ISLAMABAD - The Chairman Senate yesterday issued contempt notices to some senior bureaucrats of the federal government including the Cabinet Secretary for allegedly breaching the privilege of the Upper House of the Parliament for asking it to "reconsider" its earlier decision.
The ruling of the Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani came following a threadbare discussion in the house on the tone and tenure of a letter written by Joint Secretary Cabinet Division to the Senate.
The chairman issued the contempt notices to Cabinet Secretary, Joint Secretary Cabinet Division and the head of the secretaries committee by referring the matter to the house privileges committee. The committee was asked to finalize the report within three weeks.Separately, the chairman asked the secretary defence production to appear before the privileges committee for not informing the minister in-charge to reply a call attention notice in the house when the federal minister of defence productions was on leave.
"It is proposed that the Senate of Pakistan may reconsider the recommendations contained in the Report of the Special Committee on Devolution," said Dr Iram A. Khan, Joint Secretary to the Cabinet Division in the letter that was sent to the house the other day. The letter said that the decision was taken in the secretaries committee. Chairman Senate had fixed a time for a debate on the mode under which the letter addressed the Senate.
In the report, the special committee had recommended to the government that all policy and administrative boards, councils, bodies etc constituted under the various Acts of the Parliament or established by an executive order, should be reconstituted in order to give equal representation to the provinces.
Most of the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle taking part in the debate, held in the absence of MQM lawmakers who were busy in watching the live press conference of former MQM Senator Mustafa Kamal, asked the chair that the breach of the privilege had been committed through this letter and the matter should be referred to the privileges committee. They viewed that the executive and the bureaucracy could not ask the Parliament to re-consider its decision.
The chair during the debate asked the lawmakers not to comment on the text of the letter but confine themselves on the mode and procedure under which it was written.
However, Federal Minister Zahid Hamid and Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan viewed that no privilege had been committed and thus the matter should be disposed of. Mr Hamid giving reference to the Rule 196 (3) of the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business in the Senate said that the executive was bound to implement the decision of the parliament through cabinet And if the ministry concerned could not do so, it had to inform the house within two months otherwise the recommendation would become binding.
He said that the letter was written because no cabinet meeting was held during the time. There was no objectionable language of the letter
PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar gave a different point of view and added: "It is for the first time that the executive has challenged the authority of the parliament. Under the rules, secretary committees had no power to challenge the parliament. "It is a fit case of breach of privilege of the house."
Syed Muzafar Hussain Shah endorsed Mr Babar and said that Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif himself had stated in the house that the parliament should help the government to re-constitute the boards. He termed the letter contempt of parliament what he said the secretaries committee could not sit on the decisions of parliament. A suggestion came from Usman Kakar that the officer should be dismissed from service as punishment.
The Chairman Senate in the ruling said that the letter did not mention the cabinet meeting and the secretaries committee took decision at its own. "Only President can ask the parliament to reconsider its decision," he said and added: "With such disobedience to the legitimate orders, this officer is liable to be punished. This is fit case for issuing contempt notices to Dr Iram A Khan, secretary cabinet division and the officer who presided the secretaries committee." The chair in the ruling also gave reference to the cover letter, which said that "Enclosed please find a reply to the report of Senate Special Committee on Devolution process, duly approved by the competent authority, for further necessary action at your end" and what he said this was appalling.
The house also unanimously passed the Future Market Bill, 2015 before it was adjourned till today.