KARACHI: Sindh Assembly deputy speaker Shehla Raza directed the provincial lawmakers on Friday not to ask questions in English. Her advice was meant to save from embarrassment her colleagues who did not appear to have adequate knowledge of the language.
The directive was issued when a minister faced difficulty in reading out the answers or in responding to supplementary questions asked in English during the question hour.
Ms Raza was presiding over the session in the absence of speaker Agha Siraj Khan Durrani. She gave the directive after a noisy scene, punctuated with loud laughter from fellow legislators more than once, was created by some legislators who asked questions in English and insisted that the minister answer in that language.
The question hour was related to the Zakat and Ushr department and the minister in the line of fire was Dost Ali Rahimoon. All the three questions taken up during the session were asked by Nusrat Seher Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional.
First Ms Abbasi asked Mr Rahimoon to read out the written reply, which after much hesitation and the lawmaker’s insistence, he read out slowly.
Sensing the minister’s unease at answering the questions, Muttahida Qaumi Movement legislator Sumeeta Afzal asked a simple question but in English, putting the minister in a more difficult position. The MQM’s Heer Ismail Soho and Mohammad Hussain also asked questions that the minister found difficult to answer.
Fellow ministers and legislators Sharjeel Enam Memon, Jam Mahtab Dahar, Nisar Khuhro, Taimur Talpur and others, sensing minister Mr Rahimoon’s unease, stood up and started talking on his behalf, but the lawmakers asking the questions demanded that the minister, who was supposed to be more knowledgeable about his departmental matters, should himself respond.
At that time Ms Raza came to the minister’s rescue and directed that questions should not be asked in English unless she allowed it, and only Sindhi and Urdu be used for asking questions in the assembly.
In another question, Ms Abbasi asked about the specific law under which the Sindh Zakat Council chairman held the post for a third term as he had already completed two terms as provided under the law. There was no provision for the third term under Section 12 (4) of the Zakat and Ushr Act 2001, she added.
The minister read out the law referred to by her which said: “the chairman and members of the council, other than ex officio members, shall hold the office for a term of three years and shall be eligible for re-appointment for another term.”
The written reply said retired Justice Zahid Kurban Alavi had been reappointed under sub-section (3) of Section 12 of the Sindh Zakat and Ushr Act 2011 and that the law did not specifically restrict reappointment of chairman and members of the council for only two terms. But Ms Abbasi was not satisfied with the answer and wanted a law to be quoted which specifically allowed appointment for a third term also. When the argument dragged on with the minister being unconvincing, Ms Raza again came to his rescue and asked the minister to get a written reply from the department and provide it to the assembly.
Answering another question asked by Ms Abbasi regarding non-regularisation of Amleen-i-Zakat (Zakat paid staff) working on a contract basis since 1980, the minister said there were around 800 Zakat paid staffers, who had been working under the Central Zakat Council before devolution under the 18th amendment to the constitution. He said their regularisation could not be made due to financial constraints. At present Rs9,000 per month is paid to a Zakat clerk. However, after regularisation the financial impact would increase tremendously on the provincial exchequer.
Responding to another question by Ms Abbasi regarding collection of Zakat and Ushr by the federal government even after the 18th amendment, the minister said that at a meeting on July 27, 2012 the four provincial chief secretaries had decided that collection of Zakat shall remain centralised till 2015. The collection of Ushr was the responsibility of the provincial revenue department. After collection the funds were deposited in the account of the respective district Zakat fund. However, the Sindh government vide letter GS/14-87/2000(SO-II)604 dated Feb 3, 2000 deferred the collection of Ushr.
Referring to Thursday’s experience when she had ordered – an order that she had to take back within minutes after the intervention of her senior party colleagues – PML-F legislator Ms Abbasi out of the house which followed a walkout by her party colleagues and PML-N legislators, deputy speaker Shehla Raza announced on Friday that she would never order the shutting off of the microphone of any legislator and would never send any member out of the assembly.