ISLAMABAD: After scrutinising the judiciary’s working, the National Assembly on Friday turned towards bureaucracy as Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf directed “action” against federal secretaries of the ministries whose officials were found absent from the proceedings during the Question Hour.

Besides asking Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi to take notice of the absence of the officers of below grade 20 from the Officials’ Gallery, the speaker also referred the issue to the house committee on privileges, terming the action a violation of repeated rulings and directives of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

“I refer this matter against the secretaries who had not sent their senior officials [to the House] to the privilege committee with the directive to take it up immediately. I have asked my secretariat to initiate action. The prime minister had given the assurance on the floor of the house. So we will not tolerate this in any case,” declared Mr Ashraf after the minister for parliamentary affairs informed the house that out of the eight or nine ministries, whose related questions were part of the agenda, only one senior officer from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs was present in the gallery.

At the outset of the sitting, the speaker directed Mr Abbasi to check the attendance in the Officials’ Gallery and report him back. The speaker took the action as almost in every session, the members had been complaining that senior ministry officials were not present in the house to assist their ministers in responding to supplementary questions.

At least on three occasions, the speaker and his deputy, Zahid Akram Durrani, had issued warnings to the bureaucrats, terming their absence as misconduct and an act of disregarding the parliament.

“I request you to issue a ruling and the government will take stern action against those who had failed to send their senior officials of grade 20 and above [to the house] despite your rulings and the prime minister’s commitment,” said Mr Abbasi.

The minister said senior officers of ministries did not bother to come to the house, as secretaries sent grade-14 officials to the house. This was “not tolerable at all”, he said.

When Mr Ashraf was referring the matter to the committee, he was told that a senior official of grade 20 of the Ministry of Housing and Works was present in the house.

The secretaries who will be facing the privilege committee are National Health Services and Regulations, National Food Security and Research, Industries and Production, Water Resources, Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony and Railways.

Food insecurity

Minister for National Food Security Tariq Bashir Cheema while responding to a question blamed rapidly growing population for causing socio-economic problems, including food insecurity, but said the ministry was not only vigilant regarding food security situation and tracking food availability but also initiated agriculture and livestock projects to enhance production.

According to latest available data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 1.8 per cent of the population was experiencing severe food insecurity.

Water scarcity

Responding to a calling attention notice moved by PTI’s Mohsin Leghari “regarding the notice by India to Pakistan for modifications in the Indus Waters Treaty 1960,” Minister for Water Resources Syed Khursheed Shah said his ministry had prepared a draft to respond to the New Delhi’s notice that had already been sent to the PM.

It was being discussed, he said, adding that Pakistan would respond within 90 days (by April 25).

Mr Leghari had earlier had pointed out India had served a notice on Pakistan to modify the treaty on January 25 to respond within 90 days, but there had been no official word from Pakistan.

Also, Mr Shah, who had returned to the assembly after a prolonged illness, asked the house to pass a resolution seeking allocation of at least 15pc of the GDP for water projects.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2023

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