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The federal government on Wednesday presented two key bills, the Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Foreign Exchange Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Upper House of the Parliament, which finally met on Wednesday after an unprecedented gap of almost four months.
Both the bills were passed by the National Assembly more than three months ago and they were tabled in the Senate in line with the federal government's commitments with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Both the bills have been referred to the relevant standing committees. The National Assembly had passed these bills on September 30, 2019.
Moreover, two new bills including the Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority Bill, 2019 and the Geographical Indications (Registration and Protection) Bill, 2019 were laid in Senate and these were also referred to the standing committees concerned.
According to federal government, the proposed amendments in the Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2019 "aim at streamlining the existing AML law in line with international standards and suggest enhancing the punishment of offence of money laundering to make it more dissuasive and deterrent. The amendments suggest to make the offence punishable under the AML Act, 2010 as 'cognizable offence.' These amendments would also allow Financial Monitoring Unit to seek Egmont Group Membership (Group of Financial Intelligence Unit) which is the requirement under the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations."
Moreover, the Foreign Exchange Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks necessary amendments in Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 (FERA, 1947) "in order to enable the State Bank of Pakistan to regulate the foreign exchange regime in Pakistan more comprehensively as well as to strengthen the effectiveness of the Act." The bill proposes to enhance the punishments provided in Section 23 of FERA, 1947 to create firmer deterrence against contravention of various provision of the Act.
Presiding over the session, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani referred both the bills, presented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Azam Swati, to the standing committees concerned for reviewing them.
Earlier, speaking on the floor of the House, Leader of the Opposition in Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq slammed the federal government for summoning the sessions of the Senate and National Assembly in "absolute and unjustified haste."
Addressing the chair, he said, "Mr. Chairman, we want to know why are the Senate and NA summoned in emergency? What is the rationale behind such strange moves? On one hand, the Senate was not summoned for four months and on the other hand, it has been summoned in such a hasty manner. Both these scenarios cannot be justified under any pretext."
Haq said the government is showing complete disregard to the sanctity of the Senate and is least interested in the legislative business concerning the Parliament. "Things cannot go on like this. The government functionaries are answerable to the Parliament. They should be held accountable."
Former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said, "The President is part and parcel of the Parliament but it seems that he has no respect for the Parliament. The Senate session was not summoned for so long and when it has been summoned, it's done in such haste. By keeping the session under recession, the President and the government attempted to breach the sanctity of the Upper House of the Parliament. We, the members of the House, were stopped from performing our duties as parliamentarians."
Rabbani also slammed the recently promulgated the National Accountability Bureau (Amendment) Ordinance 2019, saying it exempted the judges, military, businessmen and bureaucrats from accountability. "Only, we, the politicians have been left behind to be held accountable. This is selective accountability. We not only reject it but shall also resist it at every forum."
Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the four "institutions" of the country, government, opposition, military and judiciary, have made mistakes. "All of us have made mistakes. We have to move on and come together for the resolution of the problems we are faced with." He urged the treasury and opposition benches in both Senate and NA to come together and forge consensus on the appointment of the chief election commissioner and two members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). "If we can't even agree on the appointment of CEC and two ECP members, are we capable of anything?"
Faisal Javed from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) defended the NAB (Amendment) Ordinance 2019 and denied that the government is pursuing discriminatory accountability. "There is no discrimination. The law does not differentiate between the powerful and the poor. It sees the things in black and white. The truth is that the opposition is working on one-point agenda; to get their leaders freed who are in jails for mega corruption. The opposition members have no interest in legislative business. All they are doing is to try to pressurize the government to get leverage for their cronies who are behind the bars for their misdeeds. This is not going to happen."
The Senate session has been adjourned till today (Thursday) 3:00pm.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020