60% Members participate in 28th National Assembly Session

64% agenda items remained unaddressed

Points of Order consume more than one-third of session time

Unfinished agenda, low attendance of Members, persistent lack of quorum and Points of Order interrupting the itemized proceedings marked the Twenty-Eighth session of the National Assembly that ended here on February 4, 2010, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report based on direct observation of the session.

The National Assembly met for 27 Hours and 20 Minutes for 10 sittings at an average of two Hours and 44 Minutes per sitting. Each sitting started with an average of 51 minutes delay.

The House could take up only 36% of the agenda items that appeared on the Orders of the Day, primarily due to 182 Points of Order that consumed more than one-third of the total session time – 603 of 1,640 Minutes. None of the POs required Speaker’s formal Ruling. The National Assembly did not take up for discussions 10 Motions under Rule 259, 10 Resolutions, seven Government Bills, five Private Members’ Bills and two Matters of Public Importance.

The Points of Order pertained to law and order situation in the country, the business of the house, PIA, perks and privileges of Members, etc. As many as 63 POs were raised by PPPP Members, 46 by PMLN Members, 25 by PML Members, 24 by MQM Members, 11 by Independents, five by MMAP Members, and four each by ANP and PPPS Members. In line with the trend observed in the previous sessions, the agenda for Private Members’ Day was over-ambitious.

As many as 60% of Members participated in the session either by bringing agenda items on the Order of the day or by actually participating in the debates on the floor of the House. A total of 206 Members – 162 male Members and 44 female Members – participated. Male Members were more active than their female counterparts, wit their participation recorded at 61% of their total membership (264) and female participation at 58% of their total Membership (76).

According to the party-wise analysis of participation, PMLN Members showed the highest participation in proportion to their Membership. As many as 78% of PMLN Members took part in the proceedings, followed by 76% of MQM’s Members, 57% of PPPP Members, 52% of PML Members, 46% of ANP Members and 25% MMAP Members. None of the five PMLF Members participated in the proceedings. Among single-Member parties, the only PPPS Member participated in the proceedings, while the NPP and BNPA Members did not take part and kept up their past performance.

While the Members participation registered a slight improvement, the attendance of Members remained low. Since the National Assembly Secretariat does not make public, attendance records of its Members, FAFEN conducts a headcount of Members at the beginning and end of each sitting and documents the actual time spent on the floor of the House by Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. During the 28th session, on an average 65 Members were present at the start of each sitting and 72 at the end. The lack of Quorum was called only once during the entire session by a female parliamentarian of the PPPP. The particular sitting remained adjourned for 35 minutes. The Member attracted ire from her party for her action.

The Prime Minister attended all ten sittings for 328 minutes or 20% of the total session time. The Leader of the Opposition was absent during six sittings, but attended four sittings for 233 minutes or 14% of the total session time. The Speaker chaired the proceedings for 499 minutes during the session, while the Deputy Speaker presided over the session for 976 minutes. The remaining 165 minutes were chaired by Members of the Panel of Chairpersons. Parliamentary Leaders of ANP, NPP and BNPA did not attend any of the sittings. The Parliamentary Leaders of PPPS, MQM, PML, MMAP and PMLF attended 10, five, two, one and one sittings, respectively.

The session passed three Government Bills and one Private Members’ Bill. Of 20 Calling Attention Notices listed on the Orders of the Day, the House took up 15 that were raised by 24 male and 24 female Members – eight sponsored by the PMLN Members, three each by MQM and PPPP Members, two by PML Members and four jointly tabled by PPPP, ANP, MQM, PMLN, PML and Independent Members.

As many as 191 starred (requiring oral answers) questions were put forth by Members during the 28th session. A total of 64 of 191 starred questions were taken up in the Assembly at an average of 6.4 questions per sitting. The Members asked a total of 171 supplementary questions.

The Adjournment Motion on the increase in the prices of items of daily use was admitted for debate on the initiative of the PMLN Members and was debated for 112 minutes during the fourth and fifth sitting.

All of the Standing Committees Reports on the agenda were presented to the House. The report on National Assembly Employees Housing Society was presented during the last sitting.

The House witnessed three walkouts during the course of the entire session. The Parliamentary Party of the PMLN protested as one of their Members was not allowed to raise a Point of Order. Unless the Speaker gives a formal ruling on a Point of Order, speeches and rejoinders do not contribute to any assembly output and only provide media with news pegs. At another instance, Members of the MQM and PMLN got into a brawl, after one of the MQM Members raised some concerns over the law and order situation in Punjab on a Point of Order. Both the Parliamentary Parties started sloganeering against each other, which forced the Deputy Speaker to adjourn the proceedings of that particular sitting. ANP Members staged a walkout on non-allocation of development funds to KP.

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.