ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, delivering his maiden address to the Senate, Tuesday asserted that the Parliament is supreme and the government is ready to hold talks with estranged Baloch leaders, but on the condition that they keep faith in the Constitution and respect the national flag.
Responding to queries of lawmakers in the Upper House, the premier indicated his intent to resolve problems facing Balochistan. “We will rectify the mistakes,” he said.
He told the House that the resolution of the Balochistan issue is his government’s top priority, observing that it is both political and administrative in nature.
“Baloch leaders should take part in the forthcoming elections to elect true representatives among them,” he said as he held out assurances of free and fair elections in the country.
Soon after being elected as the country’s prime minister, added the PM, “I devised a new transfer policy of civil servants in Balochistan. And now competent bureaucrats have been working there.”
In response to the concerns of Hasil Khan Bazenjo, the premier suggested to the Senate chairman to form a committee to control the brewing security situation in Khuzdar. “I have recently released funds for Kachhi Canal that would irrigate Dera Bugti area,” he said.
“The government is not blind to the challenges faced by the country. We would overcome all these difficulties through collective wisdom,” the PM told the House. “The government has been making all-out efforts to steer the country out of the menace of terrorism,” he said while appreciating the sacrifices of the military and law enforcement agencies. “We have achieved a lot. And the entire nation is behind armed forces in this fight.” Speaking about democracy and state organs, the prime minister asserted that Parliament was the supreme institution from which all other organs derive power. It was the first instance that PM Ashraf vehemently projected Parliament as the supreme institution. His predecessor, Yousaf Gilani, laid a lot of emphasis on the point in the context of NRO and contempt case in which he was (briefly) prosecuted and ousted.
In a not-so-predicted move, the government on Tuesday filed a review in the NRO case that involves writing Swiss letter, though the court and the government were widely believed as bridging the gap on the draft of the letter. In fact, one judge of the Supreme Court had said in the last hearing that they were “inches” from resolving the matter.
“Parliament is the only forum where all the problems of the masses can be resolved,” PM Ashraf said, and observed that a milestone had been achieved with the restoration of the 1973 Constitution in its original form. “Democracy should go on. It is the only system that suits the masses.”
Raja Ashraf also paid tribute to President Asif Ali Zardari for voluntarily delegating all the powers to Parliament, and recalled that military dictator Pervez Musharraf had concentrated all powers in his personality.
Nevertheless, the premier categorically stated that he was answerable to the House and he could get guidelines from it.
Earlier, upon arrival of the PM, the treasury gave him a standing ovation. The premier said his presence in the Senate was a prestige for him as this House is an important part of Parliament, where all the federating units have equal representation. “I am proud of being a middle class political worker. The present democracy in Pakistan exits due to longstanding struggle of workers,” he said adding that this was the reason that today a middle class political worker is the prime minister of Pakistan. “I think all the parliamentarians are aware of the challenges faced by Pakistan.”
He said he appreciates the role of the Opposition in the present parliamentary democracy.
The premier also announced releasing all the blocked development funds of the senators, and dispelled the impression that the funds allocated for former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s constituency in Multan were being diverted to his constituency, Gujjar Khan. He said for him there is no difference between Multan and Gujjar Khan.
During the proceedings, Petroleum Minister Dr Asim Hussain, while responding to a call attention notice regarding the increase in prices of petrol and CNG, said it was the decision of the Cabinet to fix the petroleum prices on a weekly basis, keeping in view the international trends of the increase in oil prices. He observed that the fortnight price fixing formula was not beneficial as the jump in increase was higher and actual benefit did not reach the people.
He said the Ministry of Petroleum had nothing to do with the increase, as the powers rested with the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) that came under the ambit of the Cabinet Division.
“However, Parliament has the powers to decrease the ratio of taxes levied on petroleum products, including petroleum development levy (PDL),” he added.
The mover of the notice, Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, was of the view that either Ogra be abolished or placed under the Ministry of Petroleum. He opined that the weekly oil price review formula should be ended.
Speaking on the occasion, Senate Chairman Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Deputy Chairman Sabir Ali Baloch, Leader of the House Jahangir Badr, Leader of the Opposition Ishaq Dar, Haji Muhammad Adeel, Babar Khan Ghauri, Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Kamal Ali Agha, Hamza, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri and Naseema Ehsan paid tribute to the prime minister for his meritorious services.