Out of the blue, NA decides to probe debt burden
ISLAMABAD, July 13: For decades, political rivals have blamed one another for increasing Pakistan’s debt burden without reaching a conclusive result. But, out of the blue, both the government and the opposition agreed in the National Assembly on Friday that a house committee probe who did what during the past 27 years.
The house speaker was authorised to name the bipartisan body, for which political parties were asked to send names after the house adopted a joint motion calling for constituting the committee to look into the “necessity of obtaining and utilisation” of domestic and foreign loans acquired since 1985.
Neither side spoke about possible material benefits of the exercise, but the committee’s finding could provide some ammunition to political parties to attack any wrongdoing found in ever-burgeoning domestic and foreign debts now estimated at over $126 billion, including over $60 billion external.
The move came at the end of the last day of an eight-day session that was also marked by a former minister of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, shooting his first public arrows at his own party after failing to get a seat in the cabinet of new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan People’s Party, a walkout by the Awami National Party, another government ally, to protest against a deadly bomb blast earlier in the day near a party rally in Quetta, and adoption of two comprehensive bills already passed by the Senate.
PPP chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah proposed the formation of the house committee to find out which government took how much loans since 1960s after Ahsan Iqbal, the economic guru of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, called for a debate on what he called a “security threat” posed by Pakistan’s dependence on foreign loans, and suggested that the PML-N lawmaker head the body.
Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi said the committee could be constituted if the house adopted a motion, which eventually came as a joint motion moved by Mr Iqbal that called for the probe to begin from 1985, when a civilian cabinet took office under then military president General Ziaul Haq, rather than from the 1960s as earlier proposed by Mr Shah.
Riaz Hussain Pirzada, who was professional and technical training minister in the previous cabinet of prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, objected to his party’s parliamentary leader Chaudhry Pervez Elahi being designated deputy prime minister in the new cabinet and unelected advisers to the prime minister sitting in the house after adviser on industries, Raja Mohmmad Bsharat of PML-Q, answered questions relating to his ministry during the question hour.
Mr Pirzada, who was also his party’s chief whip in the house until recently, wanted a ruling from the chair on what he saw as something unconstitutional, causing an embarrassment to his own party but attracting cheers from the rival PML-N benches.
But the chair refrained from giving a ruling, appearing agreeing with Defence Minister Naveed Qamar, who said the Constitution did not prevent designating a cabinet member as deputy prime minister or senior minister without additional powers that might not be permitted and that the Constitution allowed the induction of up to five advisers who could participate in debates in the house but without a right to vote.
Later the house passed, without any opposition, a government bill already passed by the Senate providing for what it called “the creation, development and efficient operation of special economic zones through the provision of a legal and regulatory framework to encourage domestic and international investors”.
The 40-clause Special Economic Zones Bill, 2012 was deferred during its second reading on Wednesday after two members of the PML-N and one from the ANP wanted clarifications about implications for the provinces of the zones, which the law says can be set up both by the federal and provincial governments by themselves or in collaboration with private parties. But no objection was raised on Friday.
The second was a 41-caluse private legislation, the Medical and Dental Council (Amendment) Bill, 2012 authored by PML-Q member Donya Aziz, which seeks to amend and update a 1962 ordinance – an earlier updating presidential ordinance having lapsed – with the stated aim to “ensure the quality of medical education in the country”.
Both the bills now only need a formal presidential assent to become laws.