Govt extends olive branch to opposition amid uproar over bills

ISLAMABAD: Following an uproar over the passage of controversial bills in the National Assembly, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Tuesday appeared to extend an olive branch to the opposition, inviting it to sit down and discuss all matters of national importance.

“We want to engage the opposition on important national issues like electoral and judicial reforms and the appointment of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman,” Informa­tion and Broadcasting Minister Fawad Chaudhry told a press conference after a meeting of the federal cabinet.

Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar also attended the press conference. Mr Chaudhry said he, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar and the prime minister himself had invited the opposition to negotiate on these three issues.

However, he said the opposition was only interested in hatching conspiracies and trying to topple the government, despite constant efforts to engage them on the government’s reform agenda.

Fawad says govt willing to talk to opposition on issues such as electoral, judicial reforms, appointment of NAB chief

Interestingly, the opposition had shown its willingness to sit down with the government, provided the prime minister himself participated in the negotiations. However, Mr Chaudhry categorically said on Tuesday that PM Khan would not sit with any opposition leader, including Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif.

SBP bill

During the press briefing, the ministers also spoke about the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill 2021 — one of the two contentious pieces of legislation that are necessary to ensure that Pakistan’s sixth review of the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility gets cleared by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) executive board.

The bill was passed last week by the National Assembly during a session that lasted nearly until midnight, amid fierce objections from the opposition benches.

Energy Minister Azhar said the opposition had attempted to make the bill controversial, adding that the legislation was aimed at granting autonomy to the SBP, and drew parallels between Pakistan and developed countries.

Naval golf club

Briefing the media on other decisions taken in the cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the government’s chief spokesperson also said they would comply fully with the Islamabad High Court (IHC) decision to seal and raze the naval golf course located on Margalla Hills National Park land.

He said the cabinet had discussed the issue of encroachment of protected land by naval authorities. On Jan 11, the IHC had ordered the golf course to be razed within four weeks unless an environmentally-friendly use could be found for it.

Earlier, on Jan 7, the court had ruled the navy’s sailing club and farm houses “trespassed on the land situated on the embankment of Rawal Lake” and ordered them to be razed as well.

During a hearing on Monday, an IHC bench had also sought a compliance report from the cabinet secretary on the order to place the judgement in this case before the federal cabinet.

Conflict of interest

Talking about other decisions taken in the cabinet meeting, he said the National Assembly and Senate secretariats had been asked to avoid nominating members that have a conflict of interest, to various parliamentary committees.

“It has been observed that contractors and builders became members of committees on communications, and those owning information technology firms joined the committees concerning IT,” he said.

“This means that a member associated with a certain industry should not be included in standing committees pertaining to that particular industry,” he explained.

Mr Chaudhry also said the Ministry of Industries and Production briefed the meeting about urea production and its availability in the country.

The cabinet also okayed the reconstitution of the board of directors of Railway Construction Pakistan Limited, while the annual report of the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority was also presented before it. This is the first time in 24 years that the report has been presented on time.