Seven bills introduced, a resolution adopted in 100th Senate session

Islamabad, January 21, 2014: The 100th session of the Upper House witnessed the introduction of seven private member bills, adoption of a resolution and several debates on matters of public importance while low attendance and ministerial absence was witnessed throughout the session, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary report on Tuesday.

Seven private member bills on the agenda were introduced and referred to the relevant standing committees. Three bills relate to the protection of human rights; they include the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2013, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and the Domestic Workers (Employment Rights) Bill, 2013. Two of these bills specifically addressed women rights.

One of the introduced bills places a bar on civil servants from serving international organizations unless “deputed on behalf of the government”. Another bill, the twenty second constitutional amendment bill prohibits the dual nationals from serving in armed forces, judiciary and from elected representation. In an attempt to promote good governance and economic development, another two bills emphasize the privatization of state entities in a transparent manner and the constitution of an autonomous body of industrial sector to ensure effective representation of industries of Pakistan.

Additionally, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 (Ordinance No.X of 2013) was presented during the fourth sitting.

To condemn the recent killings of a senior police officer in Karachi and a student in Hangu in terrorist attacks and to pay tribute to the deceased, the House adopted a PPPP sponsored resolution. Additionally, Senators debated another resolution calling upon the government to publish the names of judges of superior judiciary holding dual nationality.

The House debated matters of public interest on four Motions under Rule 218 regarding the current political and security situation in the country with particular reference to Balochistan, FATA and the recent sectarian riot in Rawalpindi, the alleged irregularities in Elections 2013, the working and recent pronouncements of the Council of Islamic Ideology, and the need to shift the headquarters of the State Bank from Karachi to Islamabad.

Responding to the terrorist attacks killing a senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader and targeting a Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker in KP on January 12, 2014; the House held a 66-minute discussion on the law and order situation, specifically on the mentioned attacks. Details of SNGPL project launched in District Hangu (since 2011) were also debated by eight lawmakers with emphasis on the details of social funds and project distributions.

The session starting from January 3 till 20, 2014 lasted eight sittings consuming 22 hours and six minutes. Although the session stretched over nearly the same number of days as the previous (99th) session it held fewer sittings. Nearly all sittings observed an average delay of 45 minutes and longer breaks were observed during the proceedings consuming 14% of the session time.

Low interest of Senators was observed as on average nearly two third of the House strength did not attend the proceedings. On average, fourteen members were observed at the start, 25 at the adjournment and 34 at a time of maximum attendance during a sitting. The lacking quorum was never pointed throughout the session.

The Chairman presided over 53% (11 Hours and 37 minutes) of the session while the remaining time was chaired by the Deputy Chairman. The Leader of the House attended the entire proceedings while the Leader of the Opposition was present in six sittings (55% of the session) attending each sitting for a shorter duration than his counterpart.

Following the precedence, the Awami National Party, Balochistan National Party Awami and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazal parliamentary leaders were more regular (attending five sittings each), followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader (three sittings), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid  leader (two sittings) while the MQM leader was only present in a  single sitting. The members of Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional and National Party (single member parties) attended six, four and two sittings respectfully.

Ministerial absence and delayed appearance of ministers was observed during the Question Hour – an accountability tool for the lawmakers. Out of 93 starred questions (requiring oral and written response) on the agenda submitted to conduct government oversight only 35 were taken up and responded on the floor. Lawmakers asked an additional 105 supplementary questions to get further clarity on the ministerial answers.

The House took up two calling attention notices (CANs) highlighting law and order and public welfare issues. Tabled by a PML-N lawmaker, one notice was on kidnapping and forced conversion of a Hindu school teacher from Peshawar while a PPPP lawmaker moved the notice on the stoppage of training program and irregularities in Waseela-e-Rozgar, Benazir Income Support Program.

Lawmakers spoke on 74 points of order consuming 217 minutes – 16% of the session time. Of three questions of privilege (QOP) on the agenda, all moved by PPPP lawmakers, only one against Pakistan’s Saudi Ambassador was referred to the relevant standing committees. Questions of privilege regarding the privatization of PIA, the Pakistan Protection Ordinance and the Anti-terrorism Ordinance, were deferred.

The House witnessed six token walkouts, three staged by the entire opposition while MQM and ANP lawmakers also protested by observing a single walkout each and a joint walkout by both parties. The walkouts focused on privatization of PIA, the killing of a senior police official in Karachi, unsatisfactory response to questions by the concerned ministries, solidarity with journalists against terrorist attacks and the permission to speak on a point of order.

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of FAFEN and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union. This preliminary report is based on direct observation of the Senate proceedings conducted by PATTAN Development Organization; a member organization of FAFEN. Errors and omissions excepted.