Govt gets two FATF-related bills passed through NA amid opposition protest

By Amir Wasim

The government on Wednesday managed to get two Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-related bills passed by the National Assembly amidst a noisy protest by the opposition.

The Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and the United Nations (Security Council) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were both moved by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan.

The bills were passed amid sloganeering from the opposition benches, mainly in protest against the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s speech in the assembly on Tuesday in which he had explained the deadlock between the government and the opposition over a number of legislations.

The noisy protest led the NA speaker to suspend proceedings on three occasions: twice when Qureshi refused to speak amid the opposition’s slogans and once soon after the passage of the bills.

In his remarks, PML-N MNA Khawaja Asif said he was speaking to present the opposition’s point of view on the foreign minister’s speech yesterday.

He said Qureshi yesterday disclosed the details of an informal meeting between the government and the opposition members held at the speaker’s residence.

“Nine members of the 25-member special parliamentary committee were having an informal meeting to discuss legislation on FATF and NAB (National Accountability Bureau). The issue was to go back to the main committee, but the foreign minister disclosed the details on the floor of the house which was against ethics and norms,” Asif added.

He said Qureshi had “crossed all the limits by disclosing details [of the meeting] which should have been kept secret” because the minister “wanted to do politics”.

“He (Qureshi) tried to give the impression that the opposition was only interested in NAB laws and not FATF. There was no need to bring these things on the record,” the PML-N lawmaker said.

He criticised Qureshi for not disclosing before the lower house that the two sides had, in fact, reached consensus on the two FATF-related bills yesterday.

“The opposition only wanted to stop the political use of the laws … We cannot allow 90 days’ detention under the pretext of economic terrorism,” he said, explaining why the two sides had disagreed on other FATF-related legislation on Tuesday.

“In the past, those who made the wrong laws, they themselves became their victim,” Asif said.

The speaker then gave Qureshi the floor three or four times to respond to Asif, but the minister refused to speak due to the opposition’s protest.

Speaker Asad Qaiser and Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri asked him to continue his speech, but he said he would do so when there was silence and order in the house.

The speaker then gave the floor to Asad Mehmood of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), but treasury members did not allow him to speak.

When the speaker put the bills for a voice vote, opposition members, mostly from the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), were present in front of the speaker dais to protest.

As the house resumed after the third suspension, instead of Qureshi, federal minister Murad Saeed responded to the opposition, accusing it of attempting to seek relief from the government for their alleged corruption. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan will not grant any such “NRO”.

Deputy Speaker Suri then gave the floor to Asad Mehmood again, but the treasury members started chanting slogans of “diesel! diesel!”.

Suri asked the government members to listen to the speech silently but they ignored the directions and continued sloganeering and in the midst of the noise, the deputy speaker read out the prorogation order.

The two bills will now be taken up by the Senate. They are not on the agenda of the upper house, but it is expected that the government will issue a supplementary agenda to get the bills passed.

Responding to Asif at a press conference in the evening, Qureshi said the government was open to discussing all pending legislation but urged the opposition to “delink” the FATF bills with the proposed changes to the accountability laws.

Law Minister Naseem while talking to media on Tuesday had confirmed the deadlock in discussions between the government and the opposition and said the FATF-related legislation had to be passed before August 6 as it was a requirement for removing Pakistan from the ‘grey list’. He declared that the government would introduce the bills on its own before the deadline.

Opposition looks to Senate

Later in the day, PML-N president and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif reached out to PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman via phone to discuss the future course of action.

The three leaders decided to constitute a committee comprising senators from the joint opposition to deliberate the FATF-related legislation and ensure it is in the “country’s best interests”.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020