• Hasty changes opposed by both sides of the aisle; speaker gives legislators another day to go through proposed draft
• Law minister says caretakers being empowered to ensure continuity of policies

ISLAMABAD: Strong opposition from both friends and foes forced the government to defer for one day its plan to give “unbridled powers” to the caretaker set-up, as part of electoral reforms.

Under the plan, the text cleared by the Parliamen­tary Committee on Electoral Reforms was to be passed through a shortcut, with the last-minute addition of a controversial clause to enlarge the scope of the caretakers, which would have allowed them to decide on “urgent matters”.

An election amendment bill already passed by the National Assembly, which could not be passed by the Senate within 90 days, was placed on the agenda of the joint sitting on Tuesday.

The government wanted the long list of electoral reforms to be passed through an amendment in the same bill and even parliamentarians were unaware of the changes introduced.

Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani raised a procedural objection, saying that under the rules, a clear day’s notice was required if amendments were to be moved in a bill on the agenda.

He invited the attention of the NA speaker towards the irregularity, saying that there were 25 motions for legislative business for the passage of bills.

He said there were many bills on the agenda in which amendments are to be moved, whose copies had not been provided to members, adding that the joint sitting should not be made a rubber stamp.

JI Senator Mushtaq Ahmad, Ali Zafar of PTI, Kamran Murtaza of JUI-F and PML-N’s Irfan Siddiqui also endorsed Mr Rabbani’s viewpoint.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who initially grilled PTI’s Ali Zafar for talking about the supremacy of parliament, also agreed that the bill be deferred for a day. Subsequently, the NA speaker deferred the bill saying lawmakers would be given time to read the amendments.

Power of caretakers

Mr Murtaza and Mr Rabbani mainly opposed changes to Section 230, that pertains to powers of caretakers. Senators Mur­taza, Taj Haider, and Ali Zafar also pointed out that the clause was not discussed at the parliamentary committee meeting.

“I want to put this on record that I was not absent even for a minute from the meeting and the amendment was not taken up there,” Senator Haider said. Mr Rabbani maintained that he was not against other clauses but he strongly opposed Clause 2A which sought to amend Section 230.

The role of caretakers is totally different from the elected government. “In caretaker setup, the government does not go to cold storage rather it goes slow for the reasons that caretakers are unelected,” he said.

Senator Rabbani strongly objected addition of the words ‘urgent matters’ in Clause 230 (a), saying it has “very vague and vast meanings” which reflected that the government wanted to give “unbridled powers to caretakers”.

Senator Murtaza said his party colleague Shahida Akhtar Ali said the issue was not discussed at the meeting and added Constitution did not allow the interim government to take major decisions. In clause 2A which is being inserted in the bill, the caretakers are being empowered to take economic decisions which can have impacts for 30 years.

Continuity of measures

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said that empowering the caretaker government was meant to ensure the continuity of measures in line with the IMF accord. He said that the caretaker setup was also being given powers to take decisions in urgent matters, including transfers. He claimed that amendments were finalised after consultations with all parties.

He said that a special committee led by Ayaz Sadiq held a series of meetings on the bill. Dr Fahmida Mirza, Tariq Bashir Cheema, Syed Naveed Qamar, Afzal Khan Dhandla, Agha Hassan Baloch, Taj Haider, Kamran Murtaza, Ali Zafar, and Manzoor Ahmed were other members. He said the bill was widely circulated in the house and debates were also conducted.

Khawaja Asif and Ali Zafar then got into a heated debate, forcing the chair to expunge the remarks of the PML-N leader. Senator Zafar referred to government members as ‘sheep’ while Mr Asif said that remnants of the PTI regime were still present in the house.

Economic Affairs Minister Ayaz Sadiq said all amendments and suggestions of members were incorporated in the bill and added that the report was prepared after the consensus. He said a joint committee comprising members from both houses to address elections-related issues was formed and the report was prepared after detailed deliberation and consensus.

Senator Irfanul Haq Siddiqui called for “maximum consensus on legislation” and appreciated the speaker’s ruling. Speaker Pervez Ashraf deferred the eight bills and gave time to the lawmakers to deliberate on amendments proposed in them.

The deferred bills included the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023; Exit from Pakistan (Control) (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Maintenance and Welfare of Old Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2023; the Civil Servants (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Banking Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the International Institute of Technology, Culture and Health Sciences Bill, 2023 and the Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2023.

However, the Qanun-e-Shahadat (Amendment) Bill, 2023; the Control of Narcotics Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Petroleum (Amendment) Bill, 2023 were passed.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2023

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