ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday failed to secure the passage of the long-awaited Right of Access to Information Bill 2017 from the National Assembly for a second consecutive day due to a lack of quorum.
The bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate on Aug 23, was taken up clause-wise on Wednesday, but could not be passed after a lack of quorum was pointed out.
On Thursday, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi did not allow opposition members to discuss each clause of the bill, and only allowed Dr Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Aisha Syed of the Jamaat-i-Islami to speak on it before a lack of quorum was pointed out again by Nazir Ahmed Bogio of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Although the ruling PML-N has a comfortable majority in the lower house, its attempts to ensure the passage of the bill was frustrated due to a low turnout on both days.
In another first, PTI MNA Shehryar Afridi got the opportunity to supervise the proceedings of the National Assembly for just over 15 minutes.
Earlier, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq got proceedings under way, but left during question hour and was replaced by Mr Afridi, who ran the house until its conclusion.
After the deputy speaker took over, he did not allow clause-wise discussion on the right to information bill. “The clauses that have already been discussed on Wednesday will not be read today and there is no precedent for clause-wise discussion on any bill,” he said.
Dr Mazari said the opposition wanted to record its objections to the bill, while Aisha Syed objected to clause 23, concerning indemnity given to the principal officer and other designated officers for anything done in “good faith”.
Clause 23 said: “No suit, prosecution or legal proceedings shall lie against the principal office, designated official or any person of a public body in respect of anything which in good faith is done or purported to have been done under this Act and the rules made thereunder.”
When a lack of quorum was pointed out, the deputy speaker suspended the proceedings for 15 minutes, giving the treasury benches a chance to gather lawmakers. The information minister rushed to the galleries, but failed to muster enough of her colleagues to ensure the house remained in session. The sitting will now resume on Friday (today).
It is believed that the Right of Access to Information Bill 2017 will help ensure accountability, good governance and transparency in public sector departments and organisations.
More than 29 meetings of the committees concerned of the Senate and National Assembly considered the bill before it was tabled in the Senate.
Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2017