ISLAMABAD - The joint opposition Monday staged a walkout from the maiden session of Senate in protest against the promulgation of four presidential ordinances, one of them a controversial tax amnesty scheme.

The opposition benches demanded the government to reconsider its decision of introducing the tax amnesty scheme, which they said was only meant to whiten black money.

State minister for finance however defended the promulgation of the tax ordinance, which brought into force government’s Economic Reforms Package (ERP), saying that there was nothing wrong in it.

In the first session chaired by newly-elected Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, former chairman Mian Raza Rabbani raised the issue on a point of order, saying the ordinances had been promulgated hours before both the houses of parliament were scheduled to meet.

The PPP leader said the president, who promulgated the ordinances, was himself part of the parliament under Article 50 of the Constitution and he himself had convened sessions of the two houses.

The president’s bypassing of parliament on the matter renders the ordinances “illegal”, he argued. “It appears that an ordinance factory is being run in a building adjacent to parliament,” Rabbani remarked.

He challenged the government to prove with documents if the cabinet had given approval to the amnesty scheme.

Rabbani said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced the scheme and concessions after a meeting of the Economic Advisory Council, which had no legal status and rules of business of the federal government.

He said it was the parliament, not the council that had to impose taxes.

Referring to the judgment of Supreme Court, Rabbani stressed that an ordinance could only be promulgated after a prior approval from the federal cabinet.

He said the president also ignored this aspect. He asked the chair to refer the matter to the privileges committee.

State Minister for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal termed the point of order ‘misplaced’, saying that the breach of privilege used to take place only when a law was violated.

He said an approval from the cabinet had been taken through circulation of the document. Rabbani challenged him to produce a copy of that document.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said the opposition was united in rejecting the ordinances as the privilege of both the houses of the parliament had been breached. She asked the government to explain why a decision to introduce the amnesty scheme was taken a few weeks prior to the announcement of the budget for next fiscal year.

She also referred to the Financial Action Task Force’s warning to Pakistan with regards to money-laundering.

PML-N Senator Haroon Akhtar disputed the opposition’s contention and said the council meeting did not discuss the scheme.

He said that it was not the first time that a scheme was announced or ordinance promulgated. He said that the points raised by the opposition did not constitute the breach of privilege of the parliament.

On this, Rabbani said that a government senator had opened “a bigger Pandora’s box” by saying that the council had not discussed it.

After Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq spoke on the issue, Sherry Rehman announced a walkout from the house which was joined by other opposition parties as well.

Senate Chairman Sanjrani ruled that the question of privilege would be taken up at the time of laying of the ordinances in the house.

The House also passed a unanimous resolution condemning the recent escalation of “state-sponsored” violence in the Indian occupied Kashmir leaving a number of people killed and injured by the Indian forces.

The joint resolution tabled by Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said, “For decades, the people of Kashmir have suffered violent repression at the hands of the Indian army which commits unconscionable brutalities with full impunity from the state where thousands of innocent people have been brutally martyred- millions orphaned, widowed and mentally disabled.”  It further said that the “Indian state’s deplorable actions ranged from shutting down schools, restricting movement of people, suspension of internet services to more heinous acts such as open firing, and the use of tear gas and pellets to subjugate the people of Kashmir”.

The House extended its deepest condolences to martyred families and reiterated its solidarity with people of Kashmir in their struggle for freedom and right to self-determination and reassured the support of the Kashmir cause at every political and diplomatic front.

The House urged the international community, the Islamic world, the OIC, the UN and international human rights organizations to denounce Indian state’s violation of UN Charter and resolutions.

The resolution recommended the government to appoint a special envoy to raise the Kashmir issue at all international forums.

MQM Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said that there were certain international laws, which could help stop Indian brutalities in the occupied Kashmir. He said that mere resolutions would be of no use. He said that Pakistan must approach the UN.

The senators endorsed the proposals put forth by Barrister Saif and said that the government must proceeds to the UN, demanding actions against India under international laws, over the genocide in Kashmir by Indian forces.    

JUI-F lawmaker Maulana Attaur Rehman demanded that such condemnation resolution should also be passed against US airstrike on a religious seminary in Afghanistan in which scores of innocent children lost their lives.