ISLAMABAD - Chairman Senate yesterday rejected a decision of the government to hold an inquiry against former information minister Senator Pervaiz Rasheed in connection with the media leaks of a national security meeting.

The chair maintained that the parliament was the only forum to launch a probe against a senator. These remarks came from Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani in the one-day session of the Upper House that was specially requisitioned on the call of opposition to discuss the current political situation in the wake of PTI's Islamabad lockdown plan. The chair said this after he gave a ruling that no information could be withheld from the Parliament.

A couple of days ago, Prime Minister had removed Senator Pervaiz Rasheed as federal information minister in connection with the leak of a story about a national security meeting.

The Chairman Senate, a seasoned democrat, said that the entire Senate stood by the sacked information minister and if an inquiry against Senator Rasheed needed to be held, only the Senate could do this. "Pervaiz Rasheed is not alone, the entire house stands by him."

"Evidence available so far points to a lapse part of the information minister, who has been directed to step down from office to enable holding of an independent and detailed inquiry," says the statement of Prime Minister Office. The government also said that an inquiry committee including officers of ISI, MI and IB is being formed to clearly apportion blame, identify interests and motives behind the planted story related to the national security committee meeting.

While quoting examples of different state institutions, Rabbani said that institutions like Supreme Court and Pakistan Army themselves used to hold inquires against the judges or the army personnel. "Inquiries against judges are held by the judiciary itself under Article 209 of the Constitution, inquiries against army personnel are held by army under the Army Act, the Pakistan Air Force and the Navy hold probes under their respective laws and the bureaucracy under the Estacode," the chair said.

He added that then this house was the only forum to hold a probe against Senator Pervaiz Rasheed. "I have no knowledge but have learnt through media reports that an inquiry is being held against Senator Pervaiz Rasheed," he remarked.

The chairman Senate observed that the ethics committee of the house should see the matter.

Meanwhile, a number of senators including PPP's Farhatullah Babar and JI's Sirajul Haq went to the seat of Rasheed, shook hand with him and made a chit chat with him for some minutes.    

Earlier, the chair gave an 11-page ruling with regard to a written reply of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) to the Senate stating that "the names of persons/companies who have obtained loans from the bank is private information of the borrowers and is protected" and thus could not be made public before the house. NBP in reply to a question posed by PML-N Senator Chaudhry Tanvir Khan had referred to Section 33-A of Banking Companies Ordinance, 1962 and Section 9 of Protection of Economic reform Act, 1992 that say that such information is protected.

"No person, organization, body, authority or government can refuse to provide information to the Parliament by taking refuge under any rule, regulation or law and that the Government (National Bank of Pakistan and Ministry of Finance) has misled the Parliament by merging two provisions of distinct laws to create impression which was not legally justified," the ruling said.

Rabbani asserted that this was a deliberate attempt to withhold information from the parliament, which amounted to a breach of privilege of the house and its member. However, he said that keeping in view the stand taken by the Minister of Law, the NBP through the Ministry of Finance would inform the house within ten days of this ruling about the names and action taken against persons/officials of the bank and the Ministry of Finance, who drafted and approved the misleading answer for placing it before the parliament.

Elaborating further, Rabbani said that the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, places the Parliament on a different pedestal from that of any organization or body same can be fortified by clause (3) of Article 66, Constitution, 1973, which provides that the impediment to the provision of information can only by President's Order and not by an act of Parliament.

The ruling said that any law could not put any fetters on the powers of the parliament to seek information in the public interest.

"Information as to names of borrowers neither amounts to banking transaction nor to the information relating to the affairs of the customers," it said.

PML-N Senator Chaudhry Tanvir Khan through a question had sought information from NBP regarding the names of persons/ companies, who have obtained loans of Rs 5 million or more from the bank during the last five years.