The 35th session of the Punjab Assembly that passed 11 new pieces of legislation was marked by the disinterest of Members in session proceedings. The session witnessed low attendance of Members in each of the 12 sittings and persistent lack of quorum. On average, only 11 out of 371 Members were present at the beginning of each sitting while 24 at the end.
The session, which met between February 24 and March 12, 2012, lasted 33 hours and eight minutes with each sitting lasting, on average, two hours and 46 minutes. Each sitting was delayed on average by 81 minutes.
The Punjab Assembly is the largest legislature in the country with a membership of 371. Despite their responsibility to represent such a vast number of people, the attendance of Members especially at the beginning and the end of each sitting remained significantly lower than the minimum required one-fourth (93) of the total strength (371) for passing bills.
The lack of Quorum was pointed out seven occasions by five Members representing PML, one belonging to PPPP and an Independent. At many other occasions, the lack of quorum went unnoticed as no member pointed it out.
The presence of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Minister, the Leader of the opposition and the parliamentary leaders in the House highlights their interest in the proceedings. The Chief Minister was present in only one sitting for 40 minutes while the Leader of the Opposition was present in four sittings for 345 minutes. The Speaker chaired all but one sitting, which was presided over by the Deputy Speaker.
The MMAP parliamentary leader attended six sittings while the PML leader was present in five. PMLZ and PMLF leaders attended a sitting each.
While the attendance of Members remained low, the Assembly managed to pass 11 bills amid lack of quorum – nine Government and two Private Members’ Bills.
Private Members’ Bills are a way of performing legislative functions separately from the executive, and therefore, reflect wider priority areas of Members. The two Private Members’ Bills – the Provincial
Assembly of the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Bill 2008 and the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab Privileges (Amendment) Bill 2009 – will enable MPAs to visit child protection institutions in their constituencies and submit reports on them to the concerned Minister, and raise in penalty for causing disruptions on the Punjab Assembly premises from Rs 1000 (stipulated in 1972) to Rs 20, 000.
Additionally, the House adopted 10 Resolutions to express its opinion about the incident of burning of the Holy Quran by NATO forces in Afghanistan, condemning a US congressional hearing on Balochistan, and upgrading Nowsehra district’s to a tehsil.
In the legislature’s oversight over the government, which is mainly carried out through putting Questions, a total of 330 Starred questions (requiring oral reply) – 113 by women and 217 by men Members – were asked during the session, with the most directed to the Punjab Ministries of Health, Communications and Works, Revenue, Agriculture, and School Education. Women legislators were observed to be more proactive in holding the executive accountable to the legislature with each woman MPA, on average, putting two questions1. No Unstarred questions (requiring written reply) were raised during the session.
Calling Attention Notices are also a tool of oversight of executive through which the attention of a Minister is drawn towards a matter of urgent public importance. Through this notice, a Member can request a Minister to pay attention to a particular matter and take necessary steps to address it. Six Calling Attention Notices appearing on the Orders of the Day, all directed to the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, were taken up by the House.
Among other agenda items, a total of 24 Adjournment Motions were raised during the session. Ownership rights of Punjab industrial workers, road accidents in Raiwind due to heavy transport vehicles, issuance of NOCs to doctors to work in Saudi Arabia and vacant posts of school principals in four districts of Punjab were some of the predominant matters brought to the Assembly’s notice through these Motions. Of these, 14 were raised by female Members and 10 by male Members, all of which were taken up. PMLN moved 10 Adjournment Motions, followed by PML and PPPP with seven each.
Speeches by Members and Treasury rejoinders on Points of Order took 15% of the total session time, dipping into the time otherwise allocated for agenda items on the Order of the Day. 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.
Loud cross talks between treasury and opposition benches continued to hamper the regular proceeding of the session.
The House witnessed three boycotts – all by PPPP Members – for not being allowed to speak on Points of Order and harsh comments made by the exchequer benches. A PML Member, walked out to protest a similar issue. At another instance PPPP Members staged a protest over development funds for the Opposition Members not being released.
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