- Chief Minister Absent from Proceedings Since Last Two Sessions
The lawmakers’ interventions on government oversight suffered a setback during 24th session of the Punjab Assembly that focused on treasury’s legislation alone. The Provincial Assembly passed nine government bills while the Adjournment Motions, Calling Attention Notices and Questions received cold shoulder from the treasury as well as the Chair.
The Assembly session was scheduled to commence in September but it was delayed till mid of October 2016. Unfortunately, it was the second consecutive session where Leader of the House (Chief Minister) did not come to attend the Assembly proceedings.
The government introduced six new pieces of legislation which were referred to the relevant standing committees for review. The House also granted 90 days extension to two ordinances.
The important oversight tools like Adjournment Motions, Zero Hour Notices, and the Calling Attention Notices saw repeated deferments apparently due to unpreparedness of the government to respond to them. The Chair too did not press the government for answers. Another way to keep an eye on the government’s work is to ask Questions, especially Starred Questions, as they are taken up on the floor of the House. However, only one third of the Starred Questions were taken up for answers during the session.
The attendance of lawmakers kept fluctuating during the session as identification of lack of quorum twice forced adjournment of two sittings without taking up the entire business. The opposition parties also brought the issue of Panama Leaks on the floor of the House and staged protests and walkouts to register their stance on the subject. The House also recommended establishment of universities in each district of the province.
Duration and Attendance
The tradition of delayed commencement of sittings continued during the reporting session. Each sitting, on average, started an hour and 29 minutes behind its scheduled time whereas during last session the average delay in the start of a sitting was an hour and nine minutes. The minimum delay in the commencement of the proceedings was an hour and eight minutes while the maximum an hour and 46 minutes. The cumulative duration of the seven-sitting session was twelve hours and 20 minutes which is also eight hours less than the previous session.
Though the attendance of lawmakers was not very impressive during 24th session but it registered a slight improvement than last session as each sitting, on average, was attended by 80 members as compared to 75 during last session. This average is calculated from the official attendance records of the session available on the website of the Punjab Assembly. However, FAFEN also conducts headcount at onset and adjournment of each sitting. According to these headcounts, only 21 lawmakers were observed to be present at outset and 57 at adjournment of a sitting on average.
The Leader of the House (Chief Minister) remained absent throughout the session while the Leader of the Opposition attended five out of seven sittings and remained present in 30% of the proceedings’ cumulative duration which is half of the time spent on floor of the House during last session. The Speaker was present in five sittings and presided over 68% of the proceedings (eight hours and 24 minutes) while the Deputy Speaker attended three sittings and chaired 34% proceedings (four hours and 10 minutes). Among the parliamentary leaders, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) was the most regular, who attended six sittings followed by PPPP and PML-Z leaders each of whom attended two sittings.
The Punjab Assembly passed nine government bills during the session, while six legislative proposals were referred to the relevant standing committees following their introduction.
The legislation included three amendments in the Local Government law, two amendments in Motor Vehicles law and new bills on poultry production, animal feed and halal food agency. Besides these, the bills on restriction on children’s employment, criminal prosecution services, blood transfusion, public order and amendments to laws of Infrastructure Development Authority, Forman Christian College and Agriculture, Food and Drug Authority were also presented before the House.
The House adopted three resolutions on Matters of Public Interest and two on extension of ordinances during the session. The public-interest resolutions condemned the Indian atrocities in Occupied Kashmir and recommended the establishment of universities in each district of the province and dualization of Indus Highway from Dera Ghazi Khan to Kashmore. Besides, the House also adopted resolutions under Article 128(2) of the Constitution granting 90 days’ extension to the Provincial Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 (XVI of 2016) and the Punjab Agriculture, Food and Drug Authority (Amendment) Ordinance 2016 (XVII of 2016).
Moreover, two Private Members’ resolutions were dropped and as many deferred due to the absence of sponsors.
Committee Reports/Government Papers
The Standing Committees of the Punjab Assembly on Excise & Taxation, Health, Communication & Works, Services & General Administration, Agriculture, Transport, Labor & Human Resource and Local Government & Community Development submitted their reports on the legislative proposals referred to them by the House. Meanwhile, the Standing Committees on Local Government & Community Development, Services & General Administration and Privileges were granted two-month extension for presentation of their reports.
The lawmakers brought 12 Adjournment Motions on various matters of urgent public importance during this session. All of these motions were kept pending throughout the session as no replies were received from the treasury. The matters concerning corruption, bad governance, health sector and education were highlighted through these motions. Seven of these motions were sponsored by PML-N lawmakers, four by PTI and one by PML.
Calling Attention Notices
The lawmakers belonging to PTI, PML-N and an Independent member submitted three Calling Attention Notices (CANs) to draw the attention of the government on law and order situation in the province. However, these notices were not responded to by the treasury despite the fact that two of these CANs appeared thrice on Orders of the Day.
A total of 195 Questions (133 Starred and 62 Unstarred) were admitted for answers during the reporting session. The Rules of Procedure require the ministers to answer a Starred Question orally as well as in writing while the Unstarred Questions are to be replied only in writing. However, the Punjab Assembly took up only 44 (33%) Starred Questions for oral answers while 22 Starred Questions were disposed of due to the absence of movers and 47 others were deferred. Furthermore, at least 17 Questions (10 Starred and seven Unstarred) were not replied in writing. Most of the questions answered were asked nearly four months ago but there were also some questions as old as three years.
The lawmakers belonging to PPPP raised the issues of suspension of teachers in Rahim Yar Khan and embezzlement in Cooperatives Department during Zero Hour. Both these matters were deferred by the Chair and no response was made by the treasury throughout the session.
Three lawmakers (One each of PPPP, PML-N and an Independent) submitted Privilege Motions against public servants for misbehaving with them. The House referred all these motions to the Committee on Privileges to investigate and report on the legislators’ complaints.
Points of Order
The lawmakers raised 55 Points of Order (POs) consuming an hour and 10 minutes (about nine percent of the proceedings’ time). Most of the POs were related with the constituency matters, political developments and current affairs instead of the business of the House.
The quorum (one fourth of total membership i.e. 93 members) was found lacking on three out of total six instances when it was pointed out. Two sittings were adjourned prematurely without completing the business due to lack of quorum while once, the proceedings remained suspended for 24 minutes, which were resumed later on.
The opposition parties in the Punjab Assembly staged a token walkout spanning over six minutes to register their protest over the issue of Panama Leaks. Besides the walkout, the Opposition lawmakers also protested on floor of the House on four occasions. All these protests were related to the ongoing conflict between the ruling party PML-N and opposition parties over Panama Paper Leaks. These protests consumed 39 minutes of the proceedings.
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