Accusations fly in PA over power protests

CM Shahbaz Sharif

LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif, expressing solidarity with the protesters against ‘discriminatory’ load shedding in Punjab, said that he would prefer to die rather than give orders to open fire at protesters who were distressed by the power crisis in the province.

On the other hand, Opposition Leader in Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz said that he would register a criminal case against the CM if the violent protesters tried to hit him or PML-Q’s parliamentary leader Ch Zaheer or damage their properties because he (Riaz) was sure that “Shahbaz Sharif was directly organising such rallies to victimise political opponents”.

The PA session on Tuesday started one hour, 15 minutes late from its scheduled time, under the chairmanship of Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan. After recitation from holy Quran, Raja Riaz stood up on a point of order and informed the House that several parliamentarians belonging to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), including Khalid Saleem Bhatti and Zahid Pervez, were attacked by violent protesters.

He alleged that Shahbaz Sharif was backing the violent protesters, encouraging them to hold rallies against load shedding and “plan attacks on the PPP members”.He claimed that police informed him that the CM himself had given them orders to not to stop the protesters under any circumstances.Declaring the protests to be “PML-N’s political weapon against PPP”, Riaz said that the CM was not sincere towards overcoming the power crisis in the province as he had not produced a single unit or launched a power project even though the provinces were authorised by the federal government to produce their own electricity.

Throughout Raja Riaz’s speech, the treasury members were seen making uproar in the House in an attempt to interrupt him and sabotage his arguments against the “poor governance of the Punjab government”.Upon this, the enraged opposition leader announced that he could prove that the federal government alone was not responsible for the energy crisis and that the Punjab government had equal share in it, adding that he was ready to resign if he failed to prove this. However, he said that in case he did prove it, the CM would then have to resign from office.

In response to this, Shahbaz Sharif stood on his seat and reiterated his resolve to support the masses in their ongoing protest against massive load shedding. He alleged that the “PPP-led government wanted him to use force against protesters but he would prefer to die instead of issuing orders to open fire at protesters.”He denied allegations levelled by the opposition leader and said that the PML-N was not hatching any conspiracy or “planning attacks on PPP members” as one of his own party members, Nadeem Kamran, was also attacked by enraged protesters.

Giving facts about the role of Punjab and the federal government in power crisis, he said that in the circular debt of Rs 400 billion, Punjab was only a defaulter of Rs 4 billion against other provinces, like Sindh, or federal government who were defaulters of more than Rs 100 billion. He said that the KESC was a defaulter of Rs 40 billion, of which more than Rs 20 billion were pending for payment to the federal government.He suggested that the energy crisis could be overcome by paying half of the circular debt of Rs 200 billion for continuation of power projects that were closed because of non-payment from the government.

Blaming the federal government’s “flawed policies” for the current energy crisis, the CM said that the decision of carrying out equal load shedding in all provinces, made during the last two energy summits, was not implemented.He said that the federal government was “transferring 650 megawatt (MW) electricity of Punjab to other provinces, which was unjust”.

He said that Karachi was facing cumulative electricity load shedding of only two days per week while Punjab was being subjected to more than three-and-half days shortfall, which was unjust as well as intolerable for Punjab, especially when its industrialists were paying full bills unlike other provinces.Shahbaz further said that line losses in Punjab were less then other provinces while the average of recovery of bills in the province stood at 98 percent, which was higher than other provinces. Giving details, he said that Punjab’s line losses were only 12 percent and recovery was near 98 percent while line losses in other provinces were 44 percent and recovery only 56 percent.

He refuted allegations levelled against the Punjab government of not being sincere in countering the energy crisis. He informed that as many as 500 million tonnes of coal reserves were found in Jhelum, which could help bring the country out of the current energy crisis.The CM said that an Australian company had been assigned the task to carry out a survey in Jhelum and it had confirmed presence of coal reserves in the region (in its report filed a month ago).

Ending his speech, the CM announced that he was ready to pay Rs 5 billion against the debt of Rs 4 billion on Punjab if the federal government of the PPP was ready to accept and implement five of his conditions – return of $60 million from Swiss accounts, reduction in circular debt of Rs 400, reimbursement of Hajj scam money, Rs 113 billion of Rental Power Projects (RPPs) which were declared by the Supreme Court as illegal should be given back, and loans worth billions of rupees which had been written off on political grounds in the past should be returned.

It is pertinent to mention here that it was the first time in the last four years of the PA history that the opposition members interrupted the CM during his speech.PML-Q female members, including Samina Khawar Hayyat, Seemal Kamran, Amna Ulfat, Dr Samia Amjad and Majida Zaidi, kept chanting slogans against the Punjab government upon which the treasury members tried to stop them but failing to do so, they too resorted to sloganeering against the opposition.

Later, when the opposition leader stood up to reply to the CM’s speech, the treasury started a hue and cry, rendering him unable to deliver his speech. At this point, the House reverberated with exchange of harsh words between the treasury and opposition.

Soon after, the Speaker started debate on cut motions in the proposed budget for 2012-13. Speaking on the cut motions on the allocated funds for the police department, opposition members Ch Zaheer, Seemal Kamran, Samina Khawar Hayyat and Tahir Hundli demanded the House that the department’s funds be halted as police had failed to provide security to the common man and maintain law and order in the province.Due to lack of quorum, pointed out by Samina Khawar Hayyat, the Speaker adjourned the session for Wednesday (today). – Thetribune