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Government presents ‘contentious’ ordinances before NA

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ISLAMABAD: As it faces challenges to the recently promulgated ordinances about the accountability law and the elections, the federal government on Thursday tabled the Election (Amendment) Ordinance 2024 and National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance 2024 through supplementary agenda while the PTI described the laws “politically motivated”.

The NAB law increases the remand period from 14 days to 40 days; whereas the election law allows the government to appoint retired judges to the election tribunals, a move already challenged in the Islamabad and Lahore high courts.

Even before Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar laid before the house the ordinances, PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council Chief Whip Aamir Dogar, while speaking on a point of public importance, criticised the NAB ordinance.

He recalled that in April 2023 the PDM government reduced the period of physical remand from 90 days to 14 days but now the period has been increased to 40 days because the government was afraid of Imran Khan.

Speaking about the changes to the election law, he said in 2013 a committee on electoral reforms decided that retired judges would not be appointed to election tribunals. The law minister said that the Elections Act 2017 had a provision for retired judges, which had been restored through the recent ordinance.

He said the decision was made because the high courts were “overburdened” with 82,000 cases and could not spare judges. He noted that ordinances were promulgated when the National Assembly was not in session, adding that the ordinances have become properties of the house and will be decided through voting. The House also extended The Seed (Amendment) Ordinance, 2024 for 120 days with effect from June 13.

Wheat scandal

During the question hour, Minister Tarar informed the National Assembly that the investigations into the wheat import scandal were underway while opposing the idea of a judicial probe. “You can take a briefing from the minister for food security in the chamber and examine the inquiry report,” he said.

The minister said the issue must not be taken to the judiciary as it was the job of the executive and parliament. He explained that the permission for import had been given to the private sector on the basis of market assessment, and the government did not import wheat itself.

The minister said the crash in the global wheat market led to domestic prices falling to between Rs 2,800 and Rs 3,200 per mound. He said that the State Bank was asked for additional funds, resulting in Rs2,250 billion in loans for the agriculture sector and provinces have also been urged to play their role to facilitate the farmers.

Mr Tarar said agriculture contributes up to 23 per cent of GDP, making it a crucial sector.

The National Seed Development Regulatory Authority has been established, a seed procurement tracking system has been introduced, and both central and provincial budgets will reflect subsidies for the agricultural sector, he said.

The response failed to satisfy the house members who rejected the inquiry calling it an eye-wash. Dr Nafisa Shah said, “Even if those responsible are not to be punished we should be told what happened [in wheat scam]”. She also sought the details of SIFC’s corporate farming, including the land acquisition and status of the project.

PTI lawmaker Aslam Ghumman claimed that he could “prove that the then caretaker prime minister [Anwaarul Haq Kakar] and the caretaker Punjab chief minister [Mohsin Naqvi] were involved” in the scandal.

Chaman sit-in

National Assembly Opposition Leader Omar Ayub, while speaking on a point of order, called for an end to enforced disappearances and condemned restrictions “being imposed on the use of camera by media persons and YouTubers on premises of the Parliament House”.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman, meanwhile, talked about the sufferings of people in Chaman in Balochistan and Angor Ada and Jamrud in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Presiding officer Shehla Raza said the interior minister should come to the National Assembly and give a statement on the Chaman issue.

MQM-P lawmaker Was­eem Hussain mentioned the death of 25 people in a cylinder blast in Hyder­abad and condemned the federal government for not responding to the sufferings of victims there.