Opposition walks out: State media accused of maligning Benazir
* NA passes Pakistan Telecommunication bill
* Railway will not lease land for housing schemes
By Irfan Ghauri and Mohammad Imran
ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly opposition walked out of proceedings on Wednesday to protest “the trial of Pakistan People’s Party Chairperson Benazir Bhutto by state-owned electronic media”.
The walkout was staged by the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) and was later joined by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). PPP-Parliamentarians MNA Naheed Khan said the government was using the state media against Benazir Bhutto and cabinet members were using Pakistan Television (PTV) to malign her name. Even ministers are giving statements on sub judice matters, she said. “The Swiss case is still in the court, but a minister appeared on PTV and gave the impression that the court had decided in the government’s favour,” she added.
Syed Khurshid Shah, PPPP chief whip, said the government was using PTV to target the integrity of its political opponents.
Also, the house passed the Pakistan Telecommunication (reorganisation) (amendment) Bill, 2005, amid criticism by the opposition. PPPP legislator Syed Zafar Ali Shah said the bill did not contain a statement of objectives and reasons. “The minister concerned has not even mentioned the legislation’s pros and cons,” he said.
MMA MNA Dr Fareed Paracha said several of the amendments introduced in the bill were accommodated after the standing committee concerned had already issued a final report. “The government’s actions are tantamount to bypassing the committee.” The bill completely ignores the role of consumers and does not give any sureties about the quality of service, he said. “I received 80 missed calls on my cellular phone on Wednesday, but the callers could not get through because of poor service,” he added.
PPPP legislator Ghulam Murtaza Satti said the current policy was of no use to the country’s economy because it did not create jobs. He said the number of connections being given by telecom companies was not being monitored. “The government should set up tribunals to address consumers’ grievances through new amendments in the law, he added.
Earlier, Mian Shamim Haider, the minister for railways, said that Pakistan Railways would not lease its land to housing societies. He said that PR had leased out 20 acres to a cooperative housing society in 1987 to launch a housing scheme for retired railway employees. “It is not PR’s responsibility to ensure people allotted plots got possession of the plots,” he added.
MMA MNAs Shabir Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Hussain Mehnti, Muhammad Laeeque Khan and Abdus Sattar Afghani raised the issue through a call attention notice. They said the allottees, who had already paid for the plots, had not been given possession.
The government also faced embarrassment for failing to maintain quorum in the assembly, and the speaker had to adjourn the session because of the lack of treasury members present.
Nawab Yousaf Talpur, PPPP MNA, pointed out the lack of quorum. Only 80 members from the government benches were present in the house when Speaker Amir Hussain Chaudhry rung the bells for the start of the session.
The house passed a bill moved by Petroleum Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon. The bill called for the Act of Parliament to approve the Hydrocarbon Institute of Pakistan. The institute will be an autonomous organisation under the Petroleum Ministry. In the past the Supreme Court had declared that no autonomous body could be set up through an executive resolution so the Act of Parliament was necessary to maintain the institute’s autonomous status.
Talpur tried to point out the quorum before the passage of the bill but the speaker did not allow him to take the floor. The opposition opposed the bill and moved amendments on to certain clauses but their moves were vetoed. MMA members introduced amendments to sub clauses of Clause 2, 5 and 8 of the bill.
MNA Paracha claimed the bill had taken away employees’ right to establish a union, saying the institute’s chairman could delegate powers to any member of the board of governors.
MMA MNA Muhammad Hussain Mehnti said the government should include two MNAs, two senators and four technical members from the provinces in the board of governors. Ghulam Murtaza Satti, PPPP legislator, said the government should not establish such an institute because it would put a heavy burden on the national exchequer. He said the government should ask the Higher Education Commission to run the institute.