ISLAMABAD: With the National Assembly set to begin, which can be the last session of the first parliamentary year on Monday (today), there is nothing to boast about its performance in terms of legislation, smooth conduct of the proceedings and the prime minister’s attendance.
The National Assembly is set to complete its first parliamentary year on Aug 12, with more than 50 government and private members’ bills lying pending before the house committees, which were constituted by Speaker Asad Qaiser after an inordinate delay due to a controversy over chairmanship of the most-powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Under the rules, it is mandatory for the lower house of parliament to remain in session for at least 130 “working days” and the present assembly in its first parliamentary year has so far been able to hold sittings on 120 days, including three joint sittings of the two houses of parliament. The number of actual sittings, however, comes to only 88 as under the rules the two days sandwiched between two working days are also counted as the session days. The NA has so far met for 263 hours and 29 minutes, which also includes nearly 90-hour budget session.
More than 50 government, private members’ bills pending before house committees
Rule 47 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the National Assembly 2012 states: “There shall be at least three sessions of the Assembly every year, and not more than one hundred and twenty days shall intervene between the last sitting of the Assembly in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session: provided that the Assembly shall meet for not less than one hundred and thirty working days in each parliamentary year.”
A number of sittings were marred by ruckus due to the tense atmosphere in the house, with members even came to blows on a couple of occasions, forcing the speaker to abruptly adjourn the sittings after failing to maintain order in the house.
The speaker faced tremendous pressure from the opposition which lodged protests over the issue of production orders for their arrested legislators.
Presently, there are six MNAs under detention of police, NAB and other law enforcement agencies. They are former president Asif Zardari, PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and two independent MNAs from Waziristan — Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar.
Before the granting of bail by the Lahore High Court in the Aashiyana Housing scam, PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif had also attended a number of sittings on the production orders of the speaker.
The speaker is expected to face more protests by the opposition members over the issue of the production orders of the arrested MNAs during the session starting on Monday.
The NA has passed 10 bills, including a constitution amendment and three finance bills — Finance Act 2019 and two supplementary finance amendment bills — so far in its 12 sessions. These also include two bills seeking to repeal the previous laws after enactment of the new legislations as a mere formality.
The 26th Constitution Amendment bill seeking to increase the seats of the formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the National Assembly and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly had been moved as a private member’s bill by independent MNA from Waziristan Mohsin Dawar. The NA had passed the constitution amendment on May 13, but it has not come into effect since the Senate is yet to approve the bill with a two-thirds majority.
As many as 56 bills — 15 government and 41 private member’s bills — are pending before the standing committees concerned, reveals the data available on the official website of the National Assembly.
The speaker’s last month’s decision to cancel all the meetings of the standing committees as part of the austerity campaign has also affected the committees’ functioning and the opposition parties are expressing their annoyance over the move.
Another controversy that haunted the present NA was a controversial ruling given by the speaker regarding the use of word “selected” for Prime Minister Imran Khan. The opposition members not only criticised the ruling, but also kept on making mockery by using the banned word in their speeches.
The opposition parties also kept on raising the issue of long absence of the prime minister from the assembly proceedings, despite the fact that he had in his first speech after his election had announced that he would attend the sittings regularly to respond to the questions of the members on the pattern of the UK’s House of Commons. The attendance record shows that Imran Khan has so far attended only 12 sittings (14pc) since becoming the prime minister.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2019