GIVEN that he had served two consecutive terms as member of the National Assembly, a lot better was expected from Ayaz Sadiq when he was elected as Speaker of the lower house of our parliament in his current third term.
Alas, regular parliamentary reporters find the active lawmaker of the past rather wanting in his new, demanding role.
“His strengths and capabilities are still around him but somehow he looks, at times, lost how to handle the responsibilities of his high political office,” a veteran journalist remarked.
Is it that the otherwise bright politician is trying to get a firm footing before getting into his elements in a job that he had not been groomed for? After all, the leadership of the PML-N must have seen the talent in him to install him in the prestigious job that ranks quite high in the institutional hierarchy of the state.
For now, the road to earn name and fame looks arduous for him. Even small pinpricks unsettle him.
On Tuesday, he almost panicked when he ordered the proceedings to start and found the official Qari, who recites Holy Quran to do that, missing. In the confusion, the replacement he could think of was the deputy sergeant-at-arms of the house – an event that echoed uncharitable terms in hall and corridors of the august house for days.
But, perhaps, the words of none other than his own party’s leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, would have hurt the speaker most. “This is the first time I have seen opening of the house when there is no official Qari for recitation,” said the interior minister who has been returning to the National Assembly ever since 1985.
What makes the opposition howl too often, however, is a more serious matter – the too frequent absence of the ministers from the assembly. Chaudhry Nisar accepted so much this week, promising the protesting opposition benches to take up the issue with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after he returns from Turkey.
Lt Gen (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch, federal minister for states and frontier regions, however, charged that the National Assembly Secretariat “deliberately placed the questions addressed to those ministers either on leave or out of the country for answer to let down the speaker and the government”.
His next words sounded harsh when he asked Speaker Sadiq to put his “own house in order”.
General Qadir reminded all that knowing that the federal minister for finance and the state minister for commerce were part of the PM’s delegation visiting Turkey, the secretariat listed the questions addressed to the two ministers for answer “just to embarrass the government.”
It is to the credit of the speaker that he refused to buy the tack, and said it was the government’s responsibility to ensure presence of the ministers or their nominees to answer questions.
However, despite the insistence of opposition members, he refused to pass a ruling against the absent ministers.
In contrast, his predecessor, Dr Fehmida Mirza, and her deputy Faisal Karim Kundi, often gave strong rulings against the ministers of their own party for not showing up and ensuring presence of the staff of their respective ministries in the house.
Things certainly have not been smooth at the administration level. Speaker Sadiq had promised on taking the office a number of reforms to improve the working of the secretariat. That has not happened in the symbolic first 100 days and he has faltered on many counts.
In the previous assembly, he and his party lawmakers used to condemn “the culture of extensions”. But he has failed to honour his declaration of “no more extensions” on taking up office.
Secretary Karamat Hussain Niazi, who is continuing on extension since 2006, is a glaring example of that. So is the special secretary Munawar Abbas and a number of other officers of the NA secretariat. Reforms that Speaker Sadiq promised are seen nowhere.
More importantly, the recommendations of a parliamentary committee on the controversial housing society for employees of the secretariat are awaiting Mr Speaker’s action.
A parliamentary committee had, in January 2011, endorsed a set of punishments for the government officials and private realtors found involved in cheating over 3,000 members of the National Assembly Employees Cooperative Housing Society. It is a case of embezzlement of about Rs500 million in cash and possession of over 1,000 kanals of land from official records.
A couple of well-connected employees of the National Assembly were suspects in the scam. But the speaker is silent on the issue. May be Mr Speaker stands up for action soon.