Points of order consume 37% of the session time

ISLAMABAD, November 20, 2012: The 47th session of the National Assembly witnessed the passage of five bills as 64% of the agenda was not taken up while low attendance persisted, says a preliminary report issued by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Tuesday.

The Lower House passed four government-backed bills – the Pakistan Academy of Letters Bill 2010, the Trade Organizations Bill 2012, the Validation Bill 2012 and a criminal law amendment bill. The PMLN opposed the bill validating the official steps taken by former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani between April 26 and June 19, 2012 after the Supreme Court convicted him in the contempt of court case.

On a positive note the House unanimously passed a private member bill – the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012. The bill has already been passed by Senate.

The 14 hours and 38 minutes session spread over seven sittings from November 12-20 did not take up 63 of the total 99 agenda items appearing on the orders of the day. However, four supplementary agenda items in the form of resolutions and privilege motions were taken up.

Members’ attendance continued to be low. On average 55 members were present at the beginning and 43 at the end, while a maximum of 119 were present at one point during each sitting. These figures are based on headcounts taken by FAFEN observer since the National Assembly does not make attendance records of legislators public.

The attendance of key members was also low. The Speaker was absent throughout the session while the Deputy Speaker attended two sittings. The Prime Minister attended two out of seven sittings, while the Leader of the Opposition remained away from the entire session.

No parliamentary leader of the parties in the House – ANP, MMAP, MQM, PMLF, as well as single-member parties such as PPPS, BNPA – was present for more than two sittings. The legislator representing the single-member NPP did not attend the session. Attendance of chief whips was relatively better. The chief whips of PPPP and ANP attended all sittings, followed by MMAP four, while PMLN chief whip attended three sittings.

Three resolutions were adopted during the session. Male MQM and PMLN members jointly moved a resolution to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza. Similarly male MQM legislators moved a resolution on de-weaponization of the country, while a female PML parliamentarian’s resolution condemned violence against journalists, especially the murder of journalist Rehmat Ullah Abid in Panjgur on 18 November 2012.

Thirteen motions under rule 259 on the orders of the day and a Standing Committee report on the National Database and Registration Authority (Amendment) Bill 2011 were not taken up. However, four other reports of the Standing Committees on defence, interior, law and justice, and commerce were presented before the House. These were regarding the amendment bills about maritime security and NADRA, the Validation Bill and the Trade Organizations Bill.

Out of the 127 starred questions asked by legislators on the floor of the House, the ministers responded to 42, while 82 supplementary questions were also asked.

Seven of the 14 calling attention notices appearing on the agenda about health, environment, development funds, taxation, education, communications and drinking water were taken up.

A member of the opposition moved a privilege motion which was sent to the privilege committee.

Eighty two points of order were raised consuming 37% of the session time. The session saw two walkouts. MQM members walked out over the target killings in Karachi and the PMLN legislators over unavailability of development funds.

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.