ISLAMABAD: Torn-up copies of the agenda flew in the Senate on Friday as four government bills were passed by the otherwise opposition-dominated house. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Bill, Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, Higher Education Commission (HEC) (Amendment) Bill and HEC Second Amendment Bill were passed without being referred to the standing committees concerned amid the opposition’s protest.
The last-minute landing of two of these bills through supplementary agenda was particularly slammed by the opposition, prompting Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to observe that the opposition had fallen into the habit of blaming him whenever it suffered a defeat on account of its own failure to bring its members to the house.
He insisted that the decision on taking up a bill for “consideration at once” had to be taken by the house and he had no role to play in this process.
The protesting opposition lawmakers assembled near the chairman’s podium tearing up copies of the supplementary agenda and hurling them at the chair. Former chairman of Senate Mian Raza Rabbani held an argument with the chair over taking up the bills directly for voting. “Do not tell me this please. It has frequently happened in the past as well,” Mr Sanjrani told Mr Rabbani. “You did it a million times during your days as chairman.”
A highlight of the day was criticism of the chair from both sides of the aisle.
Earlier, several bills introduced in the house — including some concerning human rights — were referred to the standing committees concerned, despite insistence of the treasury benches that these contained minor procedural changes and be taken into consideration at once and passed.
“It appears as if you (Sanjrani) are chairman of the opposition only” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan said.
He said all decisions were being taken as per wishes of the opposition and the bills requiring immediate consideration of the house were also being referred to the standing committees.
The chairman said he had equal respect for members from both the sides and advised the minister of state not to target the chair.
Leader of the House Dr Shehzad Waseem said the opposition claimed to respect the chairman but their respect was selective.
“They are respectful when the decision is in their favour, but term all things won through a majority ‘bulldozing’,” he remarked.
But the scene shortly changed when the government sensing thin presence of the opposition insisted on voting to decide whether the HEC amendment bill should be taken up for consideration.
The house allowed immediate consideration with a 34-28 majority vote and subsequently the two bills seeking to amend the HEC act were passed.
Before moving the second bill, Ali Mohammad Khan disclosed that supplementary agenda was also there.
The presentation of supplementary agenda sparked uproar in the house.
Upon receiving copies of the agenda, members of the opposition ripped them apart and flung them towards Mr Sanjrani.
Under the amendment to the NAB ordinance, the prosecutor general accountability will hold office for three years and will be eligible for re-appointment for a similar term or terms.
The journalists and media workers’ protection bill is meant to promote, protect and effectively ensure independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of journalists and media professionals.
Both the bills were passed by a 35-29 majority vote. A six-member group led by Senator Dilawar Khan also voted in the government’s favour.
Talking to reporters later, Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the Senate Sherry Rehman regretted that instead of sending bills to committee as per the norm, the government introduced a “sneaky” supplementary agenda right before Friday prayers.
She said it was clearly pre-planned and in direct contradiction to the assurances given to the leader of oppositions office that all bills would be tabled as per the agenda and that they would go to standing committees.
She said the treasury introduced a supplementary agenda at 12.35pm, without laying bills, and summoned members they had kept back to bulldoze a person-specific HEC bill and then introduced the NAB bill, despite absence of certain members due to Friday prayers.
Clearly pointing fingers at the chairman, she said the pre-planned and malicious move went against all parliamentary norms according to which business was conducted in the house.
“It is clear that by attacking the Senate the government is not ready to allow the provinces to speak and breathe, nor is it giving us the right to ask questions about Pakistan’s sovereignty, whether it is about the IMF or amnesty agreements. We are not allowed to question the government’s position on issues which have significant consequences for the future of our country,” she said. “Sindh is being marginalised and its grievances are not being addressed. The government is evading its responsibilities as they are unwilling to hear us on vital issues of the census, water or any resource shared among the provinces. What is happening in the National Assembly and during joint sessions is worse than the kind of ‘martial law assemblies’ we have seen”.
Ms Rehman said: “They are trying to make the Senate ineffective. The bills bulldozed today were not even circulated among the members. Even the IMF has asked for bills to be passed, and is no more accepting legislation passed through ordinances. Unfortunately, this is the only way this government knows how to govern the country. Their mala fide intent is obvious by how they tried to convert the opposition’s majority into minority but we will fight back on the floor of the Senate.”
She said the government was bulldozing bills in the Senate and was trying to bring the National Assembly’s chaos here. She rejected what she called the treasury’s artificial majority.
“We will not let them pass bills without consultations, especially the bill regarding the State Bank’s autonomy,” she said.