Lower House consumes 43% time on Points of Order, passes eight bills, registers multi-party protests against new taxation proposals
ISLAMABAD, November 14, 2010: Almost 40% MNAs participated in the 26th Session of the Lower House that left 71% of the agenda items listed on the Orders of the Day unaddressed primarily due to excessive time consumed by Points of Order, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report based on direct observation of the 26th Session of the 13th National Assembly that concluded on November 12, 2010.
A total of 135 Members — 101 male Members and 34 female Members — took part in the nine sittings of the session that lasted 21 hours and 47 minutes. In line with the participation trend, male members appeared to be lees active than their female counterparts. Male participation remained 38% of their total membership at 264 and female participation was 45% of their total membership at 76.
A party-wise analysis shows highest participation by the PMLN, whose 59% Members took part in the proceedings of the session. This was followed by the participation of MQM’s 56% Members, MMAP’s 43%, PPPP’s 32%, PML’s 28% and ANP’s 23%. None of the five PMLF Members participated in the proceedings. Among single-Member parties, the PPPS Member took part in the proceedings, while NPP and BNPA Members remained absent during all sittings of the session.
The PPPP’s 32% MNAs, the PMLN’s 59%, the PML’s 28%, the MQM’s 56%, the ANP’s 23% and the MMAP’s 43% legislators participated in 26th Session. As many as 35% independent Members along with the only member of PPPS participated in the proceedings while no Member from PMLF, NPP and BNPA took part in the proceedings during the entire Session.
While participation remained low, the 26th session registered a slight improvement in the Members’ attendance. Since the National Assembly Secretariat does not provide information to media and public on attendance of Members, FAFEN conducts the headcount of Members at the beginning and end of each sitting and documents actual time spent on the floor of the House by Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. During the 26th session, 64 Members on an average were present at the beginning of the each sitting and 101 at the end.
The Prime Minister attended all but one sitting, being present for 491 minutes or 38% of the total session time. The Leader of the Opposition was absent during two sittings, being present for 469 minutes or 35% of the total session time. The Speaker chaired the proceedings for 24% of the session time, while the rest of the 76% of session time was presided over by the Deputy Speaker. Speaker was absent during five out of nine sittings. Parliamentary Leaders of ANP, PMLF, NPP and BNPA did not attend the any of the sittings, while those of PPPS attended seven sittings, PML five sittings and MQM and MMAP two sittings each.
Speeches by Members and Treasury rejoinders on Points of Order (POs) took 43% of the total session time, dipping into the time that was 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. Three Members raised procedural irregularities in the conduct of the assembly proceedings particularly pertaining to long speeches on POs, unaddressed agenda and consistent delays in sittings.
In keeping with the trend documented by FAFEN during the tenure of the exiting assembly and due to the PO practice, the Lower House could not take up 71% of agenda items listed on the Order of the Day during the session that met for only 2 hours and 25 minutes on an average during each of the nine sittings. Each sitting that started by an average of 42 minutes late is considered one full working parliamentary day.
A total of 107 Points of Order were raised during the Session which utilized 556 minutes. However, none of the Points of Orders raised by Members required Speaker’s ruling. The Members exchanged arguments over issues like prices, accountability, official flood response and Pak-US relations, etc. A total of 21 Points of Order were raised by PML Members, 29 by PMLN Members, 9 by MQM Members, 6 by Independent Members, 2 by MMAP Members and one by a female ANP Member. PPPP members took the floor 39 times on Points of Order, mostly to respond to opposition Members’ criticism and clarifications.
The 26th session was high on legislation, as the government succeeded in the passage of the eight of the 15 bills – 14 on the routine agenda and one on supplementary agenda. Critical bills pertaining to the imposition of the Reformed General Sales Tax and Flood Surcharge prompted protests by opposition PMLN and government allies including MQM and ANP. Both bills were referred to the NA Standing Committee on Revenue and Finance. None of the three Private Member’s Bills introduced were taken up.
Of 18 Calling Attention Notices listed on the Orders of the Day, the House took up only eight raised by 17 male and nine female Members — six sponsored by PMLN members, one by PML members and one jointly tabled by PMLN and PML Members.
While Members appeared keen on discussing on Points of Order the issue of high inflation, the Adjournment Motion on the price hike of petroleum products admitted for debate during the third sitting on the initiative of PML and PMLN Members was not taken up during the session.
The Opposition benches hard-pressed on the point that the resolution against the Price hike in petroleum products should be adopted by the House, but the treasury benches were of the opinion that house should debate the issue before deriving any conclusions. Another adjournment motion was raised during the Session regarding the target killings in Karachi and Balochistan.
None of the 10 resolutions listed on the Orders of the Day was taken up by the House. The only resolution that was approved by the House unanimously was not listed on the Orders of the Day. The resolution was meant to communicate a joint political consensus in Pakistan against “the support promised to India by the United States of America for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council”.
Among other agenda items that remained unaddressed included 10 Motions Under Rule 259 one of three Matters of Public Importance. Two Matters of the Public Importance tabled by PMLN Members that were discussed related to the spread of fatal diseases caused by emission of radiation waves/signals from Mobile Telephone Towers and increase in poverty.
The House witnessed four walkouts, three boycotts and two protests by various political parties during the session. MQM Members boycotted three sittings and walked out during two on the issue of price hike of petroleum products. ANP members protested against the rising rates of unemployment during one sitting. PML members staged a walkout complaining that several of their adjournment motions were not taken up by the House. PMLN members engaged in sloganeering and protest against the increase in the prices of petroleum products. One multi-party protest by the PMLN, ANP and MQM Members against the GST Bill, 2010 was documented during the last sitting of the Session.
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.
The Session Report is based on direct observation of National Assembly proceedings conducted by CPDI-Pakistan, a member organization of FAFEN.
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