Only 21 Senators take part in debate on budget

ISLAMABAD, June 13, 2012: Major political crises including the Prime Minister’s conviction in the contempt case overshadowed the budget debate in the Upper House as only 21 Senators, less than one-fourth of the total membership of 104, spoke on the federal budget 2012-13.

A preliminary report released by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) released on Wednesday, said under article 73 of the constitution the Senate sends its recommendations on the budget to the National Assembly within 14 days of its announcement. The Standing Committee on Finance, Revenue, Planning and Development placed before the House 145 recommendations, which were adopted during the last sitting.

Twenty nine percent (four out of 14) Senators of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN); 15% (six out of 41) representing the ruling Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP); 40% (two out of five) Senators of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML); 29% (two out of seven) of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM); 25% (three out of 12) of Awami National Party (ANP); and 29% (two out of seven) of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl Rehman (JUIF) took part in the debate on budgetary proposals. The sole Senators of the Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PMLF) and Balochistan National Party – Awami (BNPA) also marked their presence by expressing their views on the budget.

The 21 Senators consumed almost three fourth of the session time on debating budget during eight sittings.  However, the debate on budget lasted only 10 hours and 20 minutes.

The PPPP Senators took almost an hour and 58 minutes to express their views and respond to criticism on the budget. The PMLN legislators took four hours and 13 minutes; ANP an hour and 20 minutes; JUIF 53 minutes, PML 39 minutes, MQM 38 minutes, PMLF 28 minutes and the BNPA Senator took 11 minutes to express their views on the budget.

None of the four Senators belonging to minorities, who made it to the House after the passage of the 18th amendment, took part in the budget debate. Similarly, 12 Independents also did not say anything about the budget.

Almost one-fourth (24%) of the parliamentarians who took part in debate on the budget proposals were women, who constitute 16% of Senate’s membership. About 76% of the parliamentarians involved in the budget debate were men, who represent approximately 83% of the total membership.

The Senate met for 13 hours and 32 minutes for eight sittings from June 1 to June 12. Each sitting lasted an average of one hour and 41 minutes, with each facing an average delay of 49 minutes.

The Finance Bill, 2011 was presented during the first sitting of the session, in which the Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue addressed the House for 12 minutes amid strong protest by the opposition legislators.

The business of the parliament can only be meaningful “with the active and responsible participation of its Members.” The absence of parliamentary leaders from the Upper House during the budget session was noticeable. The Leader of the Opposition was only present during four sittings, while the parliamentary leader of PML did not attend the entire session. However, the ANP and PMLF leaders attended seven sittings each; NP (five), MQM (four), BNPA (two) and the JUIF leader attended one sitting.

Overall during the session 30Senators marked their participation by either raising a Point of Order or by taking part in the general debate on budget. However, while making speeches on budget the Senators also expressed their views on the current political issues.

The attendance of Senators remained low during the entire budget session. Since the Senate Secretariat does not make attendance records of its Members public, FAFEN conducts a head-count of Members at the beginning and end of each sitting and documents the actual time spent on the floor of the House by the Chairman, the Deputy Chairman, Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition. On average, only 19 legislators were present at the start of each sitting and 32 at the end.

The Leader of the House attended all eight sittings for 741 minutes (91% of the session time) while the Leader of the Opposition was present for 375 minutes (46% of the session time). The Chairman chaired three sittings for 213 minutes (26% of the session time) and the Deputy Chairman presided over six sittings for 518 minutes (64% of the session time).

A total of 17 Points of Order consumed eight per cent of the session time. None of them attracted the Chair’s formal ruling.

The Upper House witnessed five instances of protests. The PMLN walked out of the House on three occasions protesting the budget and the Supreme Court’s verdict in the contempt case against the Prime Minister, corruption and claiming that the Opposition Benches had not been given enough time to speak on the budget. The MQM Senators walked out on two instances against the deteriorating law and order in Karachi.

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.