LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly (PA) on Thursday passed the Punjab Healthcare Bill, after a two-and-a-half-hour debate rejecting all amendments proposed by the opposition.
The session started at 11am with Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal as chair. The Chief Minister (CM), Shahbaz Sharif, entered the House at 2:30pm – in time for the debate on the healthcare bill. During the deliberation, the opposition proposed 18 amendments.
The opposition then pointed out the quorum twice but head counts revealed a full quorum.
Punjab’s financial health:
The opposition, during the session, criticised the government for its poor financial management. On a point of order, opposition member Mohsin Leghari cited a newspaper report to assert that the government is on the verge of bankruptcy due to poor governance.
He also warned that the government did not have enough money to pay salaries to its employees. The compensation cheques issued to the victims of Data Darbar attacks and official contractors had bounced, Leghari said.
Leghari also teased the CM by asking him to start a Sasti Kashti scheme “… since I have received SMS messages complaining about the government’s failure in dealing with rain-related problems,” he added.The Finance Minister, Tanveer Ashraf Kaira, said there was no financial crisis in the province. “Neither did the cheques bounce nor are we facing any fiscal deficit,” he said adding Punjab government was allowed a Rs27 billion ceiling for overdraft but at the time had used only Rs22 billion of the facility.
Points of order:
On another point of order, Chaudhry Zaheerud Din said that the Punjab could face a sugar crisis once again since an importer had cancelled the import contract. The opposition leader also demanded that the government announce a Ramzan subsidy on pulses.
Rana Sanaullah assured the House there won’t be a sugar crisis during Ramzan. He said that pulses were being imported to deal with the shortage. He also announced that government would provide flour, pulses and sugar at a subsidised rate during the holy month.
On another point of order, PPP’s Sajida Mir protested the closure of special trains from Punjab to Sindh on the eve of the urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. She stated that closing another special train would exacerbate the problems of devotees. Kaira assured the House that he would talk to the federal government to solve the problem of local pilgrims.
During the Question Hour, the progress of the Irrigation Department was on the agenda. Opposition members protested against the ‘irresponsibility’ of the treasury benches as the minister concerned, Raja Riaz Ahmad, was not present in the House.
In his absence, the Parliamentary Secretary for Irrigation, Faiza Ahmad Malik, had to answer the questions related to the department. Malik was able to satisfactorily answer some supplementary questions put by the legislators. The Irrigation Department officers in the official gallery assisted her.
After the Question Hour, the House also approved leave applications of 11 MPAs including Monis Elahi. On the occasion, the law minister remarked that since Monis Elahi never attended the sessions, his leave could not be approved. At this, the opposition members said that the chief minister had remained absent from the House proceedings for nearly two years even though he was not on leave. In the end, Monis Elahi’s leave was approved by the House at the speaker’s request.
The session was adjourned until 9am on Friday.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2010.