46th Session of NA leaves 82% of agenda unaddressed

ISLAMABAD, October 17: The 46th session of the National Assembly was marked by the passage of the private member’s Abolition of Discretionary Quotas in Housing Schemes Bill amid low members’ attendance and late starts, while 82% of the regular agenda was left unaddressed, says Free and Fair Election Network in its preliminary report on direct observation of National Assembly.

The bill seeks to ensure that allotments of houses in the public sector are made in a fair and transparent manner and was moved by a male PMLN member.

Out of the 102 agenda items on the orders of the day which were left unaddressed, foremost were the seven resolutions about basic salaries, educational increments and housing of federal government employees, narcotics control, energy, health, cement prices, unemployment and water shortage. Additionally a calling attention notice about increase in taxes on overseas international calls was not taken up, and 65% of the 153 questions put to various ministries were also left unaddressed. Two government and five private members’ bills were also not taken up. There were a total of 125 agenda items on the orders of the day for the session.

The House did not take up nine issues of national and public importance moved under rule 259, as well as eight Standing Committee reports regarding amendments in the constitution, the code of criminal procedure, political parties order, and NADRA, among others.

On the other hand, two government bills were introduced – the National Accountability Commission Bill to replace the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999, and the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill to formulate a uniform legal system for collection of genuine evidences by investigation agencies. Three other government bills: the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan Bill, the Provincial Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, and the Intellectual Property Organization of Pakistan Bill were also passed.

The session from 5-16 October met for eight sittings, each delayed by 76 minutes and on average lasting two hours and seven minutes. As the Speaker did not attend the entire session, the Deputy Speaker chaired 84% of the session time. The rest of the time was chaired by the Panel of Chairpersons. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition attended only two and three sittings respectively.

The National Assembly Secretariat does not make members’ attendance records public and FAFEN’s observer conducts a rough headcount at the beginning and end of the sitting, as well as once when there seem to be maximum members in the House. Members’ attendance was low. At least a fifth of the total members (341) were present at the beginning and end of each sitting on average, less than the one-fourth required to meet quorum. A female PMLN member pointed out quorum during the seventh sitting. However, on average 147 members were present in the House during each sitting, signifying that quorum was met at some point. Of the ten minority members in the assembly, eight were present in each sitting on average.

The House also adopted seven resolutions including condemning the Malala Yousafzai shooting, calling for political reconciliation in Balochistan, eradication of polio, and growing trend of vulgarity on cable TV and unchecked flow of blasphemous material via internet in Pakistan. Six of these resolutions were submitted as supplementary agenda.

Nine CANs about usage of greenbelts in Islamabad for commercial purposes, health related issues including the payment of salaries to doctors, non-existence of emergency evacuation and exit in factories in Islamabad, communications, disabled persons and petroleum prices were also taken up during the session.

The party leader of BNPA was present for four sittings, followed by the MQM and NPP leaders for three sittings each, PPPS and PML for two each and the PMLF for one. However, the attendance of Chief Whips was better since at least half of the total eight sittings were attended by Chief Whips of the ANP, MMAP, MQM, and PMLN. The PPPP Chief Whip attended all sittings, whereas those of the PMLF and the PML were absent throughout.

Though over a quarter of the total session time was consumed in 85 points of order raised by the parliamentarians, none of them attracted the Chair’s ruling and did not contribute to any parliamentary output. Most of the points of order were about the attack on Malala Yousafzai, while legislators also spoke about other issues such as support for earthquake victims, communications, and Balochistan and Karachi related issues.

The session witnessed a single walkout by PMLN members against the issuance of the Local Government Ordinance in Sindh.

About FAFEN: FAFEN is a network of 42 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.