Punjab Assembly: Budget Session Marked by Low Attendance

ISLAMABAD, July 2, 2013: A little less than half of the legislators – 45% – took part in the debate on the annual budget in the Punjab Assembly, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its preliminary report based on the direct observation of the session.

As many as 121 male and 40 female legislators on the treasury and opposition benches participated in the budget debate. Out of the total 161 legislators, 126 (95 male and 31 female) belonged to PMLN, which has 302 members out of the current total strength of the Punjab Assembly – 354. The main opposition party PTI’s 23 male and seven female legislators also took part in the budget debate.

The session spread over 10 sittings from June 17 till June 29, 2013 lasted 37 hours and 29 minutes. Each sitting on average lasted three hours and 45 minutes observing a delay of 47 minutes.

The provincial Minister for Finance who laid the annual budget in the first sitting attended all the ten sittings (76% of the session time). His budget speech lasted an hour and 20 minutes. The Speaker presided over 78% (29 hours and four minutes) of the session while the remaining proceedings were chaired by the Deputy Speaker 22 % (eight hours and 25 minutes).

The Chief Minister attended two sittings remaining present for 6% of the session’s time while his counterpart, the Leader of the Opposition, was present in all sittings attending 41% of the proceedings.

The Punjab assembly – currently a 354-member house – witnessed low members attendance during the budget session. On average a maximum of 42% (148 MPAs) attended the budget session. Similarly on average, there were 84 MPAs (24%) at the beginning and 106 (30%) at the adjournment of each sitting. Out of the eight minority members in the house, on average four attended the budget session.

The quorum – 1/4th of total membership, 86 MPAs – was lacking on various occasions. It was pointed out six instances by the legislators of PTI and PML. On four occasions the Speaker ordered for the assembly bells to be rung to complete the quorum and once the quorum was mistakenly pointed out.

The house adopted two resolutions to condemn the terrorist attacks on Ziarat Residency and Quetta, including suicide attack on the bus of the Women University and the killing of foreign tourists in Gilgit Baltistan.  The Punjab services Tribunal Ordinance 2013 was also introduced during the session.

Lawmakers called upon the provincial government to set up a Hepatitis Crisis Center and take necessary steps to check the spread of Measles in Punjab through two adjournment motions taken up by the house.

A privilege motion moved by a PMLN member about the police department was referred to the special committee as the standing committees have not been formed in the Punjab Assembly yet.

MPAs spoke on 154 points of order – on average 15 per sitting – consuming 93 minutes – 4% of the proceedings.

The house witnessed three walkouts consuming 186 minutes – 8% of the session time. A female PML MPA staged a walkout complaining about the non-serious attitude of the treasury. Similarly, MPAs belonging to PTI, PPPP and PML walked out in protest over agriculture income tax and the property tax on five-marla houses. Refusing to take part in the passage of the supplementary budget, the opposition benches staged a 34-minute walkout during the 10th sitting.

About FAFEN: FAFEN, a coalition of 42 civil society organizations, started the direct observation of the National Assembly proceedings in 2008, using a methodology based the rules of the parliamentary business. The direct observation was extended to the proceedings of Senate and the provincial assemblies in 2011.