ISLAMABAD: Both houses of parliament on Monday passed the Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022, paving the way for signing of a settlement deal on Reko Diq mining project amid opposition from within the ruling coalition.
As the bill earlier passed in the Senate was about to be introduced in the National Assembly, Sardar Akhtar Mengal rose in his seat to protest.
He said that since Pakistan came into being, no government considered Balochistan as its part, but benefited from its resources.
Rejecting the proposed legislation as the beginning of the rollback of the 18th Amendment, he accused the federal government of appeasing foreign powers and capitalists, but warned it would fan hatred in Balochistan.
Bill paves way for signing of settlement deal on Reko Diq mining project
The Minister for Housing and Works, Maulana Abdul Wasay, also opposed the bill saying that it would give complete powers to the centre to control resources of the province.
Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, however, assured the house that the law would be Reko Diq-specific and it would be suitably amended at a later stage.
He claimed that Balochistan would reap maximum benefits from the project, adding that it was time constraint and the sovereign guarantee of the project was a pre-condition for the settlement deal.
Maulana Akbar Chitrali of Jamaat-i-Islami also opposed the bill, saying an important asset of the country was being sold out through legislation in the darkness of night and termed the legislation unconstitutional.
The house later passed the bill as Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf ignored voices that pointed out that the House lacked quorum.
The Senate, earlier in the day, passed the bill amid uproar by PTI lawmakers over the re-arrest of Senator Azam Swati and non-issuance of his production order.
The bill was interestingly not supported by four members from the treasury benches, including PPP senator Mian Raza Rabbani and three others from Balochistan. They included Senators Tahir Bizenjo and Naseema Ehsan.
Rules were suspended through voice vote to allow the law minister to introduce the bill, which was brought through supplementary agenda, as opposition members continued their protest.
Chanting slogans like “Release Azam Swati” and “issue production orders”, the PTI senators gathered around the chairman’s podium. Torn-up copies of agenda flew in the house all around when Mr Tarar moved the bill.
The Foreign Investment (Promotion and Protection) Bill, 2022, aims to protect investors from unnecessary court proceedings and other hassles.
In its verdict in the Reko Diq case last week, the top court had observed that the proposed FI-Bill would not only pave the way for implementation of the Reko Diq project in its present form but would also facilitate and encourage foreign direct investment in similar mining projects and other high capital-intensive industries in which direct foreign investment was required to be encouraged through guarantees given by laws and regulatory measures.
It was of the opinion that FI-Bill was not limited exclusively to the Reko Diq project, rather it provided a framework for the grant of investment incentives which, subject to the provisions of the bill, would be available to all investments of $500 million or more.
Reko Diq deal
The original agreement for the Reko Diq mining project was signed in 2006, and it set aside a share of 37.5pc to Canada’s Barrick Gold and Chile’s Antofagasta each while the Balochistan government received a 25pc stake.
The two international firms were part of the consortium Tethyan Copper company and had found vast gold and copper deposits at Reko Diq in Balochistan.
But the hugely lucrative open-pit mine project came to a halt in 2011 after the provincial government refused to renew Tethyan Copper’s lease, and in 2013 the Supreme Court declared it invalid.
In 2019, the World Bank’s arbitration tribunal committee imposed a penalty on Pakistan for unlawful denial of mining.
However, in March, the federal and Balochistan governments reached an agreement with the two international firms — Antofagasta PLC and Barrick Gold Corporation — on a framework to reconstitute the Reko Diq project that allowed Antofagasta to make an exit.
Under the new agreement, Barrick Gold decided to become a 50 per cent partner with the governments of Pakistan and Balochistan and three state-owned entities in the project, while the Chilean firm exited the contract in exchange for $900 million by Pakistani shareholders.
The Balochistan government holds a 25pc stake in the project under the new pact and the rest of 25pc shareholding is controlled equally (8.33pc) by the three state-owned enterprises.
Monday’s Senate session was abruptly adjourned to meet again on Thursday soon after the passage of the bill, without taking up any other item on the agenda.
Earlier, the Senate chairman also administered oath of office to PPP’s Syed Waqar Mehdi, who was recently elected on a seat from Sindh that fell vacant after resignation of Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the same party.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2022
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