ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in his maiden appearance in the Senate after taking the oath of his office, Monday assured that he was ready to brief the house on the controversy about Reko Diq gold and copper mining project.

The arrival of the prime minister in the Senate was largely welcomed by the treasury and opposition benches besides the chairman Senate himself as his predecessor Nawaz Sharif rarely visited the Upper House during more than four years of his tenure.

Aitzaz Ahsan remarked that the premier’s arrival would prove as a “tradition breaker”– a reference to his predecessor.

Taking the floor, the prime minister said if the chair thought that his presence would benefit the house, then he would ensure his presence. He also said that he was ready to brief the house about the controversy on Reko Diq gold and copper mining project.

The Chairman Senate, Mian Raza Rabbani, reminded that the premier in his capacity as petroleum and natural resources minister had agreed to give an in-camera briefing to the house on the issue, and asked him to inform about his availability for a discussion on an adjournment motion in that regard.

Then petroleum and natural resources minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in April this year had agreed for a briefing about the ruling of an arbitration tribunal of the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in relation to denial of a mining lease of Reko Diq project in 2011 to Tethyan Copper Company (TCC), a foreign firm, by Pakistan.

The Senate chairman in his welcome remarks for the prime minister said that by giving importance to the Upper House, the PM would certainly strengthen the federation. He reminded that the premier was supposed to attend the Senate session once a week under the rules of the house.

“I am hopeful that your government will play its due role in strengthening the democratic process and the empowerment of parliament,” he added.

Drawing the attention of the prime minister towards tri-chotomy of power, the chair expressed hope that the PM would ensure equal powers among all the stakeholders including the parliament and the executive. On the first day of the fresh session, 21 private members’ bills were introduced in the house, while three bills moved by the opposition lawmakers were rejected through voting after the government opposed them.

The house also passed two private members’ bills with the majority votes present on the heavy agenda containing 88 items on private members’ day.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 that seeks to amend Article 63A was moved by PPP Senator Nawabzada Saifullah Magsi and was referred to the standing committee concerned.

The bill seeks to withdraw powers of the party heads to de- seat a lawmaker with regard to voting or abstaining to vote on a constitutional amendment bill. The 18th Amendment gave the powers through Article 63A to avoid horse trading in the parliament.

Speaking on a motion, the PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar proposed that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) should be given representation in the Senate and the National Assembly, as is available to the Fata, as well as share in the NFC Award.

Asking for empowering the Legislative Assembly of the GB, he said that all fundamental rights under the constitution should be extended to GB without further delay. Even if GB is not declared a province what is the hindrance in giving it all legislative and administrative powers of a province?, he asked.

Babar also asked about the fate of the committee under the chair of then adviser to the prime minister Sartaj Aziz to give due rights to the people of the area.

The Federal Minister on Kashmir Affairs and GB, Barjees Tahir, said that the committee was being reconstituted after the disqualification of then PM Nawaz Sharif and hoped that it would finalise its recommendations soon. Speaking on a motion about the overall position of hunger in Pakistan, PPP Senator Sherry Rehman regretted that the government had no policy on energy, food and water security or the entitlement to food.

“Six out of 10 citizens in Pakistan are food insecure and almost 50 per cent women and specifically children under five are malnourished,” she said. It is also shocking to witness that an estimated 50 per cent of the population is without access to clean drinking water, Rehman added.

Commerce Minister Pervaiz Malik informed the house that an inquiry was underway about the sudden devaluation of rupee against the exchange rate of dollar a couple of weeks ago.

Responding to the remarks of Senator Saleem Mandviwala, he said that it was unfair to say that the government had compromised over the autonomy of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). The central bank independently monitors currency exchange rate, he added.

Earlier, Senator Mandviwala warned the government to stop interference in matters of the SBP. He said that the government had intentionally devalued rupee against the dollar.

The issue was adjusted by the SBP, which upset the finance ministry, and it warned of an inquiry, Mandviwala said. He viewed that there should not be an inquiry against the regulator – the SBP, as the bank had taken the right decision. The chairman asked the minister to come up with a concrete answer as to when the inquiry would complete.