MPs decide to drop regular agenda to debate inflation

Escape of ex-TTP spokesperson also echoes in NA


​ Our Correspondent February 10, 2020
National Assembly of Pakistan. PHOTO: APP

ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers from both sides of the parliamentary divide on Monday approved with one voice a move to suspend its regular agenda and discuss the worrying rise in inflation, as the prime minister is conferring with his economic aides on how to rein in the skyrocketing prices of food items in the country.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan presented a motion in the National Assembly on Monday, proposing that the house postpone private members’ agenda and debate the rising inflation instead. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle unanimously approved the motion.

Now, the house will debate the country’s overall economic situation on Tuesday, with particular reference to the inflation rate which, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, has risen to 14.6 per cent in January from 12.6 per cent of the previous month, touching the highest level in 12 years.

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The government, which has drawn criticism from friends and foes alike over the rising inflation rate, is making frantic efforts to bring down skyrocketing prices of kitchen items. Last week, the prime minister said his government would lose the right to stay on in power if it does care about the poor.

In the absence of Speaker Asad Qaiser, his deputy Qasim Suri officiated Monday’s session of the house which, in other business, approved a 120-day extension in the Pakistan Medical Commission Ordinance and the Medical Tribunal Ordinance despite opposition from PPP lawmakers.

“There is a difference between dictatorship and democracy,” MP Naveed Qamar said. “Ordinances are issued only in an emergency situation.” The government has been frequently criticised by the opposition for relying on presidential ordinances instead of legislating in parliament.

The PPP lawmaker also raised the issue of mysterious escape of former Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan from the custody of security forces. Ehsan, who had turned himself in to the security forces in 2017, escaped during an operation against terrorists conducted on the basis of information gleaned from him.

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Last week, he claimed in a purported audio clip, which was shared on social networking websites, that he had escaped from the custody of the security forces because they didn’t honour the “agreement” with him. There has been no official word on the reported development as of now.

Qamar demanded that the house should be briefed if Ehsanullah had surrendered under some agreement. He wondered how a high-profile terrorist like Ehsanullah could escape from custody! “If he has been given some kind of NRO, then it should be disclosed in parliament.”

If Ehsanullah could escape from custody, then we cannot secure anything, the PPP lawmaker said and demanded that a parliamentary committee should be formed to investigate how the former Taliban spokesperson had escaped.

MNA Mohsin Dawar, who is affiliated with the Pashtoon Tahaffuz Movement, also spoke on the escape of Ehsanullah, asking for a briefing on how he had managed to slip out of custody.

In other proceedings, Energy Minister Omar Ayub Khan informed the house that the process for 10,878 recruitments in power distribution companies (DISCOs) has already been started to overcome the issue of shortage of staff in the companies.

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Replying to a calling attention notice, he said a total of 23,960 posts would be filled out of which 10,878 were under process in different companies. He assured that the recruitments would be made on merit and the government would not compromise on transparency.

The minister said the government was going to bifurcate the huge power distribution companies like Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO), Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO), Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO) and Multan Electric Supply Company (MEPCO) to increase their efficiency.

Khan also informed the lawmakers that the PTI government was taking all possible measures to provide electricity at cheaper rates in the near future.

Steps are being taken for launching alternate energy projects to provide electricity on cheaper rates to consumers. Besides renewal energy plants, focus on wind and hydel resources would help address the problems in the power sector, he added.

He said the government has launched a campaign to check power theft in various parts of the country, and FIRs has been registered against 45,000 people.

The minister said thousands of employees have been put behind the bars for their involvement in power pilferage while hundreds of others are issued show cause notices for their involvement in corruption.

Currently, there is zero load-shedding on around 80% feeders, he said. The PTI government is determined to end load-shedding on the remaining 20% feeders by ending the electricity theft and has already brought improvement in the distribution system.

About the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI) project, he said groundwork has already been started in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The project company (TPCL) is currently negotiating the TAPI- Host Government Agreement (HGA) with the government of Pakistan.

After the signing of the HGA, the ground breaking ceremony for Pakistan would be held and it would take 30 months to complete phase-I of the project.

Work on the Iran Pakistan gas Pipeline project is stalled due to international sanctions on Iran. Pakistan has completed major project preparatory activities, including bankable feasibility study; detailed route survey; Front End Engineering & Design; installation of concrete markers on the Entire route; initiation of land acquisition process; and NOCs from environmental authorities of Balochistan and Sindh.

Recently, with the approval of the federal cabinet, Pakistan and Iran signed an amended agreement as both sides have been given a period of five years to complete the project. However, further progress is linked with lifting of US sanctions on Iran.

(With additional input from APP)

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