ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on Thursday conceded the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, almost three months after a deadlock with the opposition over the key position.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced the decision in the lower house of parliament, bringing to an end months of an impasse that had been hampering the legislative process for months.
The breakthrough came after Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak and State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan met Shehbaz Sharif in his chambers for talks on the issue.
Khattak told the media that they discussed matters pertaining to the constitution of the National Assembly standing committees. It was agreed that Shehbaz Sharif would be the PAC chairman, while a special committee headed by a PTI lawmaker will review the audit objections of the PML-N tenure.
Khattak told the media at the Parliament House that the government had accepted the opposition’s demand, keeping in view the parliamentary traditions. “There is no compulsion for the government. The government wants to run the house according to parliamentary traditions,” he said.
Before the meeting, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser met Defence Minister Khattak and PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal to discussed the formation of standing committees. The speaker also discussed the committee issue with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Qureshi told lawmakers that the government would not obstruct the leader of the opposition from assuming the PAC chairmanship. “We suggest you to appoint someone else but if you (leader of the opposition) want to be chairman PAC, we will not obstruct in the interest of democracy,” he said.
“We met Prime Minister Imran Khan today … We had offered the opposition to nominate any person other than Shehbaz Sharif but they did not budge. Imran Khan has reviewed his decision and if Shehbaz Sharif wants to head the PAC, the government will not obstruct… we concede to the opposition’s demand,” he said.
However, the minister stressed that since PAC would have to give opinion about audit paras of government expenses during the last tenure, it would be improper that the opposition leader was heading the Committee reviewing the audit-paras of PML-N tenure.
The minister called for constituting a special committee to look into the audit-paras related to the expenses or projects of the PML-N tenure, which would not be headed by the leader of the opposition. “It will be better to have accountability through a person facing no controversy,” he suggested.
Qureshi said that the matter of standing committees was delayed because of the appointment of opposition leader as PAC chairman. The opposition leader is embroiled in NAB [National Accountability Bureau]cases but despite this, we have made every effort to resolve this impasse,” he said.
“It is mutual responsibility of treasury and opposition benches to run the proceedings of the House and to ensure legislation in the interest of the people. All of us would have to sit together to find a way out and ensure smooth proceedings of the National Assembly,” the minister said.
The minister said that issue of formation of standing committees had been discussed with Defence Minister Khattak and the state minister for parliamentary affairs. “The Issue has been taken up with the Prime Minister today and entire situation is told to him.”
Regarding the opposition’s demand for issuance of production orders of detained PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, Qureshi said that Speaker Asad Qaiser had issued the production order of the opposition leader and any further decision would be taken keeping in view legal position.
Taking the floor next, Shahbaz lauded the government gesture, saying that heading the Public Accounts Committee had been a tradition in the tenure of last two governments. “This [government] step will promote democratic norms and traditions and further solidify the institution of parliament,” he said.
He assured the treasury benches of the opposition’s cooperation in the interest of Pakistan and for the benefit of people. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader and former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also lauded the government for reviewing its decision.
Meanwhile, Shehbaz requested the speaker to issue a production order for fellow Rafique, who was remanded to the NAB custody a day earlier as part of a probe into a housing scheme scam. The speaker said he would seek the legal opinion of the law ministry on the issue but assured that “I will not let this house down.”
The opposition parties then walked out of the house, with PML-N’s Ayaz Sadiq declaring that they “will continue their boycott of the session until Rafique’s production order is issued”. Later, the session was adjourned till Friday morning.