ISLAMABAD: Terming the Supreme Court’s decision to give control of Karachi’s three major hospitals to the federal government an “attack” on the 18th constitutional amendment, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Thursday declared on the floor of the National Assembly that they “will not let anyone snatch the rights of the provinces”.
“We have not yet seen the detailed court order. But if the Supreme Court has really snatched these institutions from Sindh, then people will take it as an attack on the 18th amendment and it will be difficult for us to explain it to them,” the young PPP chairman said while speaking on a point of order on the day Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar retired from office.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the people would ask how a decision made by the elected representatives with a two-thirds majority could be declared void by one or two “non-elected people with a single stroke of the pen”.
“You are seeking money from the world. If the [federal] government will keep these hospitals, what will happen?” he said, adding that he wanted a guarantee from the Centre that it would ensure provision of Rs14 billion for continuing free treatment at the National Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases (NICVD), one of the three hospitals whose control the court had handed over to the federal government.
The PPP chairman, whose party is ruling Sindh province, further said that he would send the bill to Finance Minister Asad Umar for the recovery of the amount the provincial government had spent on this hospital to turn it into a world-class institution.
A five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar with a 4-1 majority had dismissed on Wednesday the Sindh government’s appeal claiming the ownership of three major hospitals in Karachi in the wake of devolution of the health sector under the 18th amendment.
Besides NICVD, the hospitals concerned are the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and National Institute of Child Health (NICH).
The PPP leader also lashed out at Prime Minister Imran Khan for his long absence from the house.
Later, a number of other opposition members, including PPP stalwart Syed Khursheed Shah, also severely criticised the prime minister for constantly ignoring the parliament and for, what they stated, “trying to run the parliament and the country through social media website Twitter while sitting in his Banigala residence.”
The treasury members were unable to give a satisfactory response to the opposition’s criticism and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan simply said the prime minister would soon come to the house and respond to the questions of the members.
Referring to the latest tweet by Mr Khan in which he had asked why lawmakers were “so scared” of the Exit Control List (ECL) and why they were so keen to go abroad, the PPP chairman said he wanted to reply the prime minister to his face but “perhaps, he [PM] has no courage.”
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he didn’t care if his name remained on the ECL or not as “it is not a favour, but a fundamental right”. He said the chief justice in the presence of lawyers, the attorney general and senior journalists had ordered that his name be removed from the ECL and “expunged” from the report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that had been formed to probe into fake bank accounts case.
He recalled that the chief justice had even summoned a member of the JIT to explain under whose directives they had included his name and that of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in the report.
He said the detailed order issued by the SC on Wednesday did not mention the question put by the court to the JIT member, saying that his lawyers were looking into the matter.
“Democratic governments should protect the fundamental rights of the people,” he said, adding that the opposition parties in their recent joint meeting had decided they would make no compromise on democracy and economic and human rights in the country.
Responding to Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s speech, Minister for Communications Murad Saeed justified the government’s decision to place the names of the PPP leaders on the ECL, saying they had seen a former finance minister run away from the country in the aircraft owned by a former prime minister.
The minister said the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had nothing to do with the SC’s order regarding the control of hospitals and assured the house that the PTI did not have any desire to roll back the 18th constitutional amendment. He said that on one hand the PPP chairman was praising the chief justice for ordering removal of his name from the ECL and on the other he was criticising the same CJ in the hospitals’ case.
The speech by firebrand member of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Khawaja Saad Rafique was the other highlight of the day’s proceedings.
Mr Rafique, who has been under the custody of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with a housing scam and attending the session after issuance of his production order by the speaker, said the government should not be afraid of the opposition parties’ unity.
He said the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by the PPP and PML-N leaders in 2006 was the second most sacred document after the Constitution and other parties should be asked to become part of it.
The PML-N legislator said that although the opposition did not recognise the PTI’s mandate, it did not want to destabilise the government as they feared that while doing so they might cause collapse of the whole system.
“First Yousuf Raza Gillani was expelled and then Nawaz Sharif was removed in an unnatural way. We don’t want Imran Khan to be expelled in the same fashion. The prime ministers should not be expelled through such decisions,” he said, adding that such practices should now be discontinued.
The PPP members also criticised the government for not releasing Rs90 billion to Sindh from its share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award even though the province had collected largest amount of revenue among all the provinces.
State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar said the federal government did not want to deprive the provinces of their rights and the issue would soon be settled as they were planning to convene a meeting of the NFC.
At the outset of the sitting, the speaker announced that the Election Commission of Pakistan had suspended 72 members of the house for not submitting the details of their assets as per the law. Later, he ordered a number of legislators, including PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, to leave the house as they could not attend the session till the time their membership was restored by the ECP.