Senate passes 4 bills as majority opposition loses vote

ISLAMABAD   –  The joint opposition faced another defeat in the Parliament for second time within a week as the  opposition-dominated Senate on Friday passed four government sponsored bills.

The opposition parties strongly protested over the government’s move to get pass the bills without referring them to the standing committees concerned. The government’s decision to table two bills in the House through a supplementary agenda sparked an uproar by opposition. 

This happened in the Senate two days after the government managed to get passed record number of 33 bills in the joint sitting of the Parliament including a controversial bill about introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and I-voting for overseas Pakistanis for the next general election.

Amid its protest, the opposition assembled in front of the chairman Senate’s podium while tearing into pieces copies of the supplementary agenda and hurled the same at the chair.

The house passed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Bill, the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, the Higher Education Commission [HEC] (Amendment) Bill and HEC (Second Amendment) Bill.  

Getting benefit of thin presence of opposition in the House, the treasury insisted the chair to put the bills for voting and they were consequently passed with majority.

The opposition protested over chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani’s decision to allow the government to move the two bills through supplementary agenda which prompted the latter to say that it was in the habit of blaming him when it fails to bring its member to the house.

Former Chairman Senate Mian Raza Rabbani also got into heated argument with the chair over taking up the bills directly for voting. “It has frequently happened in the past as well. You did it a million times during your days as chairman”, he remarked.

The chairman insisted that the decision on taking up a bill for ‘consideration at once’ has to be taken by the house and he had no role to play in it.

Earlier, treasury also criticised the chair when the latter referred various bills including about human rights referred to the standing committees concerned. The treasury insisted that these bills contained minor procedural changes and required to be taken into consideration at once and be passed.

“It appears as if you are chairman of the opposition only” said Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan also said the government is coordinating with the US authorities for repatriation of Saifullah Paracha and some other Pakistanis from Guantanamo Bay.

Responding to a question during Question House in the Senate, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan has always been raising voice for the people handed over to the US during the Afghan war.

On this, chairman Senate said he had equal respect for members from both sides of aisle and advised the minister not to target him. Soon after this, the treasury insisted on voting to decide on 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. The government brought the journalists and media workers protection bill and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Bill through the supplementary agenda. Both the bills were passed by a majority of 35 votes against the opposition’s 29 votes. A six-member group led by Senator Dilawar Khan also voted in the government’s favour.

Through the NAB Amendment Bill, an amendment has been made in the NAB Ordinance 1999 which says that Prosecutor General Accountability shall “hold office for a period of three years and shall be eligible for re-appointment for a similar term or terms.”

The journalists and media workers protection bill seeks to ensure accountability for all forms of threats, coercion, and violence against journalists. It seeks to actively investigating, prosecuting ad punishing such acts that affect all media professionals and the right of all persons to enjoy their right to freedom of expression and opinion.

Later, Parliamentary Leader of the PPP in the House Senator Sherry Rehman while talking to reporters regretted that instead of sending bills to committees as per the norm, the government introduced a “sneaky” supplementary agenda right before Friday prayers.

She alleged that it was clearly pre-planned and in direct contradiction to the assurances given to the opposition leader’s office that all bills will be taken up according to agenda and would be referred to standing committees.

She said that the treasury bulldozed the bills through the house through a supplementary agenda despite the absence of certain members due to the Friday prayers.

“This pre-planned and malicious move goes against all parliamentary norms with which business is conducted in the house,” PPP lawmaker said. “Their mala fide intent is obvious by how they tried to convert opposition’s majority into minority but we will fight back on the floor of the Senate,” she added.

 Earlier in the house, Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem said that the opposition’s respect for the chair was selective. “They are respectful (towards chair) when the decision is in their favour, but term it ‘bulldozing’ when things are won through majority (by the treasury),” he said.

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