Punjab Assembly: Opposition walks out over Panama leaks row

Rasheed urges Supreme Court to direct the NAB to probe into the matter

Aroosa Shaukat April 04, 2016
A file photo of Punjab Assembly in session. PHOTO: ONLINE


Opposition members staged a walkout from Monday’s session of the Provincial Assembly over the Treasury’s refusal to let Leader of the Opposition Mehmoodur Rasheed table out of turn a resolution seeking a federal government inquiry into the Panama leak revelations.

In the pre-budget debate, Mehmood asked the government to revise its development priorities and focus on improving human development indictors of the province.

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An hour into the session chaired by Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal, quorum was pointed by Opposition member Shanila Ruth. The quorum was completed after an hour.

In his resolution, Mehmood had urged the federal government to immediately launch an investigation into the Panama leak revelations about alleged offshore wealth of 140 politicians and government officials. He said the money had been ‘stolen’ from the people of Pakistan and should be brought back to the country.

When the matter was referred to Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, he said the government would review the draft and make necessary amendments. He said the amended draft would be tabled in the House in consultation with the Opposition.

Annoyed at ‘the delay in the matter’, Opposition benches started shouting slogans against the government and members from the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q and the Jamaat-i-Islami staged a walkout. Pakistan Peoples’ Party lawmakers, however, stayed back.

Speaking to the media, Rasheed said that the Chief Justice of Pakistan should take suo motu notice of the matter and direct the National Accountability Bureau to submit a report on it in a month. “Billions of rupees have taken away from the country and deposited in foreign banks. It is time to honour our commitments to the people and to bring this money back,” he said.

He said a cell dedicated to investigating the case be established by the NAB. He said investigations should be comprehensive.

JI lawmaker Syed Waseem Akhtar said the NAB chairman should be allowed to look into the matter without any pressure. PML-Q’s Vickas Hasan Mokal said the papers had been carefully reviewed by around 100 journalists before their release. “There is no excuse for the government to remain silent on the matter,” he said.

During the question hour, Parliamentary Home Secretary Mahr Ijaz Achlana defended his department’s performance. He said the Safe City project would be completed next year.

Earlier, PPP’s Faiza Malik paid a tribute to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the occasion of his death anniversary. She said Bhutto’s sacrifice was worthy of praise and that his death was an instance of ‘judicial murder’. Speaking on a point of order, Waseem Akhtar said the government had yet to prepare its wheat policy.

Pre- budget debate

The pre-budget debate continued in the absence of the finance minister who left the session when quorum was pointed out but did not return later.

Rasheed criticised the finance minister for her absence from the House. He also complained about her opening speech which, he said, lacked important facts.

Rasheed’s speech lasted well over an hour and was focused on government’s performance and policies in various sectors. It carried very little in terms of budgetary proposals for the upcoming fiscal year. Reiterating his long standing proposal, Rasheed demanded that standing committees be empowered to make budgetary proposals for the departments concerned. He said the public should be informed about the details of the Rs580 billion budget deficit in the province. He said realistic spending targets should be set for the next year. On block allocations, he said the practice should be avoided because it gave too much discretion to the chief minister.

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Rasheed demanded that an education emergency be declared in the province. He said incentives should be put in place for parents, particularly in rural areas, to enroll their children in schools. He said funds set aside for local governments should not be diverted to the Orange Line Metro Train project. He said budgetary allocations should be made for local governments.

He sought introduction of low-cost housing schemes for income-poor families. He said projects for automation of FIR registration system and provision of safe drinking water should be taken up on priority. A Kissan Credit Card scheme should be launched to help farmers owning less than 10 acres of land, he said. He said subsidies be announced for the farming community.

The session will continue on Tuesday morning.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2016.