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ISLAMABAD: In a dramatic turn of events, the opposition, Thursday, allowed the treasury benches to get three government bills passed in Senate— unanimously—despite putting up a ‘fierce’ resistance against these legislative drafts: OGRA (Amendment) Bill 2022, OGRA (Second Amendment) Bill 2022 and Allied Health Professionals Council Bill 2022.

During Senate proceedings, Parliamentary Affairs State Minister Ali Muhammad Khan, on behalf of Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Affairs Advisor Babar Awan, sought to move a motion to present the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority Bill (Amendment) Bill 2022, which was opposed by the opposition senators despite that Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat already passed that bill.

Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) opposed the bill and proposed amendments to it, saying that approval from Council of Common Interests (CCI) was mandatory before the passage of the bill. In addition, he said, public hearing by OGRA is necessary for the determination of the tariff but this provision is not part of the bill despite that it deals with gas prices.

The JI senator showed some official documents on the floor of the house to argue that the bill was being moved on the behest of International Monetary Fund (IMF)— and CCI approval, as well as, public hearing were necessary for the passage of the bill.

“How can IMF dictate Pakistan’s Parliament? This bill would empower the government authorities to charge tariff based on revenue requirements whereas the amendments I want to introduce would allow the gas tariff to be determined on the basis of gas production,” Ahmed said.

Senate panel approves two amendments to Ogra bill

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat Rana Maqbool from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) said the committee considered different aspects of the bill before passing it. He; however, agreed with the JI senator that the bill should be referred back to committee to incorporate amendments.

Leader of the Opposition Yousuf Raza Gillani first said that opposition was ready to support the two government bills related to OGRA on the condition that ministers assure the opposition to incorporate amendments in the two bills later. However, after the JI senator raised the issue of CCI approval and public hearing, Gillani said, the opposition cannot support these two bills unless they were put up before CCI, and the issue of public hearing was addressed.

Former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said the Senate would take an unconstitutional step if it proceeded ahead to pass the two OGRA-related bills.

“I feel ashamed to be part of this process — for how long can we compromise on our conscience and dignity? Law is very clear; CCI approval is required for this bill to get passed — anything else would be unconstitutional,” he said.

Sherry Rehman from PPP also strongly criticised the government for introducing the two bills in the Senate, saying government was committing “blunders one after another that have rendered it totally unpopular among the public.”

Leader of the House in Senate Dr Shahzad Waseem opposed that the OGRA bills should be referred back to committee. “These bills have been cleared by the committee. It makes no sense to send them back to committee after they have been passed by the panel. They (opposition) have representation of their best people in the committees that passed the bills. Don’t they trust their own lawmakers?” he stated.

Waseem said that opposition would often insist that government bills should be referred to the committee. “Now, when the bills have been passed by the committee—they have problems — this is not appropriate — we urge them to get these bills passed and we assure that their amendments would be incorporated later,” leader of the house said.

Ali Muhammad, the Parliamentary Affairs State Minister, and Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz also assured the opposition that their amendments would be incorporated later.

However, the opposition leader warned that the bills would be defeated if presented in the house, keeping in view that opposition members were greater in number compared to treasury when the debate on the two OGRA bills was going on.

“You are greater in number at the moment. If you defeat our bills — it’s your prerogative — but remember it would not be a good precedent. Few days back, we were greater in number in this house but still we allowed a bill of yours to get passed,” leader of the house addressed the opposition leader.

Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani deferred the two OGRA-related bills and took up the Allied Health Professionals Council Bill 2022, which was also opposed by the opposition.

The chairman then ordered voice vote on the motion to introduce the bill in the house.

Interestingly, the motion had a tie — with 29 votes each went in favour and against the bill. The chairman voted for the treasury benches — allowing the motion to introduce the bill by just one vote.

But, when the bill was presented, the opposition did not oppose it at all —leading to its unanimous passage.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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