Senate corona session keeps striking a jarring note

Opposition says govt lacks strategy; treasury benches invite them to present one

Rizwan Shehzad May 14, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Treasury benches on Thursday lashed out at the opposition parties in the Senate for their ‘undue’ criticism of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI-led government while asking them to come up with some strategy instead of using coronavirus contagion as an excuse for political point scoring.

The second sitting of upper house session on Covid-19 once again witnessed the same blame game that the government and the opposition have been playing since start of the pandemic that has been gaining grounds in the country despite various restrictions.

Taking the floor, Leader of the House Shibli Faraz outlined the government’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus while criticizing the opposition over their failure to present any plan in the ongoing sessions of the lower and upper houses of parliament.

“What is the opposition’s strategy on Covid-19?” Faraz, who is also the federal information minister, questioned while responding to criticism from the opposition, “Does the opposition want a nationwide curfew; should the government close mosques across the country?”

Faraz also asked “what should the government do until the corona vaccine is developed and where was the opposition after calling a session of the parliament.”

Opposition to be taken on board before tabling any bill

Rejecting the notion that the federal government adopted a discriminatory attitude against the provinces, Faraz said the government has always supported all the provinces and the Centre did not want to politicize the coronavirus crisis, adding that the opposition is playing the blame game.

During his speech, Faraz advised the opposition not to raise sensitive issues like the controversy surrounding the National Commission on Minorities.

PML-N leader Mushahid Hussain Syed said the government’s response during the pandemic lacked clarity, saying the message from day one should have been that the outbreak is bigger than one party, one leader and one government.

He urged the federal government to declare a national health emergency, announce a political ceasefire and redefine the national security to include health emergencies.

Another PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan regretted the absence of Imran Khan during the sessions, saying it is very unfortunate that the premier did not fulfill his responsibilities during the pandemic. He was of the opinion that the parliament should have continued working through the contagion.

PkMAP Senator Usman Khan Kakar shocked the audience by claiming that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has not yet provided even one ventilator to Balochistan. He said there was only one laboratory in the province that could conduct test for the disease.

Criticizing the NDMA’s “unsatisfactory” performance, Kakar pointed out severe shortage of testing kits in the province. “People have to wait for 15 days to receive their test results,” he said, adding that the government is fighting the opposition instead of fighting the pandemic.

Responding to Faraz’s comments that the 18th amendment was a hurdle in preparing a uniform policy to fight the coronavirus across the country as it limits the federal government’s role to issuing policy guidelines, Kakar said conspiracies against the 18th Amendment are going on for a long time.

“The government is unhappy that people are being empowered, as the 18th Amendment gives the provinces equal rights on some subjects,” he added.

PPP Senator Rubina Khalid drew house’s attention towards “government negligence” by claiming that more than 100 doctors at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital had been infected with Covid-19.

The PPP senator said the frontline workers continually need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to fight this challenge. “However, I have come to know that doctors have to share and reuse the PPEs. This is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Is this [the government’s] preparation,” she said.

PPP Senator Rehman Malik urged the upper house to pass a resolution making coronavirus test free for the poor. While expressing reservations over the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the country, he said the government’s definition of a lockdown must be clear.

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz lauded the government’s performance, saying the government’s timely steps are the reason behind fewer virus cases in Pakistan. He felt that the special sessions seemed to be a forum for the opposition to insult the government instead of offering help.

PTI’s Faisal Javed Khan said people are learning a lot from the Turkish drama Dilirus Ertugrul, currently being aired on state run Pakistan Television (PTV).

“We flooded our cinemas with Indian films but when the premier suggested watching an Islamic drama and there was backlash. These are tools of knowledge. We can both learn from it and enjoy this drama.”

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