Info minister calls Opp members ‘thieves’, triggers protest


–PPP leaders move privilege motion against Fawad Chaudhry for offensive tweet, minister digs in heels but later apologises for remarks

–Fawad Chaudhry had accused PPP’s Khursheed Shah of hiring 800 people in PBC in just three hours 


ISLAMABAD: Opposition lawmakers on Thursday briefly boycotted the National Assembly (NA) session and staged a walkout from the House after Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry called them “robbers and thieves”.

The opposition members, however, returned to the session after the minister agreed to apologise.

The incident took place at the outset of the session when Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Dr Nafeesa Shah moved a privilege motion against Fawad Chaudhry for accusing former NA opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah of recruiting 800 people in the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) “in just three hours”.

She read out a tweet by Chaudhry and asked NA Speaker Asad Qaiser to refer the matter to the privileges committee which should direct the minister to prove the allegation.

Responding to Shah, Chaudhry said, “PPP destroyed all institutions including PBC by filling in its own cronies, in three days Khursheed Shah filled 800 people only in Radio costing seven crores (70 million) additional burden. Government is drowning in a debt of Rs5 billion every year only on Radio thanks to PPP’s visionless policy.”

However, in response to Chaudhry, the PPP leader warned that his statement could lead to a privilege motion against him for slandering former opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah.

Responding to criticism from the PPP leaders on the floor of the House, the information minister not only justified his statement, but doubled down and termed the previous government “thieves and robbers”.

As the House broke into chaos over his remarks, NA Speaker Asad Qaiser said, “Chaudhry Sb it is your responsibility to maintain order.”

However, the information minister continued with his speech and said, “These people say we are inexperienced.”

“Khursheed Shah appointed countless people in PIA, PML-N leader Mushahidullah Khan gave top posts in the national carrier to his brother and cousin and then they tell us that we are running the country on funds,” he continued.

The information minister further said, “If you call a thief a thief, they get offended.”

“The country cannot run like it has been for the past two to three decades,” he added.

Following this, the NA speaker once again interrupted Chaudhry, however, he said, “Please let me complete what I am saying. The others are just sitting here but people of Pakistan want to hear me.”

Chaudhry then continued with his criticism of the previous governments and said, “A man who used to drive a cab abroad was appointed as director general of Radio Pakistan.”

He further said, “There should be strict accountability of thieves.”

When the NA speaker in response remarked that he should draft laws for this, Chaudhry said, “Laws are present but have not been implemented.”

“Had laws been implemented all these people would be behind bars,” he added.

The minister then said that the past rulers had used “looted money” like “robbers do at a mujra”.

The using of the term “mujra” incited the opposition protest. The speaker expunged it from the official proceedings but the opposition demanded an apology from the minister.

PPP’s Khursheed Shah termed the word derogatory and unbecoming of a parliamentarian.

“Members of assembly have respect but the information minister used derogatory language against us. I’m not saying that he has a low character but the words used by him are low,” said Shah.

NA Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif also demanded an apology from the information minister for his comments.

Opposition members then staged a walkout, raising slogans of “lota! lota!” [turncoat] against the information minister.

Chaudhry, however, maintained that he had not uttered any objectionable word. Despite warnings from the speaker against using “unparliamentary language”, he said if he could not call “a robber a robber” and “a thief a thief”, then what term should he use.

However, the information minister later apologised for his invective, saying he was ready to withdraw his words “in respect of the parliament”.

The issue was settled when some government members went to the parliament’s lobby to bring back opposition lawmakers.

Chaudhry also apologised personally to Khursheed Shah after which opposition members led by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari returned to the House.

A day earlier, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government withdrew its orders to lease the premises of Radio Pakistan following protests from employees.

Radio Pakistan employees had taken to the streets and threatened to march to Parliament House to protest PBC’s decision to shift the headquarters and give the existing premises on a long-term lease.

The protests had turned violent as police stopped the employees from marching towards the Parliament House and instead they started protesting in front of the PM Secretariat. The protests had been taking place since the plan was announced.