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Senate seeks enhanced role, powers in key state affairs

The resolve was expressed by the senators through the unanimous passage of a resolution seeking amendments to several articles of the Constitution dealing with the relationship between the centre and the provinces and joint session of parliament.

The resolution was presented by Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq on the opening day of the new session of the Senate after the members discussed the present status of the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism and its uniform implementation in the country.

Minutes after Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman, while concluding the debate, praised the government’s performance and claimed an improvement in the security situation, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani informed the house that he had just received the news about a deadly suicide attack in Lahore.

The resolution has sought amendments to 11 articles of the Constitution dealing with the relationship between the centre and the provinces in the light of the spirit of the 18th Amendment, introduced in 2010 to provide more autonomy to the provinces.

The resolution has called for an amendment to Article 160 of the Constitution under which the government will have to seek approval of the Senate before extending the National Finance Commission (NFC) award only for one year. Moreover, the Senate will also have the powers to increase the provinces’ share by one per cent.

The proposed amendment says: “If the next Award of National Finance Commission could not be announced within five years, the government shall take permission from the Senate to extend the previous award for another year: provided that in case of extension, the Senate may increase the Award to the provinces by one per cent.”

The Senate will have the power to increase the provinces’ share by one per cent each time the government would seek one-year extension.

Through another amendment, the senators have devised a formula for granting equal rights of vote to them on any legislation during a joint sitting of parliament.

Under the formula, “one vote of a member of Senate shall be proportionate to the total number of seats in the National Assembly divided by the total number of seats in the Senate”, which means that one vote of a senator will be equal to three votes of the members of National Assembly.

After passage of the resolution, Mr Rabbani said that at present, the combined votes of 104 senators could not make any difference if all the 342 members of the National Assembly voted against them on any issue during the joint sitting of parliament.

The resolution has also suggested an amendment to Article 159(4), under which the Senate will have the powers to resolve any dispute between the federal government and a province on the issue of imposition of any federal law on the provinces.

Presently, an arbitrator to be appoi­nted by the chief justice of Pakistan has the power to decide such matters.

The senators have also suggested that chief ministers should have the right to directly address the Senate.

The resolution has also called for an amendment to Article 62 of the Constitution under which it will be necessary for a person to be a resident of the province for at least five years from where he or she wants to contest general elections. Presently, only the condition of an “enrolled voter” is mentioned in the constitution.

This provision is often misused to get outsiders elected on a seat from a province.

Similarly, the senators have suggested that besides the National Assembly speaker, the Senate chairman should also be able to preside over a joint session of parliament.

DEBATE ON NAP: Taking part in the debate, the opposition senators criticised the government for its alleged failure in implementing the NAP against terrorism.

The PPP’s Farhatullah Babar said until the state abandoned “its policy of favouring some militant groups that seek to target countries in the region and until it curbs hate speech” the fight against militancy would remain elusive.

Questioning the policy of blocking United Nations move to impose sanctions on the chief of a banned militant organisation, he said such “diabolical policies raised serious questions about our intentions and policies.”

“Today hate speech flourishes while dissent with state narrative is not only silenced but also punished covertly without recourse to law,” Mr Babar said.

The government must come out clean on the priorities it had in the fight against militancy, he said. “Are we going to fight only those militants who are targeting our citizens or are we also going to fight also those whose target is across the borders,” he asked.

Sehar Kamran and Sassui Palijo of the PPP, Tahir Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Shahi Syed of the Awami National Party and Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party also criticised the government over its alleged “inaction” over the NAP and for not taking action against seminaries.

Winding up the debate, the minister of state for interior said the prime minister himself monitored implementation of the NAP and many meetings had been held to ensure its implementation in letter and spirit. He claimed that incidents of terrorisms had significantly decreased owing to effective implementation of the NAP.

About hate speech, the minister said over 250,000 calls had been received on helpline 1717 set up to register complaints, around 16,000 cases registered against the violators and 1,435 culprits arrested.

On mapping of seminaries, Mr Rehman said 100 per cent mapping of seminaries had been completed in the federal capital, Punjab and Sindh while it was 75pc in KP, 65pc in Balochistan and 80pc in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

About TAUQEER RIAZ (2298 Articles)
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