Only 12% of MNAs debate budget

ISLAMABAD June 15, 2012: The Prime Minister’s contempt case and other political issues hampered the proceedings of the National Assembly’s budget session, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its preliminary report on 42nd session on Friday.

Only 41 legislators (12% of the membership) took part in the debate on budget – much less than 139 legislators (41% of the membership) who spoke the budgetary proposals during the fourth parliamentary year.

Though it was a first time in Pakistan’s history that a sitting elected government has presented the fifth consecutive budget, the session was marred by the opposition’s protests over the prime minister’s conviction in the contempt protest. In the first sitting the legislators came to blows as the Finance Minister was making the budget speech.

Almost 23% of the session time (365 minutes) was consumed by protests and walkouts. MQM legislators walked out of the House on two occasions over the target killings in Karachi. The PMLN legislators staged protests in all the sittings.

Moreover the Leader of the Opposition did not open the general discussion on the budget – a tradition that has been followed in the previous parliamentary years.

The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN) showed less interest in budget. Only 2% of the total 91 PMLN legislators expressed their views during the general debate on budget.

Similarly, 16% percent (14 out of 127) legislators of ruling Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) took part in the debate. Twenty-eight percent (seven out of 25) Members of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM); 21% (three out of 14) of Awami National Party (ANP); 16% (eight out of 50) of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML); one Member each of Mutihida Majlis-e-Amal Party (MMAP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PMLF) took part in the debate on budgetary proposals. Five Independents also marked their participation by expressing views on budget.

The sole Members of the Pakistan People’s Party – Sherpao (PPPS), Balochistan Awami Party (BNPA) and National People’s Party (NPP) remained silent.

The Finance Bill 2011 was presented during the first sitting of the session, in which the Minister for Finance and Revenue addressed the House for 23 minutes amid strong protest by the PMLN legislators.

The PMLN’s disinterest was also evident from the fact that it brought in no Cut Motions – a means to express disapproval or dissatisfaction over the budgetary proposals. However, the opposition introduced 471 cut motions during the fourth parliamentary year and 660 in the third year.

The budget session this year lasted 26 hours and four minutes compared to last year’s 31st session which met for 75 hours and 45 minutes. The House took only 10 sittings to pass the federal budget. Each of these sittings lasted an average of two hours and 24 minutes, with an average delay of 50 minute.

The debate on the budget took more than 15 hours of the session. Fourteen PPPP Members took almost 256 minutes to express their views and identify various issues. The two PMLN Members took 212 minutes, seven MQM Members 188 minutes, eight PML Members 122 minutes, three ANP Members 52 minutes, one MMAP Member four minutes and one PMLF Member took three minutes to speak during the general debate. Five Independents took 72 minutes to raise their concerns on budget.

Since the National Assembly Secretariat does not make attendance records of its Members public, FAFEN conducts a head-count of legislators 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.

The Prime Minister, who has maintained the tradition of attending most of the sittings, attended only two during the budget session, mainly because of the opposition’s protest, demanding his resignation over conviction in the contempt case.  Similarly the Leader of the Opposition also attended only two sittings.

The parliamentary leader of NPP attended nine sittings, BNPA seven, MQM and ANP four each, and PML and PPPS heads attended two sitting each.

The attendance of Members remained low during the entire budget session. During the session, on an average 82 Members were present at the start of each sitting and 114 at the end. A total of 192 Members (56% of total NA Strength) were present during the 10th sitting when the Finance Bill 2012-13 was passed.

The Speaker chaired the proceedings for 14% of the session time; the Deputy Speaker presided over the 58%; and the remaining time 17% was chaired by Members of Panel of Chairpersons. Eleven percent of spent was consumed by breaks on accounts for prayers.

The lack of Quorum remained an issue during the entire session. According to FAFEN observation, it was visibly lacking at various stages of the session.

The opposition also tried to use Quorum as an excuse to disrupt the proceedings. On five occasions – in fifth, seventh and eighth sittings – it was pointed out by PMLN legislators, but on count the Quorum was found complete. However, during the fourth sitting the sitting had to be suspended for 27 minutes as one-fourth of the Members were not present.

The House adopted two Resolutions. The first called the Federal Government to extend the time period of Drug Regulatory Authority Ordinance, while the other backed the Speaker’s ruling on the Prime Minister’s disqualification cannot be challenged on any forum.

Two CANs appearing on the Orders of the Day were not taken up during the session.

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.