kumar said the province was getting 65 per cent less water than its due share and alleged that the difference in amount of water was being stolen. The BAP senators later staged a token walkout to record protest.

The Senate chairman said equitable water distribution among the provinces must be ensured and asked Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan, who meanwhile arrived to attend the session, to get a report from Indus River System Authority (Irsa) about the water issue and submit it to the house.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2022

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