The 28th session of the National Assembly commenced on January 1, 2016 – fifteen days earlier than it was scheduled – and spanned over 15 sittings, says Free and Fair Election Network in its Parliament Monitor.
Except for two sittings, the proceeding of the National Assembly started within fifteen minutes of the scheduled time. This record, however, is poorer than of the Senate where proceeding of the House often starts on the scheduled time. For nearly eight percent of the session’s total duration, the proceeding remained suspended either for prayers or due to lack of quorum. The average duration of each sitting remained nearly three hours.
The issues related to recent tax amnesty scheme, privatization of Pakistan International Airlines and the Saudi-Iran controversy were resounded time and again during the session. The opposition parties protested against the passage of the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Bill, 2015. The entire opposition staged walk-outs against these bills.
The highest attendance fell from 221 (65% of total membership) during last session to 216 (63%) during this session while average maximum attendance in a sitting was reduced from 200 (58%) to 196 (57%). The quorum remained an issue during many sittings leading to suspension of the proceeding at three occasions while twice the sittings had to be adjourned due to incomplete quorum.
It is continuously second session that Prime Minister had not come to the House. The Speaker and the Leader of Opposition each attended 13 sittings while Deputy Speaker was present in eight sittings.
The parliamentary leaders of smaller parties were more regular in their attendance than leaders of major parties. The sole member of APML was present in all sittings while the sole members of AMLP and PML-Z attended 14 and 12 sittings respectively. Each of the parliamentary leaders of PTI, MQM and JUI-F attended only one sitting. Seventeen MNAs did not attend any sitting during this session while 32 lawmakers were marked present during each of 15 sittings.
As compared to 166 participating lawmakers during previous 27th session, the number rose to 176 during this session. The lawmakers can participate by submitting agenda and/or taking part in debates. The ration of female participation decreased from 73% to 70% while male participation registered a surge from 43% to 47%.
There appeared 97 agenda items on Orders of the Day excluding 651 questions entered in separate lists. The House addressed three quarters of these agenda items. Around a quarter of agenda could not be taken up either due to the absence of movers or early adjournment of the sittings.
The government succeeded to get eleven of its legislative bills approved from the House while two of its bills were only introduced and one was not taken up. The Private Members also introduced six bills while a private member bill could not be taken up.
The MQM proposed an amendment to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, 2007 seeking to fix the number of questions and resolutions for which a member can give notice. Currently, there is no limit on a lawmaker regarding this. This amendment was referred to the relevant standing committee. Another amendment, sponsored by PPPP lawmakers, seeking to bind Prime Minister to attend the House and answer the questions of members at least once a week was rejected by the House.
The House adopted two resolutions sponsored by MQM lawmakers urging the government to control inflation and promote religious harmony while a resolution submitted by PPPP lawmaker regarding NACTA was rejected. The House also passed a joint resolution to condemn the attack on Bacha Khan University Charsadda. Another resolution, sponsored by JI, urging government to replace Sunday with Friday as weekly holiday was also debated and referred to the standing committee. Eleven private members’ resolutions appearing on agenda were not taken up.
Eleven standing committees presented their periodical reports for first half of the 2015 during this session. The reports of the committees on nine legislative proposals were also presented before the House. The report of the Special Committee on Pakistan International Airlines and the Second Biannual Report on Implementation of National Finance Commission were also laid before the National Assembly.
The discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President for his address to the Parliament continued during this session as well. Twenty eight lawmakers spoke on it consuming five hours and 20 minutes of the proceeding. The House did not take up any of nine motions under Rule 259.
The government representatives made statements on all but one Calling Attention Notices submitted by lawmakers.
A matter of public importance raised under Rule 87 regarding unavailability of places reserved for worship and funeral of citizens belonging to minority communities remained unaddressed. This matter was pending since last session.
The Question Hour was held during 11 out of 15 sittings. The lawmakers asked 651 questions (403 starred and 248 unstarred). The government failed to submit replies to one fifth of these questions. Moreover, less than one fourth of the starred questions were orally responded on floor of the House.
Only 61 lawmakers had submitted these questions, including 33 women legislators. Nearly two thirds (423) of the total questions were asked by female members. The third largest parliamentary party PTI asked highest number of questions (195) and was followed by PPPP (170), PML-N (82), JI (77) and MQM (70). Interestingly, the MNAs belonging to Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa asked 215 and 214 questions respectively that make two thirds (429) of total questions while the lawmakers from Punjab submitted 162 questions. Currently, the province of Punjab has 182 seats in the National Assembly while the cumulative strength of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh is 117.
The opposition lawmakers appeared more concerned about quorum during this session than previous sessions. The members drew attention of the Chair to low attendance seven times and the quorum was found lacking on five of these instances. Meanwhile, the Leader of Opposition and other opposition legislators also criticized the government for failing to maintain quorum on several occasions. The sole member of AMLP boycotted a sitting as well to protest against the lack of quorum. The opposition parties staged eight walk-outs for various reasons, including passage of controversial bills, delay in transfer of power to local governments in Karachi and poor performance of government ministries and departments.
As many as 75 lawmakers spoke on floor of the House during the session to raise one or more points of order whereas the Chair issued 31 directions on these points. Around 13% (six hours and four minutes) of the session’s time was consumed in these points of order.
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