Avoiding voting, Senate chief refers Secret Act bill to body

ISLAMABAD   -  Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani on Wednesday saved the outgoing government from embarrassment by not allowing voting on the controversial bill, which seeks to amend the Official Secrets Act, after the proposed law faced fierce opposition from both sides of the aisle. The chairman referred the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023 to the standing committee concerned without taking the sense of the house and despite a demand of both the treasury and the opposition that the proposed law should be rejected immediately.

A day earlier, the government had managed to get the bill passed from the National Assembly, which gives blanket powers to the intelligence agencies to raid and search any premises without a warrant, seize any document by the use of force, and detain a citizen under the suspicion of breaching official secrets. Soon after Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar moved the bill on behalf of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, there was rumpus in the house as both the treasury and opposition members stood up from their seats as a protest and started raising slogans of ‘no, no, and ‘the bill is rejected.’

Without taking the sense of the house, the chairman Senate immediately referred the bill to the committee concerned. The lawmakers from both sides demanded the chair to put the bill to vote as they wanted to reject it. Former Chairman Senate and PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani; National Party Senator Tahir Bizenjo; and JUI-F Senators Karmran Murtaza, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haider and Maulana Attaur Rehman were among the prominent lawmakers who opposed the government bill and demanded to reject the same immediately. On this, Sanjrani ruled that the bill has already been referred to and cannot be rejected this way. He added that he would put it to vote when the government would bring the proposed law for passage.

Even before this, it was a tough day for the outgoing government in the house as both the treasury and opposition severely criticized the legislative process being witnessed in the upper house of the parliament during the past week. Besides the opposition, some treasury lawmakers themselves objected to the two bills, the Higher Education Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023 despite the Education Minister Rana Tanveer Hussain pressing for their immediate passage.

Bothe the bills were referred to the standing committee concerned after the lawmakers including Senator Rabbani and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Senator Mushatq Ahmed, among others, said that they wanted to bring amendments in these. At one point when the education minister was arguing for the immediate passage of bills, Senator Ahmed said the past week’s legislative process had turned the house into a “joke” globally and on social media. “Why has a floodgate of legislation been opened in the government’s last days,” he said adding that “the government should not have done this when few days have left in its tenure.” JI lawmaker urged that there should be some quality legislation in the house after thoroughly holding a debate on the bills. He reprimanded the government by saying that when the National Assembly would approve charters for 25 universities in a day, then “what would people say about you.” PML-Q Kamal Ali Agha said that the argument was wrong that any bill should be passed by the upper house without examining it because the National Assembly has already approved it. He added that then the Senate should be closed down. PPP Senator Raza Rabbani in his strongly worded criticism said that new traditions were being laid down. “I feel that I have not been sent to the Senate but to a princely state where I am blindfolded, handcuffed, and I endorse whatever the ministers say or whatever comes after being passed by the cabinet”. Senator Rabbani said his rights as an individual parliamentarian were being “mauled”, adding that his proposed amendments to the Federal Urdu University Bill were not being considered. The senators’ right to deliberate and vote on amendments should not be taken away, he also said. “We are setting bad precedents,” he said while advising his own government. JUI-F Senator Kamran Murtaza also opposed the bill. Earlier, the house passed four bills including the Pakistan Civil Aviation Bill, the Pakistan Air Safety Investigations Bill, the Pakistan Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill and the National Commission for Human Development (Amendment) Bill.

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