–PPP’s Sherry Rehman take govt to task over ‘ambiguous’ coronavirus policy, PM’s non-serious attitude
–PML-N senator criticises govt for relaxing lockdown, says healthcare system will crash
–Qureshi defends PTI govt’s handling of COVID-19 outbreak; says ‘weak points’ in 18th Amendment should be checked
ISLAMABAD: A day after the National Assembly witnessed a heated debate between the Centre and the Sindh government on the Covid-19 situation in the country, the opposition parties in the Senate on Tuesday urged the federal government to come up with a “unified policy” to fight the pandemic as the number of affectees in the country surged past 32,000.
Of the total cases, Sindh and Punjab have the highest number of infections, reporting 12,017 and 11,869 cases, respectively. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have reported 2,061 and 4,875 cases each. In Islamabad and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the cases swelled to 679 and 442, respectively. However, Azad Kashmir has the lowest number of cases, with 86 infections so far.
Addressing the House, which met after a gap of almost two months, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman lashed out at the federal government for its handling of the epidemic, saying that Prime Minister Imran Khan has been giving out “confusing messages”.
The prime minister, who did not attend the National Assembly session either, skipped the Senate session as well. Noting this, Sherry said: “The missing person is the prime minister. He is missing, his policy is missing, his words of unity are missing.” To which, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi responded by saying that the premier was “in Islamabad” and “working day and night to eliminate the coronavirus threat”.
Without mincing any words, the senator called out the federal government for “creating distractions” and said that while the 18th Amendment had given provinces autonomy, it does not mean they are on their own.
“Provinces are not on their own. The provinces are self-sufficient but they are not the state,” she said, noticing that there was a feeling of abandonment in provinces as all governments were adopting separate strategies.
The senator observed that the crisis as a “situation worse than war”, saying the government is not ready to sit [with the opposition] and come up with a [unified] policy to deal with the disease.
Speaking before the House, the foreign minister negated Senator Sherry’s claims that the government did not have a unified policy. He recalled that the prime minister held meetings with provincial chief executives every day and heard everyone.
“There is no confusion, the policy is clear,” he said, adding: “A national strategy has been created and they (opposition) have a hand in formulating it, we value their input.”
Responding to the criticism pertaining to proposed changes in the 18th Amendment, Qureshi said that the government did not aim to “bury the amendment”.
“We say that the weak points [of the amendment] should be checked and addressed. We don’t have a two-thirds majority to bring any change, why are you afraid,” he questioned.
Qureshi also responded to the criticism the government earned over a statement by the premier that decision to impose lockdown was “taken by the country’s elite without thinking of the poor”. He insisted that the prime minister was quoted “out of context”.
“What happens in politics sometimes is that you are quoted out of context,” he said. “PM did not say elites enforced lockdown, I shall clarify.” He noticed while the upper class can afford to stay in a lockdown, lower-income people cannot.
The foreign minister seconded the prime minister on the assertion that lockdown was a temporary solution to the epidemic. “The real solution is a vaccine but that will take time,” he said, adding: “Until the real solution comes, we have to see how we can control the spread of the virus.”
He also warned that a recession will follow the health crisis. “The world is saying this. The global economy is going to contract by 3 per cent. It amounts to trillions of dollars and it will have a huge impact on Pakistan,” he told the Senate.
“Our exports have decreased by 40 per cent. There is a danger of layoffs [of Pakistani labourers] in Gulf states, remittances might go down by 20 per cent to 23 per cent.”
The foreign minister clarified that the government merely expanded the scope of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) by introducing the Ehsaas programme. He criticised the PPP for implying that the government had replaced BISP with its flagship social welfare programme.
“BISP covered 4 million people while Ehsaas covers 12 million. Please do not try to fool people,” he said.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) senators lamented the decision to ease the lockdown. Commenting on the development, Senator Musadiq Malik declared that by taking such a step, the government was moving towards “herd immunity”.
Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N observed that the restrictions were lifted at a time when the virus was spreading at a faster rate. He expressed concern that the country’s healthcare system would not be able to cope with an increasing number of cases.
Abbasi lamented that the government started holding meetings when it was “already too late”. He regretted the “government did not take parliament in confidence”.
The party also condemned the US statement blaming the Covid-19 outbreak on China and thanked Beijing for its assistance to Pakistan at this time.
Speaking on the occasion, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan came down hard on Centre for its dealing with the epidemic, saying that no country in the world has shown such “non-seriousness” as Pakistan.
Khan declared that the quarantine centre in Taftan was not a camp but a “barn”.
Commenting on the Ehsaas cash incentive for the poor, he said that Rs3,000 are not enough for a family to buy basic supplies that would last a month.
Khan also suggested that the government does away with interest rate so that people would borrow loans from banks.