NA makes changes in seven British-era laws: Law reforms, Pemra bills passed
ISLAMABAD, Feb 15: The government rushed four bills – three of them key laws – through the National Assembly on Thursday in a record for a single day, pulling off a feat to keep quorum in a house plagued by absenteeism and opposition boycotts.
The drafts passed included a Law Reforms Bill that seeks quick disposal of court cases by amending seven criminal and civil laws and must be passed by the Senate as well to become law, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority
(Pemra) (Amendment) Bill aimed mainly to allow newspaper owners to run private television channels.
The bill has already been passed by the Senate as recommended by a mediation committee of both houses of parliament and now only needs a presidential assent to come into force.
The third legislation passed was the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) (Amendment) Bill that takes away FPSC powers to extend the tenure of contract government employees of basic pay scale of 16 and above and gives them to the government.
The passage of Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources Bill — providing for the establishment of a council of research in water resources and also recommended by a mediation committee of both houses — made it a record for the present National Assembly’s life of more than four years to pass four bills in a single day in what seemed to be a hurry to make up for time lost to inaction during the past nine days of the present session.
In a dramatic departure from the previous days of this session, the ruling coalition kept the quorum of the house on Thursday even when the combined opposition staged a token walkout during the second reading of the Law Reforms Bill, which was left incomplete after a lack of quorum cut short proceedings on Wednesday.
The opposition returned to the house afterwards, but MMA members again boycotted the legislative business for the day. It was the PPP Parliamentarians and other opposition parties that stayed back until the house was adjourned although none of their amendments proposed mainly by PPP’s Zafar Ali Shah, Abdul Mujib Pirzada and Nayyar Bokhari were accepted by the ruling coalition.
But the house approved some amendments moved by Law and Justice Minister Mohammed Wasi Zafar while passing the Law Reforms Bill, which has been pending since 2005 and makes numerous changes in seven British-era laws to meet what a statement accompanying the draft called “a dire need of reforming the laws inter alia for expeditious disposal of cases and to provide justice to the people without delay”.
The laws sought to be amended by it are: The Pakistan Penal Code, 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898; the General Clauses Act, 1897; the Specific Relief Act, 1877; the Powers of Attorney Act, 1882; the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908; and the Registration Act, 1908.
Mr Zafar Ali Shah, who complained that some of his amendments were made anfractuous by ones the law minister sent after the standing committee gave its report, said though the bill aimed at quick disposal of cases, it engaged more in verbosity than content and that the case law over the years would prove its efficacy.
The law minister, as also done by Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain, offered unusual compliments to the PPP member from Sindh for his interest in an important law although he said many even in the legal profession to whom he sent the draft for advice failed even to read it.
TORTUOUS JOURNEY: Mr Shah again led the opposition assault on some provisions of the Pemra Bill, which reached its passage after a long and tortuous journey and gives effect to a cabinet decision made as early as July 2003 to do away with cross-media restrictions on launching private television and radio channels.
But he found the government unwilling to accept any of his amendments, including those seeking representation of parliament, journalists and provinces on a Pemra Board and reduction of fine for violations to one million rupees as provided in the original Pemra Ordinance of 2002 from the increased Rs10 million.
The other aims of the 28-clause bill, as mentioned in its statement of objects and reasons, include strengthening the enforcement mechanism by giving Pemra more powers for imposing and recovering fines, acquiring search warrants and seizing equipment used for illegal operations, empowering it with “regulatory tools to issue determination and regulations” and strengthening the role of a Council of Complaints as a mediator between the Authority and the general public.
Even before it was finally passed on Thursday after being overtaken in the midst of its second reading by the Law Reforms Bill in the house agenda on Wednesday, Mr Shah said the new law would further bureaucratise the Pemra and increase the government’s hold on the electronic media.
DISSENT ON FPSC BILL: A strong dissent was voiced against the FPSC (Amendment) Bill by PPP secretary-general Raja Pervez Ashraf and his party colleagues Nayyar Bokhari, Zafar Ali Shah, Yasmeen Rehman and Zulfikar Gondal for what they saw as weakening of the FPSC as the recruiter of civilian bureaucracy. Some of them even brought in the controversial curtailment of the tenure of the FPSC’s chairman and members to three years from five, though a presidential ordinance is pending before the Supreme Court.
A joint dissenting note by PPP’s Abdul Mujeeb Pirzada and Nawab Mohammed Yousuf Talpur and MMA’s Samia Raheel Qazi as members of a standing committee that considered the bill said they could not support the draft because it would give the government “arbitrary powers of appointment of government officers on contract basis without any transparency”. It said the bill was also “likely to encourage corruption in ministries where bribe will become the order of the day and officers will be appointed on the basis of favouritism, and provincial quota will also be disregarded.”
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain on Thursday agreed to a demand of the opposition members to hold a debate on the recent decision of the World Bank (WB) on controversial Baglihar Dam and directed Federal Minister for Water and Power Liaqat Jatoi to arrange a briefing for the MNAs on the issue before the debate.