Senate passes OGRA bills in shock govt victory

The opposition on Thursday suffered a defeat in the Senate despite its numerical majority as the government managed to have three bills passed by the house.

During key the legislation, the opposition parties were unable to show their majority as the treasury benches went on to have two amendment bills to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) Ordinance passed as well as the Allied Health Professional Council Bill.

Before the introduction of the Ogra (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the Ogra (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022 in the house for their approval, the opposition lawmakers demanded that they should be referred to the relevant standing committee again.

However, the ministers pointed out that they had been unanimously passed by the relevant committee and referring it back to the body was not just unprecedented but would also create an embarrassing situation for it.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan moved the two Ogra amendment bills in the house.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan sought permission to introduce further amendments in the bills.

Federal Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz responded that it was against parliamentary tradition to make changes in the bills when the relevant committee had unanimously them.

Leader of the Opposition in the House Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government should assure the opposition member that it would consider his amendments later, to which Shibli replied in the affirmative.

However, Senator Mushtaq maintained that the government had moved the two amendment bills at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – which was tantamount to abolishing the role of parliament.

Shibli told him that regulatory authorities should not be under the control of the government. He added that the IMF or the Council of Common Interests (CCI) had nothing to do with the bills. “We want to empower the regulatory authority through this legislation.”

Chipping in the debate, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani said the CCI had been sidelined by the government while making the move. “The government is transferring powers to the authorities from the federation at the request of the IMF,” he added.

Senator Sherry Rehman, also of the PPP, carried the argument forward by saying that the authorities concerned should be made independent but not more than the country itself.

“Don’t make the Senate a party in such matters. If such bills are passed, then where will the rights of the provinces go?” she asked.

The minister of state for parliamentary affairs said the government could not even think of violating CCI or the Constitution.

Leader of the House Senator Shahzad Waseem urged the House to pass the bills as they were unanimously approved by the standing committee, which comprised of members from all parties.

After disagreement between the government and the opposition on the bills, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani postponed them and allowed the Allied Health Professional Council Bill to be introduced in the House.

The number of treasury members in the House was 42 against 57 of the opposition.

However, 29 votes were cast in favour of the bill and a similar number were cast against it. It all came down to the chairman, who quipped that he was in trouble once again. He later cast his vote in the favour of the government. On the occasion of the bill’s approval, no opposition member raised any objection and the legislation was passed unanimously.

 Later, on the request of the treasury members, the chairman, allowed the Ogra amendment bills to be introduced in the House again.

In protest against the move, the opposition walked out of the House, after which the government easily passed both the bills.

The opposition raised the issue of the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products in the House, but the matter could not be discussed after its walkout.

Speaking on a point of objection, opposition leader Gilani pointed out that the whole nation was worried about the rise in fuel prices.

He added that the government should not overburden the people in this manner and the opposition rejected the price hike.

Leader of the House Senator Waseem replied that the prices of petroleum products had increased by 35% in the last two months in the global market.

“Today, the price of a barrel of oil in the international market has gone up to $93,” he added.

The senator further maintained that the government had reduced the levy tax on petroleum products and brought the sales tax on them to zero.

“The government is carrying as much burden as it can.”

The statement of objects and reasons of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2022 said that the purpose of the amendments was to ensure natural gas pricing on regular basis.

Ogra through these amendments shall eliminate gaps between regular, semi-annual tariff determination and notification.

Similarly, the statement of objects and reasons of Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Second Amendment) Bill, said that the bill aimed at bringing the entire Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Re-gasified Natural Gas (RLNG) licensing and price, under regulatory framework.

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