ISLAMABAD - The senators yesterday demanded the government make public the agreement made with China on multibillion dollar CPEC project to end intriguing secrecy which has caused concerns among the stakeholders.

The lawmakers, from both sides of aisle, demanded ending ambiguity so as to also understand what China wanted from Pakistan in this regard.

The voice was raised mostly by the opposition benches but treasury members belonging to National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) were among those seeking clarity on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Project.

Speaking on an adjournment motion moved by Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini, they said that the minutes of meetings of Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) or other official meetings held regarding the mega project should also be made public.

They once again doubted the government’s intentions to build the Western Route of the project on priority and asserted that discrimination was being made with smaller provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Some of them claimed that PML-N government wants to build just a small portion of the original western route which would deprive the backward areas of the two provinces from benefiting from CPEC. They showed apprehensions that Punjab is likely to benefit most from the project.

The lawmakers demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself come in the house and the clear the smoke.

After the government failed to present any document of the CPEC agreement before the house at the end of the debate, Chairman Raza Rabbani directed the Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who was not present in the house, to present the document ‘if it exists’.

Taj Haider, chairman of Senate Special Committee on CPEC, said, “Protests have been held in KP and resolutions were passed to hold sit-ins in front of Chinese embassy to covey reservations over the project.” Confusion about what China was really demanding from Pakistan must end.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said military establishment did not bother to clarify a media report about tensions between military and civilian leadership over CPEC. Chinese government itself had to explain, he said, adding, “with these moves, we are making project controversial”.

“As long as you do not make public the agreement, it will remain controversial,” he said and questioned whether Pakistani government would collect tax on the investment made in Pakistan through CPEC. “Is this provision part of the agreement?” he further asked.

Dr Jahenzeb Jamaldini questioned the government why it wanted to keep the agreement document secret.

Senator Mir Kabir of National Party said that western route was not being built despite promises and questioned why China was being given tax exemption for 40 years under the project.

PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar said, “The federation was being weakened through making the CPEC controversial. The western route (it appears) would not complete till 2018.”

He said that the government was not serious in compeleting the western part despite recommendations of the Senate Special Committee.

PTI legislator Noman Wazir asked that why didn’t the government finalise any toll-fees agreement with China that would be collected from the vehicles plying on the corridor.

Ilays Balour went on to say that this had become clear to them that the western route would never be completed. He alleged the PML-N for dividing Pakistani into two parts.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sheikh Aftab concluding the debate tried to dispel the impression that the project was only benefiting Punjab but the lawmakers stressed that the agreement should be mad public first. The minister said that energy projects would be completed in all provinces under the CPEC.

Journalists’ walkout

Earlier, the parliamentary reporters covering the Senate session staged a token walkout before Chairman Committee on IT Senator Shahi Syed presented the report of the committee on controversial ‘The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, 2016’.

The journalists said that some provisions of the cyber crime bill were against the freedom of expression and tantamount to stifle the independent media.

The journalists separately also conveyed their strong reservations to Chairman Raza Rabbani.

Shahi supported the report of the committee and said that all stakeholders were consulted but the chair kept on stressing that perhaps media bodies had not been consulted.

The chair asked government to arrange a meeting of the four major bodies with the minister of information technology before bringing the bill in the house.

Later, IT Minister Anusha Rehman said the government was only playing the role of facilitator, as the bill was the property of the parliament. “The licence holders of Pemra and the print media had been explicitly excluded in the bill,” she assured the house.