ISLAMABAD: The government appeared helpless to run the National Assembly on Tuesday, failing to ensure everything from house and party discipline to the presence of ministers and officials in house, and ended up having to extend the length of the session that was supposed to end on Nov 29, much to the chagrin of the opposition.
Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi was also at a loss and couldn’t seem to handle all the curveballs that were being thrown his way during proceedings on the private members’ day, which lasted just over three hours.
Things began to go wrong when Mr Abbasi first called for discussion on a resolution moved by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s Naeema Kishwar Khan, regarding gas loadshedding in the country.
This piece of business had been pending since the previous private members’ day, when Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Resources Jam Kamal Khan had ducked out of the house rather than respond to members’ complaints during an especially heated debate.
Deputy speaker helpless as ministers absent themselves from proceedings
But when the deputy speaker read out the agenda item, no one from the relevant ministry was in the house. He then turned to Law Minister Zahid Hamid, reminding him that the matter had been deferred last week as well and inquired who would respond from the government’s side.
Mr Hamid said he would contact the relevant minister and promised to have him in the house “within a few minutes”, after which the deputy speaker moved on to the next agenda item, which was a resolution on the performance of PTV.
Again, no one was available to respond on the matter.
This did not sit well with Pakistan Peoples Party chief whip Aijaz Hussain Jhakrani. He immediately protested the “non-serious attitude” of the treasury, pointing to the empty front bench and called on the deputy speaker to censure the government for failing to discharge its collective and individual responsibility to parliament.
Kashmir Affairs Minister Muhammad Barjees Tahir tried to defend his cabinet colleagues by saying that the minister concerned did not need to be present during debate on a resolution, adding that the relevant person would be available to wind up the debate.
The deputy speaker pointed out that someone from the relevant ministry had to be present during debate to note down points, respond to queries and wrap up debate on the issue. He said that the information minister had nominated the CADD minister to take up business on her behalf and he was supposed to be present when the issue was taken up.
He also complained to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmed about the absence of both ministers. However, both Mr Ahmed and Mr Hamid assured him that the ministers would be on hand soon and that members could continue the debate until they arrived to wrap up. This seemed to reassure Mr Abbasi, who went back to the debate on gas loadshedding.
Ms Kishwer protested, arguing that members had debated the issue at length and only the minister’s input was awaited, but the deputy speaker invited more members to speak on the issue.
This continued for another 15 minutes, before the law minister informed the house that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was tied up at a meeting of the cabinet committee on energy and that loadshedding was on the agenda there as well.
But in a rare censure, the deputy speaker reminded the law minister that the committee was “not more important than parliament”, adding that the minister should have informed the NA secretariat of his engagement beforehand, or sent his state minister or parliamentary secretary in his stead.
Debate on this issue continued, but was interspersed with speeches on various points of order. Anyone who was given the floor seemed to want to talk about their own issues. This went on for another 45 minutes before Ms Kishwer finally lost her patience and asked the deputy speaker: “Can you please find out exactly who here is taking notes on behalf of the ministry?”
Trying to defend the government, Mr Abbasi then allowed members to move onto points of order.
Things were getting so out of hand that Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique felt the need to step in and remind the deputy speaker that the opposition was in the right; the relevant minister should be on hand to respond when business comes up in the house.
Mr Rafique, who showed up for proceedings on time, suggested that the speaker move on to his agenda item while the house waited for the petroleum minister to arrive.
Taking the minister’s advice, Mr Abbasi jumped to agenda item 23 — the Climate Change Bill 2016 — and then back to item 19 — a resolution on the railways ministry.
After several members had spoken on the issue, Mr Rafique gave an impressive but long-winded speech, ostensibly to stall for his absent colleague from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, who managed to make it to the house just as the railways minister was winding up.
When Mr Abbasi tried to go back to the discussion on gas loadshedding, Fata MNA Muhammad Jamaluddin complained his calling attention notice was being deferred. After placating the tribal lawmaker, the deputy speaker finally gave the floor to Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, censuring him for being late by nearly two hours.
Once the minister was done claiming there “is no gas loadshedding in Pakistan”, the deputy speaker tried to move onto the Fata MNAs’ business. Before he could, however he was interrupted by PPP members, who took issue with the decision to extend proceedings of the house beyond Nov 29.
“It was decided that the house would be prorogued today,” Shazia Marri complained. Mr Jhakrani also criticised the chairperson, asking that when the house advisory committee — chaired by the speaker — had decided that the assembly would remain in session until Nov 29, why the was decision to extend taken unilaterally.
When the deputy speaker tried to argue that it was the government’s prerogative to extend the session, opposition members questioned the existence of the business advisory committee. This was obviously too much for Mr Abbasi to handle, who adjourned proceedings forthwith.
The one-day extension of proceedings is necessary if the government is to pass the Commissions of Inquiry bill, whose passage has been successfully delayed by the opposition on three occasions. The bill is on the agenda for today (Wednesday).
courtesy: dawn news