Lawmakers slam inadequate responses to crises; treasury benches defend relief measures to cope with pandemic. PHOTO: APP/FILE

Opposition fires broadside against govt in NA

Lawmakers slam inadequate responses to crises; treasury benches defend relief measures to cope with pandemic

Haseeb Hanif June 11, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Opposition in the National Assembly had a field day on Thursday, as several lawmakers from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and other parties fired a broadside against the treasury benches over coronavirus pandemic, locust attack and petrol shortage.

Responding to hard-hitting opposition members’ speeches, relevant ministers and advisers defended the government policies viz-a-viz multiple crises facing the country. They slammed the opposition, saying that it saw the glass half empty.

The house debated the coronavirus pandemic, fuel shortage, locust attack, privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), Karachi plane crash, as well as the overall economic situation of the country. The opposition described the government measures to cope with these crises inadequate.

Beginning the discussion, Ayesha Ghous Pasha said that the latest report of the World Health Organization (WHO) that coronavirus was getting out of control was disturbing. She said that economic impact of the pandemic had not been discussed so far.

Referring to Wednesday’s meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, Pasha said that the forum set the next year’s economic growth target at 2.1%. “On what basis are you predicting a 2.1% growth rate when the world [economy] is contracting?” she said.

“There is negative growth this year. You are pulling the wool over the people’s eyes. The budget that is being made is not real, I am giving you in black and white that we will not be able to achieve the target of this [upcoming] budget.”

Kishwar Zahra said that Karachi was in pain. She criticised the Prime Minister for not visiting the city after the May 22 crash of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight in a residential area. “How long will injustices with the people of Karachi continue?”

Qadir Patel raised the issues of sugar and flour crises. He said people have lost their trust in the government. “There is 400% increase in prices of medicines. The sugar scandal had surfaced but the impact of the locust attack is yet to be known, while petrol supply has dried up,” he said.

Treasury member Aliya Hamza said that the opposition was criticising that Prime Minister Imran Khan could not do anything after the emergence of coronavirus pandemic but they should change the lens to see the government’s relief programmes, which won praises globally.

Khawaja Asif said that on March 17, the prime minister had said that coronavirus was a flu and it would come and go. on March 18, he said that the country could not afford a lockdown. In April, he said it was estimated that there would 50,000 virus patients, but the number was only 15,000.

Opposition lambasts govt over lack of uniform policy on coronavirus

Then he said that the elite wanted the lockdown, Asif continued. On June 4, he [Imran] said that he knew the easing of lockdown would spread coronavirus. Then the prime minister said that if coronavirus was not taken seriously, it would cause harm, Asif added.

“Please somebody tell me the meaning of these statements. There are 3 million affected people in Lahore alone. We didn’t meet the right conditions, yet the lockdown was lifted,” he charged. “Pakistan is moving towards becoming the most-affected country from coronavirus pandemic,” he added.

Speaking about the privatisation of the PSM, Khawaja Asif told the house that the opposition did not have any objections to the members of the privatisation committee, barring the name of Prime Minister Special Assistant for Overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari.

Turning to the overall performance of the government, now in its second year in office, Asif advised the ruling party to compare their performance with the previous PML-N government. “Today, petrol is looking for buyers all over the world but buyers in our country are desperately looking for petrol.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr Noshin Hamid responded that Pakistan was in a position to make its own N95 mask. She said that the country had increased the facilities for Covid-19 patients manifold. “We have achieved the capacity of 46,000 tests daily.”

Mufti Abdul Shakoor said that coronavirus pandemic was a health issue, therefore, the medical experts should have the final say on this matter. He demanded incentives for educational institutions. “We have closed all religious schools.”

Food Security Minister Syed Fakhar Imam said that Balochistan was worst affected by locust attack this year Pakistan in such a number that the damage could be reduced as much as last year. He added that remedial measures had been taken all over the country.

Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali the PML-N and the PPP took turns in the government many times but they could not fix the steel mill issue. He added that whenever a government came, it said the treasury was empty. “And even in 2020, the situation is the same.”

Mohsin Dawar said that tribal areas are once again suffering due to targeted killings. “Once again a wave of terrorism has risen. I want to tell everyone that terrorism has risen again and this time, it will be tougher than in the past,” he said.

Babar Awan, while responding to the points raised by the opposition, said that he agreed with Khawaja Asif that there should no politics on coronavirus pandemic. He assured that the privatization of the PSM, the PIA and other utilities would be transparent and in accordance with the law.

Turning to sugar scandal, he asked the opposition as to who made the commission on sugar. “This is the credit goes to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The commission was made despite threats to the government, as big names are included in the sugar mafia.

He said that the prime minister had directed for immediate enactment of the Conflict of Interest Act. He assured the house that he would speak with the prime minister for the resolution of the issues facing the madrassas.

About the government’s relief measures in the wake of coronavirus spread, he pointed out that Pakistan was one of the lucky countries where food chain had survived. “I would like to draw the attention of the House to the glass half full,” he said.

Speaking about the tribal districts, he warned that those who had a wishful thinking of a state within the state in these areas, must get rid of this faulty notion. The merged districts were now at par with settled districts of K-P like Mardan and Peshawar, he added.

MQM lawmaker Iqbal Muhammad Ali walked out of the meeting as he could not speak during the session. The National Assembly session was adjourned till 4 pm Friday.


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