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Rabbani unhappy with ministerial ‘abuse’ of collective responsibility

Rabbani unhappy with ministerial ‘abuse’ of collective responsibility

ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to the absence of ministers from the house, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Wednesday suspended proceedings during Question Hour when Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal was not on hand to answer questions regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The house, however, resumed proceedings after 20 minutes when the minister arrived to reply to questions related to his ministry.

The chairman also directed his secretariat to send notices to all ministers that, in the future, he would be very strict in allowing them to respond to the questions on behalf of their colleagues in the federal cabinet.

“If the ministers do not want to come [to the house], then please tell me so that I can skip Question Hour,” Mr Rabbani said, while mentioning that only two or three ministers were present in the house to give replies to questions related to other ministries.

“With effect from next session, unless it is imperative, I will not allow the ministers to use the [constitutional] provision of ‘collective responsibility’. The secretariat should send written notices to all the ministers,” the chairman directed.

“If a minister will not be present, the business [related to his ministry] will not be transacted. And then, I will see how to proceed further,” he said.

The chairman had even expressed his annoyance on Tuesday when some ministers, who were responding to the questions of the members on behalf of other ministers, failed to give satisfactory replies.

Mr Rabbani pointed out that this was why it was necessary for the minister concerned to be present in the house when business related to his or her ministry was on the agenda.

Article 91(6) of the Constitution states: “The Cabinet, together with the ministers of state, shall be collectively answerable to the Senate and the National Assembly.”

It has been a routine practice during the current, as well as past governments, that the minister concerned, instead of attending the sitting, provides a brief about the agenda item to any other minister, who then responds on his behalf.

Expressing his dismay over the absence of the ministers, Mr Rabbani said at one point in time that it was unfair that apart from Law Minister Zahid Hamid and Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Pirzada, no other cabinet member was present in the house.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid was responding to questions related to the finance ministry in the absence of Ishaq Dar.

On Tuesday, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir had given replies to questions related to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whereas Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab responded to the questions related to the communications ministry.

Later, the chairman declared the house proceedings to be held in camera to hold discussion on last month’s arrest of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav from Balochistan.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif briefed members about the progress made by the country’s security agencies in the light of the investigations with the arrested spy.

The house also continued a debate on the issue of Panama leaks.

TOTAL DEBT: Earlier, during Question Hour, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, through a written reply, informed the Senate that the total foreign and domestic debt stock, as of end-January 2016 was Rs18,694.2 billion. This includes Rs5,573.6bn ($53.122bn) in foreign debt and Rs13,120.6bn in domestic debt.

The minister said the present government had repaid foreign debt of $10.73bn, including repayment of $4.41bn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during June 2013 to January 2016.

The minister had also provided a list indicating the names of foreign countries and organisations from which the foreign debt had been obtained.

He said the government was running fiscal deficit, therefore, instead of repaying domestic debt, it had refinanced domestic debt from the domestic market.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2016

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