The Senate was told on Friday that 91 per cent of the revenues to be generated from the Gwadar port as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would go to China, while the Gwadar Port Authority would get 9pc share in the income for the next 40 years.
This was disclosed by Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Bizenjo after senators expressed concern over the secrecy surrounding the CPEC long-term agreement plan, with many observing that the agreement tilted heavily in China’s favour.
The minister said that the agreement was based on a build-operate and transfer model spread over 40 years. That means that Pakistan will take over the operation of the port along with the infrastructure to be built on it during the period to enhance the port’s cargo-handling capacity.
However, Senator Kalsoom Parveen of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pointed out that the agreement had not been signed on the basis of equality as had been done with India. She asked Senate Chairperson Raza Rabbani to convene a meeting of the committee of the whole of council, in which all relevant departments which signed the pact would be called. Mr Rabbani, however, pointed out that there were already two committees on the CPEC, including a Senate committee and a parliamentary panel. He advised her to take up the issue at the Senate committee on CPEC.
Senator Sardar Azam Musakhel of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) lamented that neither of the chairmen of the two committees was from Balochistan, and alleged that they had given China a ‘concession’. Senator Mohsin Aziz of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf stressed that the business community must be involved in signing such business agreements, a task which, he claimed, should not be left to bureaucrats with no business savvy.
Senator Javed Abbasi of the PML-N, however, defended the agreement saying it would greatly benefit Pakistan. He added that the power projects under the CPEC would alleviate Pakistan’s severe energy crisis. He pointed out that most of the power projects would be constructed in Balochistan and Sindh. The project would bring $56 billion investment into Pakistan, he said, adding that the CPEC would include infrastructure projects as well as industrial zones that would generate employment opportunities.
While speaking on a point of order, Senator Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) warned the defence minister not to commit to the terms of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) without bringing it to the notice of the Senate first.
He reminded the government that the defence minister had assured the house that he would share the terms of reference for participation in the alliance with the Senate before taking any decision.
He said the military commander of the coalition had been quoted as saying that the coalition ‘encompassed four key areas of ideology, communications, counterterrorism financing and military to fight terrorism and to join other international security and peace keeping efforts’.
Each of these areas, particularly the one pertaining to ideology, presented potential pitfalls and challenges with far-reaching consequences for Pakistan, he said, and demanded clarity on issues involved and stressed the need to lay down all the facts before parliament.
Senator Rabbani endorsed this demand, and said that then defence minister Khawaja Asif, now the foreign minister, had assured them that the house would taken on board before the government became party to any such venture with the Saudi-led military alliance. The alliance announced in December 2015 has 41 members, and Pakistan was a part of the first 34 countries to join the coalition.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed concern over the absence of senators, which delayed voting on the delimitation bill pending before the Senate. Some have suggested the possibility of ‘hidden hands’ in preventing passage of the bill which would ensure that elections could be held in a timely manner next year.
Senator Usman Khan Kakar of the PkMAP was blunt in saying that the parliamentary system was under threat, and urged senators from various parties to show up on Monday and pass the bill in order to end the confusion. “Parliament is facing a threat from people who had never accepted this system,” he said, referring to the two-week long sit-in at Faizabad.
Azam Musakhel said that the bill was being delayed on purpose on orders of the ‘hidden powers’. He added that the bill could not be passed for the third consecutive time, and every time, members from all parties, including the PML-N, had stayed mysteriously absent from proceedings.
Senator Rabbani ruled that the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) report on the implementation of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 should be brought in the House, and thereafter be referred to the relevant committee for in-camera discussion on it. Further, he directed the government to provide complete information during the in-camera proceedings. In his ruling, he observed that it was “sorry state of affairs”, that the FIA report did not adhere to the requirements of the law, and directed the government to formulate the rules for preparing reports for submission to the House in 30 days, and place the same before the senate committee on delegated legislation.
The ruling came after a senator asked whether the FIA’s report could be brought before an open house, or if it had to be treated as a classified document for discussion only in in-camera meeting of the IT committee of the senate. The house will now meet on Monday at 4pm.