The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was frowned in Senate on Thursday as it watched helplessly a strident joint opposition backed by some government allies including Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and National Party (NP) that disapproved 'The Companies Ordinance, 2016' by 50 to 18 votes. After going for a voice vote, Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani opted for a head count and many were surprised to see not only PkMAP and NP but also some FATA Senators and Mohsin Leghari from the treasury benches voted for the resolution, which was tabled by PPP Senator Saleem Mandviwalla.
The resolution was signed by as many as 40 Senators for the requisitioned session to disapprove the ordinance. As Mandviwalla moved the resolution, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid stood up to oppose it, triggering a heated debate in the House and forcing the opposition in the Senate to come down hard on the government for bringing ordinances of its choice. The senators said the ordinance was designed to change the entire economic and legal structure meant for the companies and it was in fact a well-calculated move to circumvent the facility under Article 89 of the Constitution and termed it a joke with the Constitution.
Senator Farhatullah Babar of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) said the ordinance would curtail the jurisdiction of courts and already a trend was set with regard to National Command and Authority bill. "I would have opposed it even if had been presented in Senate as a bill," he added.
Mandviwala asked about the urgency in bringing an ordinance. He pointed out that after the ordinance was tabled in National Assembly as a bill, 7,7000 notices were issued to different companies. He proposed that a joint bill could be tabled on the subject or the government might introduce a bill, and assured opposition's support thereon. He regretted that the government is still following the dictatorial tradition of introducing ordinances instead of making legislation, and reminded the government that it is the job of the legislature to make legislation. "There is neither martial law in the country, nor is there any interim government, then why an ordinance is being presented here, ignoring the Parliament? Why is the government not conducting census," retorted PkMAP Senator Usman Khan Kakar.
Senator Sherry Rehman of PPP said that for certain specific purposes, this ordinance is being brought to change the entire legal framework and insisted that there should be a discussion in the House, alleging the government is trying to bulldoze the rules. Parliamentary Leader of PPP Senator Taj Haider said the ordinance was in fact a bid to circumvent the constitutional facility and claimed that it had taken the government one-and-a-half years to prepare this document.
He said the Constitution also provided a check under Article-89 (3) for disapproval of an ordinance, if brought just to exploit the Constitution. He talked about its adverse impact on foreign investment and industry in Pakistan in its present shape. "The reason why I became part of the resolution against the ordinance is that it negates the concept of collectivity and bypasses the Parliament. The ordinance was meant to weaken the parliament. I wonder what was the emergency that forced the government to bring such a big document in this way," said Mohsin Leghari.
PTI's Nauman Wazir and Mohsin Aziz also opposed the ordinance. PML-Q's Kamil Agha alleged the government had mala fide intention behind this ordinance. He added that the document consisted of 1,224 pages, including annexures; to which Rabbani remarked: "Then it should be made part of the Guinness Book of World Record." PkMAP Senator Sardar Muhammad Azam said the ordinance is a move to whiten the black money by denying the Parliament of its fundamental right of legislation.
Others who spoke on the occasion included MQM's Tahir Hussain Mashhadi and Mir Kabeer. PML-N's Senator Abdul Qayyum said that there is a constitutional permission to lay ordinance and this practice was adopted in the past as well, adding if the opposition has any specific points to make, they should spell these out. The BNP-Mengal Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldeni contended that the ordinance might be deferred instead of being rejected, as the majority had not even gone through it. Leader of Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan said it was a 1,224-page bill, which should be rejected outrightly. The law minister defended the ordinance and said it was a bill and should be referred to the Senate committee concerned but Rabbani pointed to him that it was introduced in National Assembly in the form of a bill.
The minister rejected the opposition's contention that it was to bring about massive changes in the related law and said a lengthy process of consultation was held to revise the 32year-old law to conform to the needs of present times and boost economy. He claimed it was aimed at giving a new impetus to the national economy. And, it offered incentives to small and medium companies, according to him. He claimed the ordinance is a well-prepared document and a step towards transparency. He urged for its referral to the House committee for deliberations and assured the House that the government was prepared for useful proposals and ideas. He claimed the initiative was also an attempt aimed at bringing a significant improvement in ease of doing business in Pakistan. The minister urged the opposition not to set a new precedent of rejection of ordinances. The minister said he could produce details of how many ordinances were laid in the Parliament by the previous government. He added the government's move enjoyed broad support of business community and noted that real estate companies and money-launderers are among a few opposed to it.