19th session of Pakistan Parliament marked by thin attendance
A report on parliamentary proceedings in the 19th session of Pakistan's National Assembly released by a network of 30 civil society organisations working to foster democratic accountabilities in the country speaks volumes about the interest of the public representatives in legislation to safeguard the interests of masses.
ISLAMABAD: Marked by low attendance, unfinished agenda and persistent lack of quorum, the 19th session of Pakistan’s National Assembly, the lower house of bicameral parliament, concluded here on February 26 with 173 members, including 49 woman legislators, participating in the proceedings during 15 sittings, says the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) in its preliminary report on the session.The business was conducted for almost 46 hours and two minutes and debates on adjournment motions consumed a quarter of this time in the session that started on February 8.
The average length of a sitting was three hours and four minutes with the shortest sitting lasting for one hour and 45 minutes. None of the sittings started on the stipulated time, registering a delay of 33 minutes on an average.
The speaker was not present during six of 15 sittings while the deputy speaker remained absent in the last five sittings. In the 15th sitting, neither the speaker nor the deputy speaker was present. The prime minister was present in 14 of 15 sittings with the exception of the last sitting. The leader of the opposition, however, did not attend six sittings.
More than half of the MNAs (173 of a total of 339) took part in parliamentary discussions. A total of 106 members appealed for leave to be absent. On an average, only 46 members were present at the outset of each sitting while the average number of MNAs present in the house at the end of each sitting was 74. The lowest count of members was recorded at 19 during the 12th sitting.
More MNAs were present at the end of morning sessions as compared to the sittings held in the evenings. Many members, who were technically “present” for sittings, actually left the house chamber to conduct other business. Forty-nine female parliamentarians actively took part in parliamentary proceedings during the course of the 19th session.
As many as 19 out of 30 calling attention notices (CANs) on the orders of the day were discussed. The largest number of CANs (3) was put forward to the Cabinet Secretariat. A total of 32 Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members, 24 Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members, nine PML members, eight Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) members and one each of the Awami National Party (ANP) and PPP-Sherpao put forward CANs. There was ministerial absence during the question hour in five out of the 15 sittings.
A total of 424 questions were put forward during the question hour, which was held in eight of the 15 sittings. There was no question hour in first five sittings. The 7th and 12th sittings were private members days, when question hour was not held.
As many as 185 starred questions were put forward along with 239 un-starred questions. Starred questions require oral response while un-starred questions require written reply by the relevant ministry.
As many as 238 questions of 424 (56 per cent) were put forward by female parliamentarians, who represent only 22 per cent of the total number of MNAs. The PML-N and PPP members put forward 248 and 108 questions, respectively.
Almost 60 per cent questions put forward by PML-N were raised by female legislators while 59 per cent of the PPP questions also came from female parliamentarians. A total of 68 MNAs, 25 females and 43 males, put forward questions during 19th session. The largest number of MNAs raising questions belonged to PML-N (33) followed by PPP (13) and PML (8).
The largest number of questions was directed to the Ministry of Water and Power (55) followed by the Ministry of Interior (34) and the Ministry of Finance and Revenue (32). The Ministry of Water and Power fully responded to 38 out of 55 questions, while the Ministry of Interior responded to 23 out of 34 questions. The representatives of different ministries provided 56 documents to the house in response to questions.
A total of 5 bills were passed by the lower house of the bicameral parliament during the 19th session. Three government bills and nine private member bills were introduced in the house. A total of 13 ordinances were laid before the National Assembly. Around 49 per cent of items on the orders of the day (a little less than half of the business agenda of the house) were not addressed during the session.
A total of 298 points of order were raised. None of them, however, required the speaker’s ruling, indicating their inappropriateness vis-à-vis procedural definition. A point of order relates to the interpretation or enforcement of National Assembly rules and raises a question which is within the cognisance of the speaker.
Ten adjournment motions were discussed during the 19th session. The house debated these three motions for 11 hours and five minutes. Debate on adjournment motions took one fourth of the total time of the house.
Three issues namely ‘Suicide bombing in Karachi’, ‘Conviction of Dr Afia Siddiqui by a US court’, and ‘construction of water reservoirs by India in violation of Indus Basin Treaty were discussed through the adjournment motions.
There were four questions of privilege raised and three instances of protest, boycott and walkout during the 19th session. Members of the MQM and PML-N parliamentary parties staged a walkout during third and sixth sitting, respectively. In the second instance, a member belonging to the PPP staged walkout.
The Free and Fair Election Network comprises 30 civil society organisations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.