20th Session Preliminary Report of National Assembly

ISLAMABAD, April 2, 2010: Marked by unfinished agenda, low-attendance, lackluster interest, persistent lack of quorum and a lot a debate on Points of Order with none requiring Speaker’s ruling, the 20th Session of the National Assembly concluded here on April 2, 2010 with historic 18th Amendment Bill being introduced to the Lower House of Parliament in the last sitting of the session.

As many as 196 members, 145 men and 51 women legislators, participated in the proceedings during the 15-sitting session, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary National Assembly Session Report.

The session that started on March 11, 2010 conducted business for almost 38 hours and 35 minutes. Almost half of the session time (48%) was consumed by Points of Order and debate on Adjournment Motions. Points of Order took 40 per cent while 8 per cent time was consumed by debates on Adjournment Motions. Another 11 per cent session time was consumed by breaks (prayer or food).  Walkouts/Protests/boycotts consumed another 3 percent of the session time, leaving the House with 38 percent time to attend the regular agenda items.

Time consumed (percentage) by 20th Session of National Assembly

The National Assembly, on an average, met for 2 hours and 34 minutes daily for 15 days. The shortest sitting was observed on April 2, 2010, in which 18th Amendment Bill was introduced, which lasted for just 1 hour and 36 minutes. None of the sittings started on the stipulated time, registering a delay of 44 minutes on an average.

The Speaker of the House was not present during 10 of the 15 sittings. Deputy Speaker remained absent during 8 of 15 sittings. In the sittings, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9, neither the Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker was present; the House was chaired by the Panel of Chair Persons during their absence. The Prime Minister was present in all sittings. However, Leader of the Opposition did not attend 10 sittings.

The parliamentary leaders of MQM and ANP were absent in 11 out of 15 sittings. The absence of PML parliamentary leader was observed in 10 sittings while MMA parliamentary leader abstained from 12 sittings. PMLF parliamentary leader attended 8 sittings while the sole member of PPPS remained present in 13 sittings. The sole members of NPP and BNPA did not attend the session at all. The attendance of chief whips of parties was relatively better especially when compared with parliamentary leaders. Chief Whips of PPPP attended 14, PMLN 13, PML 12, MQM, ANP and MMAP 10 each and PMLF 7 out of 15 sittings of 20th session of National Assembly.

Approximately half of the MNAs (196 Members out of a total of 341) took part in parliamentary discussions. These include MNAs, raising Points of Order irrespective of the fact that the issues raised on Points of Order were technically not Points of Order. More than two third (67 percent) of female parliamentarians (51 out of total 76 who) participated in the discussions during 20th session of the National Assembly. On the other hand, 55 percent male Parliamentarians remained active during outgoing session.

On an average, only 72 (21 percent of total NA strength) members were present at the start of each sitting while the average number of MNAs present in the House at the end of each sitting was 82 (24 percent of total NA strength). The lowest count of members at the outset of the sitting was recorded at 34 during the 12th sitting held on March 30, 2010. Only 43 members were present in the House at the end of 8th sitting held on March 24, 2010. Ironically, only 51 members were present in the House when the session was prorogued sine die in last sitting, in which historic 18th Amendment Bill was tabled. 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.

The parliamentary output comes in the forms of legislation, resolutions and assurances. A total of 11 bills (3 government and 11 private) were passed by the Lower Chamber during the 20th session. As many as 4 government and 8 private members bills were accepted and sent to the committee. A total of 2 ordinances were laid in the National Assembly. There was no resolution during 20th session.

As many as 22 out of 30 Calling Attention Notices on the Orders of the Day were discussed. The largest number of CANs (3 each) was put forward to the Ministry of Water and Power and Ministry of Education. These CANs were raised by 62 MNAs, 40 men and 22 women parliamentarians. The graph below shows the party and gender-wise breakup of CANs. The most CAN movers were from PMLN followed by PPPP, MQM, Independents and ANP. The following graph shows the party-wise and gender-wise breakup of CANs raised during 20th session.

Members raising CANs (number) Party-wise and Gender-wise

In 22 CANs taken up by the House, 18 were moved jointly by male and female parliamentarians. In 6 cases, parliamentarians hailing from more than one parties moved a CAN jointly. One CAN was moved by female parliamentarians of multiple parties.

A total of 509 questions were put forward during Question Hours of 20th session. More questions came from female parliamentarians. Out of these 509 questions, 236 (46 percent) were put forward by male and 273 (54 percent) female parliamentarians, who are just 22 percent of the Assembly composition.

The Question Hour was held on 9 out of 15 sittings during the 20th session. There was no Question Hour in sitting number 1, 2, 4, 9, 12 and 15. There was Ministerial absence in 7 out of the 9 sittings in which the question hour was held.

As many as 209 starred questions (put forward by 86 male and 123 female parliamentarians) were raised along with 300 unstarred questions (150 by male and similar number by female parliamentarians). Starred questions require oral response while unstarred questions require written reply by the relevant ministry.

Almost two third questions (64 percent) were put forward by PML-N members followed by 21 percent by PPPP and 6 percent by PML legislators. Out of 328 questions put forward by PMLN legislators, a whopping 187 (57 percent) came from female parliamentarians. Similarly 52 percent of PPPP questions, 82 percent of PML, 23 percent of MQM questions were put by female legislators. ANP put forward only two questions and both were tabled by female parliamentarians.

Among unstarred or written questions, PMLN sought answers of 182 questions followed by PPPP, PML and MQM which moved 71, 20 and 11 questions respectively. Eight questions each came from MMA and Independent legislators. None of unstarred question was asked by MMA female parliamentarians. Interestingly, 15 out of 20 questions put forward by PML came from female parliamentarians.

Questions (starred and unstarred) put forward (percent) by parties

The largest number of questions was directed to the Ministry of Water and Power (63) followed by the Ministry of Finance and Revenue (38), the Cabinet Secretariat (36), Ministry of Health (30), 25 each to Ministry and Housing and Works, Ministry of Interior and Railways.

A total of 401 questions out of 509 (79 percent) were responded fully. The Ministry of Water and Power fully responded to 42 out of 63 (69%) questions; while the Ministry of Finance responded fully to 32 out of 38 (73%) questions, the Cabinet Secretariat 29 out of 36, Ministry of Health 22 out of 30, Housing and Works 8 out of 25, Interior 16 out of 25 and Railways 22 out of 25. As many as 31 documents and 58 annexures were provided to the House in response to questions by different Ministry’s representatives.

A total of 303 Points of Order were raised, taking up 918 Minutes (consuming 40 % of total session time). However, none of them required Speaker’s Ruling, indicating their inappropriateness vis-à-vis procedural definition.

There were 3 adjournment motions discussed during the 20th Session. The House debated these three motions for 03 hours and two minutes. Debate on adjournment motions took 8% the total time. Two issues namely ‘Bomb Blasts in Special Investigation Agency (SIA) Building, Lahore’, and ‘National Grants of MNAs (was not on the agenda)’ were discussed in these adjournment motions.

There were two questions of privilege were raised during the course of the 20th session. Both the QoPs were raised by PPPP legislators related to personal breach of privilege. Both the QoPs were referred to Privilege Committee.

There were 5 instances of Protest, Boycotts and Walkouts observed during the 19th session. The Members of PPPP and ANP parliamentary parties staged a walkout during 4th sitting on the issue of “comments made by Punjab Chief Justice on Local Hindus as being the prime source of funding for terrorists activities”, which lasted for two minutes, where as the second instance of boycott by members of PML was observed in 9th sitting in which PML members accused PMLN of rigging the Gujrat by-election. The PML members left the assembly hall at 1940 hours and did not return for the rest of the sitting. The third instance was occurred in 10th sitting when a FATA parliamentarian staged a three-minute protest to register voice against ‘neglecting FATA in Constitutional Reforms Package’. The fourth protest instance was observed in 14th sitting by PMLN against ‘hike in POL prices’, which lasted for 15 minutes. The fifth protest instance was observed in last sitting by a PML member Akram Masih Gill on the issue of ‘non-inclusion of minority issues in constitutional reforms’. This protest lasted for 10 minutes.

About FAFEN: FAFEN is a network of 30 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.