Treasury backbenchers keep govt on its toes in opposition`s absence
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By Hassan Belal Zaidi | 5/11/2016 12:00:00 AM
ISLAMABAD: Following the opposition walkout on Tuesday, proceedings of the National Assembly should`ve ground to a halt. Indeed, when PTI`s Lal Chand Malhi popped back into the house to point out quorum, this was probably what the opposition had in mind.

But when the sitting resumed an hour later, the treasury benches were brimming with members.

Such heavy attendance by government ministers and MNAs from the treasury benches is a rare sight, limited mostly to joint sittings or sessions where key legislation is to be passed.

Buoyed by the numbers, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq went through the heavily-pacl(ed legislative agenda of private members day in double time: six committee reports were tabled and nearly 20 agenda items were knocked off in around two hours, punctuated by lively debate on a host of issues. A large number of items moved by opposition members were deferred by the speaker since the concerned members had walked out.

But uniquely, it was treasury backbenchers who played the role of opposition, raising matters of concern and rapping the relevant ministers for not addressing their concerns. Since the criticism was coming from their own party colleagues and allies,government representatives appeared far more civil and cooperative than they would when opposition members raised similar concerns.

JUI-F`s Naeema Kishwar Khan got the ball rolling when she introduced her amendment to Rule 122 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly, seeking to constrain standing committees to report back within six months on all matters placed before them.

Even though Sheikh Aftab Ahmed, the state minister for parliamentary affairs, did not oppose the amendment, in an ironic twist, he recommended that this proposal also be sent to the relevant committee.

This did not sit well with Aliya Kamran, one of the amendment`s co-movers, who recalled that a bill she had moved regarding cannibalism had been stuck in committee for years. However, the NA speaker pointed out that under Rule 235, committee reports were supposed to be submitted within 30 days, and referred the matter to committee anyway.

Then, on a motion regarding the elimination of interest-based banking from the country also moved by Naeema Kishwar Khan the house saw fiery speeches from the likes of Fata MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi, JUI-F`s Ameer Zaman and Chitral MNA Iftikharuddin.

But just as debate on this matter was winding up, JUI-F`s Qamaruddin presented his own party`s complaints against the federal government. He accused the government of treating them like strangers, despite being coalition partners, and referring to the abduction of a JUI-F man from Karachi said that if such treatment continued to be meted out to the party, it would be forced topeacefully protest for the acceptance of their demands.

Finally, it was Dr Nisar Ahmad Jutt a PML-N MNA from Faisalabad who minced no words when he lambasted the Ministry of Water and Power for inflicting consumers with double the hours of loadshedding than officially notified.

Specifically targeting the performance of the Faisalabad and Hyderabad electric supply companies Fesco and Hesco he claimed that a few functional feeders were being overloaded, which caused them to break down.

He said he had witnessed that areas where recoveries were 100pc, were facing upto 14 hours without power. `From the XEN to the Hesco chief, nobody responded to my queries,` Dr Jutt said.

He also alleged that despite the release of grants for the purpose, electrification of villages had been unnecessarily delayed for an inordinate period.

`The poles have been erected, but there are no wires on them. Every day, we are told, `Today, or tomorrow` by the staff of the distribution company,` he said.

`The soles of our shoes have become worn, but no one wants to heed our problems. I am a representative of Pakistan and the problems of Sindh are also our problems,` he said.

In response, Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif offered to provide Dr Jutt with a feeder-wise breakdown of loadshedding, and said that consumers that were experiencing more outages than scheduled had recoveries under 50pc. He initially offered to satisfy the MNA in private, but then observed that since the matter was brought up on the house floor, he would prefer to reply at the same forum.