ISLAMABAD: The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority got a legal cover on Thursday with the unanimous passage of the CPEC Authority Bill by the Senate in the absence of the opposition.
The bill already passed by the National Assembly landed in the Senate through supplementary agenda at the fag end of the day’s proceedings.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan had initially tried to table a motion seeking immediate consideration of the bill on behalf of Minister for Planning Asad Umar, but following the opposition’s objection that an adviser cannot do it, the motion was moved by Minister for Science and Technology Shibli Faraz.
The opposition wanted the bill to be sent to the non-existent standing committee concerned. However, Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem highlighting the urgency said the CPEC was an important project linked with economic prosperity of Pakistan. He said the budget for the next fiscal year was just around the corner and the bill’s immediate passage was essential for budgetary consideration.
PPP calls for new agreement for fair water distribution between provinces
Leader of Opposition Yousuf Raza Gilani said there was no objection to the bill and they recognised special relationship of Pakistan with China. However, he objected to bringing the bill in the House through supplementary agenda at the end of the day. “Why cannot it be taken up tomorrow,” he questioned and said it should be referred to the standing committee.
Dr Waseem rejected the objections saying it was the right of the government to bring supplementary agenda any time.
He requested the chair to ask the House whether the bill should be sent to the committee or not.
The opposition members started leaving the House when the motion was being moved, giving a carte blanche to the treasury side.
The House allowed consideration of the bill and unanimously passed it amid a walkout by the opposition.
About an hour before the passage of the CPEC bill, the opposition had defeated the government by one vote to block immediate passage of a human rights bill.
Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari wanted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2021, aimed at establishing an effective system of protection of women, children, elderly and vulnerable persons against domestic violence, already passed by the National Assembly, to immediately sail through the Senate. However, the opposition insisted on sending it to the standing committee concerned first.
Mr Gilani agreed that it was an important legislation that had taken months to be cleared from the National Assembly but said it should be referred to the standing committee.
Dr Mazari pointed out that the bill had remained pending for 10 months in the National Assembly’s standing committee on human rights headed by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Dr Waseem advised the chair to ask the House whether the bill should be taken up for immediate passage. The opposition defeated the government by 35-34 through voice vote and the bill was referred to the standing committee concerned.
The Senate chairman directed the yet to be formed committee to present its report to the House two days after its formation.
A bill to provide for well-being, comfort and dignity of senior citizens residing in the Islamabad Capital Territory [The Islamabad Capital Territory Senior Citizens Bill, 2021], already passed by the National Assembly, was also referred to the standing committee.
Another highlight of the day’s proceedings was a call from the opposition to replace the 1992 water accord with a new agreement for fair distribution of water between the provinces, and acknowledgement of the need to review the water accord by the PTI’s former minister for water resources Faisal Vawda.
Raising the issue in the House, PPP stalwart Mian Raza Rabbani said the provinces were facing the issue of water shortage for several years.
He said the 1991 water accord had failed to address the tension between the provinces over water sharing and resultantly the provinces were hurling allegations each other.
He suggested formation of the committee of the whole to work out a new water accord on the pattern of 1945 water agreement between Sindh and Punjab.
He said chief ministers of the four provinces and water experts should also be invited to attend the meeting.
He expressed alarm over the opening of Taunsa Panjnad Link Canal despite a 3-1 majority decision against opening it recently taken at a meeting of the Indus River System Authority (Irsa).
The opposition staged a token walkout from the House against ‘irresponsible attitude’ of Irsa.
Mr Vawda said it was true that the previous government of Punjab had usurped rights of other provinces in water sharing through telemetry system. He agreed that there was a need to review 1991 water accord.
The Senate was assured during the question hour that entire population of the country would be vaccinated against Covid-19 within next three years.
During the question hour, speaking on behalf of the health minister, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ai Mohammad Khan said Pakistan had now reached the point of administering vaccine to 10,0000 persons per day and so far, 3.3 million people had been either partially or fully vaccinated and the total number of completely vaccinated people stood at over 1.5 million.
He assured the House that no intending Pakistani pilgrim would be deprived of an opportunity to perform Hajj due to being administered Chinese vaccine.
He was responding to a calling attention notice on the exclusion of Chinese vaccines from the list of vaccines approved by the Saudi Authorities for the pilgrims, due to which a large number of Pakistanis who have received Chinese vaccines will not be able to travel to Saudi Arabia this year for performing Hajj and Umra.
Mr Khan said assurance had been held out by the Saudi authorities at highest level that the issue would be addressed.
He said Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had taken up the issue with his Saudi counterpart whom he met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.
Responding to another calling attention notice, by PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz, Mr Khan made it clear that there was no shortage of funds for under-construction Mohmand dam and noted that in March 2020, 2,000 workers were engaged at the project but due to the coronavirus, 1,700 had to leave. However, he continued that presently 3,500 workers were working on the project, including the Chinese, but bulk of them was locals.
He said the government’s seriousness for timely completion of the project could be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan had visited the project site at least thrice. On its completion, the dam would have a major impact on flood fighting, water scarcity, water table issues and generation of cheaper electricity, he said.