National Assembly passes five government bills, adopts several resolutions amidst low attendance of MNAs

ISLAMABAD, March 10, 2014: The ninth session of the National Assembly passed legislation to overhaul the judicial system and adopted resolutions calling for better governance in the areas of energy and taxation, among others. However, lawmakers’ attendance was observed to be low, says the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its preliminary report.

Five treasury-backed bills were passed while seven bills – including the Hindu Marriage Bill, 2014 – were introduced and sent to the relevant standing committees. Four bills were on improving the judicial system while one bill focused on employment in public service. The Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils (Amendment) Bill, 2013 provides for the establishment of Islamabad Bar Council as a statutory requirement, after the formation of an independent High Court for the Islamabad Capital Territory, under the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973 (XXXV of 1973). The other bill, the Federal Court (Repeal) Bill, 2013, was unanimously passed to repeal the Federal Court Act, 1937 as it has lost its effectiveness.

The Chief Justice will become member of the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee (NJPMC) and the Law and Justice Commission (ex-officio member) after the enactment of two other unanimously passed bills; the National Judicial (Policy Making) Committee (Amendment) bill 2013 and the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2013, respectively.

The Federal Public Service Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2014, seeks amendments to the Federal Public Service Commission Ordinance, 1977 by awarding the President with the authority to allow further employment of members of the commission, after the completion of their term, to further tap into the skills/qualifications they have acquired during their service.

The government resolved to control power theft as the Gas (Theft Control and Recovery) Ordinance, 2014 was laid during the first sitting. The ad-hoc law provides for curbing gas theft, prosecution of cases of gas theft and other related offences and recovery of outstanding amounts.

Two committee reports; one on the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2013 while the other on fiscal and debt policy statements for the year 2013-2014 were presented before the House as well.

The House adopted seven resolutions. In addition, a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) sponsored resolution calling upon the government to provide interest-free loans to the federal government employees was debated by the House. The adopted resolutions called upon the federal government to legislate on the pending recommendations of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), abolish all duties and taxes on medicines, explore new reserves of oil and gas in the country, control gas load shedding, celebrate the World Oral Health Day on March 20every year, and provide free of cost National Identity Cards to the citizens.

In connection to the International Women’s Day on 8th March, the House adopted a joint resolution, tabled by male and female lawmakers, acknowledging women’s contribution in the national life and praising women parliamentarians for actively and substantively performing their legislative and oversight roles. The resolution was a joint motion by the government and the opposition.

 The House responded to the terrorist attack that took place in the Federal Capital on March 3, 2014 leaving eleven people, including a judge, dead. Eleven members shared their views on the incident in a debate that lasted two hours and 48 minutes. Additionally, 11 Motions under Rule 259 were on the agenda seeking debate on various issues. Out of 11 Motions, the House took up two regarding government’s foreign and security policy. The first motion was submitted by a female MNA belonging to Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) to discuss the government foreign policy, while the other was moved by a PML-N lawmaker for the House to discuss the National Internal Security Policy. The Interior Minister presented the National Security Policy during the third sitting.

The session witnessed a boycott and a walkout during the first sitting of the session. The boycott was staged by the sole member of Awami Muslim League Pakistan (AMLP) over the alleged neglect of government of internal issues of the country, while the PPPP observed a 10-minute walkout over the charges of partiality in the Azad Jammu and Kashmir elections.

Lawmakers brought some pertinent public issues on the floor through 12 calling attention notices; nine of which received responses from the relevant ministries. The taken up notices involved various national issues related to energy sector reforms, terrorism and governance, agriculture, health, communications and employment. 

Energy sector remained the prime focus of MNAs while conducting government oversight as more than one fourth questions were directed to the Ministries of Water and Power (71) and Petroleum and Natural Resources (61). Over all lawmakers addressed 514 questions – 237 starred and 277 un-starred (requiring verbal and written replies, respectively) to various government ministries/departments. Fifty-eight questions (11%) were taken up on the floor while lawmakers asked an additional 61 supplementary questions.

Lawmakers raised 48 points of orders – a parliamentary tool to point out a violation of assembly rules and procedures – consuming 144 minutes- 8% of the session time. Additionally, lawmakers took 12% of the session time discussing 56 public matters moved under rule 18. The Chair referred a question of privilege tabled by the AMLP lawmaker over non-construction of boundary wall of MNAs’ Hostels, posing threat to their lives.

The session spanning over ten sittings started from February 24 till March 7, 2014 consuming 31 Hours and 32 minutes. Each sitting was delayed by 27 minutes on average as the House took five breaks (mostly for prayers) lasting 7% of the session time – two hours and 17 minutes.

The public is not privy to the attendance record of National Assembly lawmakers therefore the FAFEN observer performs a head count at various stages of a sitting to gauge members’ attendance. Short attendance was observed as on average more than half of the lawmakers did not attend the proceedings. On average, 62 MNAs (18%) were present at the start, 70 MNAs (21%) at the adjournment and a maximum 150 MNAs (44%) were witnessed during a sitting. The often-missing quorum was only pointed out once by a PTI lawmaker during the second sitting.

The Prime Minister made a short appearance (74 minutes) during the third sitting while the Leader of the Opposition was present in nine sittings attending 12 hours and 44 minutes of the session. The Speaker presided over 72% of the proceedings, the Deputy Speaker 20%, while one percent of the session was chaired by the Panel of Chairpersons.

Breaking precedence, the Awami National Party (ANP) parliamentary leader was the most regular by attending eight sittings while the JI leader was present in seven sittings. Pakistan Muslim League- Functional (PML-F) leader attended four sittings, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) leaders (three sittings each), Pakistan Muslim League (PML) two sittings and a single sitting was attended by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders. The National Peoples’ Party (NPP) leader remained away from the session, as was the case in the previous session.

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of FAFEN and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. This Daily Factsheet is based on direct observation of the National Assembly proceedings conducted by Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI); a member organization of FAFEN. Errors and omissions excepted.