Punjab Assembly: Only 26% Lawmakers Take Part in Budget Debate

  •  Chief Minister attends three out of eleven sittings of budget session
  • The Assembly amends local government law, pays tribute to Sabri

The Punjab Assembly passed the Annual Budget 2016-17 and the Supplementary Budget 2015-16 during 22nd session which continued from June 13 to June 29, 2016. It is ninth consecutive budget of the Punjab presented by PML-N which is ruling the province since 2008 and was reelected to the government in 2013.

The session began with the presentation of the Annual and Supplementary Budgets on June 13, 2016. After a two-day gap following the budget speech, the House commenced discussion on the budget which continued for four sittings and was concluded by the Finance Minister on June 22. The House took next two days to approve 43 Demands for Grants which preceded the passage of the Punjab Finance Bill 2016 on June 27. The opposition lawmakers moved six Cut Motions against the budget allocated for Police, Health Services, Education, Agriculture, Development and Miscellaneous Departments; however, all were rejected by a majority vote. The remaining Demands for Grants were approved by the House under Rule 144 (4) of the Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, 1997. According to the said Rule, all questions outstanding on last of the days allotted for voting on Demands for Grants are put before the House for disposal. The last two sittings of the session were consumed by discussion and voting on Supplementary Budget 2015-16. The opposition also moved three Cut Motions on Supplementary Demands for Grants.

As many as 98 out of 367 sitting lawmakers (26%) took part in deliberations on the budget during the session while the remaining 269 lawmakers did not participate in any of the discussions. The lawmakers spent 23 hours and 56 minutes (70% of session’s duration) on general discussion and discussions on Demands for Grants, Finance Bill and Supplementary Budget. Among 98 participating members, 27 (28%) were female lawmakers who consumed a quarter of the time (six hours) spent on discussions. The main opposition party PTI’s 15 lawmakers consumed the largest portion of the discussions (ten hours and two minutes) followed by  ruling party PML-N whose 71 lawmakers took ten hours. Five lawmakers each of PPPP and PML spoke for 102 minutes and 87 minutes respectively while one lawmaker each of JI and PML-Z also consumed 36 minutes and nine minutes respectively. Nearly 77% of PML-N lawmakers and half of the PTI members abstained from taking part in the budget discussions.

Apart from the annual and supplementary budget statements, the Finance Minister also laid the Schedule of Authorized Expenditure for the year 2016-2017, the Supplementary Schedule of Authorized Expenditure for the year 2015-2016 and the notifications relating to the amendments in the Second Schedule of the Punjab Sales Tax on Services Act 2012 and the Rules made under the Act ibid.

The House also took up legislative and non-legislative business during the session besides the budget process which continued for entire session while one sitting (fourth) was reserved to pay respect to late lawmaker Muhammad Siddique Khan of PTI who died of cardiac arrest on June 19, 2016. Eleven lawmakers – PML-N (seven), PTI (three) and PML (one) – offered their tribute to the deceased colleague consuming 22 minutes of the proceedings. Besides the Punjab Finance Bill 2016, the House also passed the Punjab Local Government (Fourth Amendment) Bill, 2016 while three bills – the Punjab Civil Courts (Amendment) Ordinance 2016, the Punjab Blood Transfusion Safety Bill, 2016, the Punjab Revenue Authority (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016 – were introduced. The amendment in the local government law empowers a rural Union Council with urban characteristics to levy property tax within its areas in addition to other urban local governments. The discussion on this amendment bill consumed 40 minutes while six members participated in it. The House suspended the requirement of mandatory three days’ notice period under Rule 115 of the Rules of Procedure to take up and adopt a unanimous resolution condemning the killing of renowned Qawaal Amjad Fareed Sabri in Karachi.

The Standing Committees on Live Stock and Home Affairs each presented their reports on two bills while the Committee on Privileges laid its report on the Privilege Motions No.1 and 25 of 2015 and 4 of 2016. The House also granted two-month extension to Committee on Privileges and standing committees on Colonies, Communication & Works, Food, Services & General Administration and Housing, Urban Development & Public Health Engineering for presentation of their reports on different matters referred to them.

The longest sitting of the session continued for four hours and 50 minutes while the shortest for 35 minutes. The proceedings continued uninterrupted throughout the session except once when the House took a 19-minutes break to wait for the Finance Minister during sixth sitting. A PPPP lawmaker once pointed out quorum but it was found complete on headcount. The Chief Minister attended three sittings for only an hour and 58 minutes while the Leader of the Opposition came to ten sittings and spent 17 hours and 23 minutes (51% of session’s duration). The Finance Minister also attended ten sittings but remained present for 27 hours and 34 minutes (80% of session’s duration). The Speaker was present in all sittings and presided over 85% of the proceedings (29 hours and 18 minutes) while the Deputy Speaker was present in six sittings and chaired 13% proceedings (four hours and 19 minutes). The Panel of Chairpersons’ member also presided over the sitting once for 25 minutes. On average, each sitting was attended by 211 lawmakers including five minority legislators. The highest attendance was recorded during first sitting when 268 members were present while the lowest during sixth sitting when 192 members attended the proceedings. The parliamentary leader of PPPP attended ten sittings followed by JI leader (three sittings) and PML-Z leader (one sitting) whilst the leaders of PML, BNA-P and PNML did not come to the House throughout the session.

The lawmakers submitted 12 Adjournment Motions, of which only two regarding Punjab Rural Roads Programme and increased shop rents in Sargodha were taken up. The former was disposed of following the government’s reply while the later was referred to the relevant committee. The remaining ten motions concerning the education, health and housing were pended for next session. The legislators also raised six Questions of Privilege (five by PML-N and one by PTI) during the session. The House referred five of these to the Committee on Privileges while one was kept pending.

The session witnessed nine instances of protests or walkouts. Entire opposition walked out from the House during the budget speech of the Finance Minister while it also protested on floor of the House against absence of the Health Minister and unsatisfactory response of the Education Minister during seventh and eighth sittings. PTI also staged a token walkout singly during sixth sitting against remarks of a PML-N lawmaker on proposed protest by the party after Eid.  The individual lawmakers belonging to PTI, PPPP, JI and PML-N also staged walkouts to register protest against ignoring their respective constituencies in budget schemes and being denied time for speaking on floor of the House.

The lawmakers spoke on 21 Points of Order during the session consuming 23 minutes. Though reserved for matters related to the Rules, the Points of Order were used to talk about various other issues as well.

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