Senate controversy over ‘rule through ordinances’ deepens

Updated November 06, 2019

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ISLAMABAD: Senators belonging to the opposition parties assemble on Tuesday near the Senate chairman’s podium in protest against the refusal to give a ruling binding the government to lay ordinances in the house.—INP
ISLAMABAD: Senators belonging to the opposition parties assemble on Tuesday near the Senate chairman’s podium in protest against the refusal to give a ruling binding the government to lay ordinances in the house.—INP

ISLAMABAD: The controversy over the government’s “rule through ordinances policy” deepened on Tuesday after the government’s vague response over its plan to lay promulgated presidential ordinances before the Senate could not satisfy the opposition.

The house had to be adjourned without transacting any business after the chair’s refusal to give a ruling binding the government to lay the ordinances during the current session.

The Senate witnessed a rare scene with the opposition members assembling in front of the chairman’s podium to raise slogans of “No to ordinances”, “No to civilian dictatorship”, and “Give respect to parliament” even after presiding officer Sitara Ayaz adjourned the house to meet again on Wednesday (today) at 3pm.

At the start of the session, it was PPP’s vocal representative Mian Raza Rabbani who set the ball rolling. “Though there is room [in the Constitution] for promulgation of ordinances, it can only be done when the parliament is not in session and there is a matter of life and death for the legislature,” said the former Senate chairman.

He said Article 89 (1) of the Constitution read: “The President may, except when the Senate or National Assembly is in session, if satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, make and promulgate an Ordinance as the circumstances may require.”

Shibli Faraz says the ordinances will be laid before the house at an ‘appropriate’ time

Mr Rabbani said the president did not do it mechanically on receiving a summary, but he had to be satisfied. “Satisfaction means he has to apply his mind if such circumstances exist, which warrant promulgation of an ordinance.”

He also referred to a ruling of the chair under which an ordinance was to be laid on the first day of the sitting of the house after the promulgation of the said ordinance on which formal government business was to be transacted, and the government was required to provide the reasons that necessitated the president to promulgate the ordinance. He said the Senate could condone the delay for a maximum of 10 days, but even in that case, a reason was to be given by the government for delay of each day.

The PPP stalwart said Parliament had a right to disapprove an ordinance it deemed inappropriate.

Responding to Mr Rabbani’s speech, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati said the ordinances would be laid, but pointed out that the same were not on the day’s agenda as it was a session requisitioned by the opposition.

However, PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said there were rulings under which the government could bring its agenda in a requisitioned session. She said the President House had been turned into an “ordinance factory” as the session was not convened for the fear of these ordinances being disapproved by the house.

Leader of the House Shibli Faraz said a discussion on curfew and lockdown in Srinagar was on agenda, but the issue had gone on the backburner due to the opposition’s refusal to honour the decision taken at the business advisory committee meeting.

When Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla asked about government’s plan to lay the ordinances before the house, the parliamentary affairs minister started providing details of the ordinances promulgated during the tenures of the PPP and PML-N governments.

The chair insisted on a specific response, but Mr Faraz said the ordinances would be laid before the house at an ‘appropriate’ and ‘convenient’ time. On this, the opposition insisted that the ordinances should be laid during the current session.

Mr Mandviwalla adjourned the house for 15 minutes.

Ms Ayaz chaired the session for a brief period of time when it met again, with the opposition insisting that she must give a ruling directing the government to lay ordinances during the current session. She replied that she could not do it as rulings on this matter were already there and adjourned the proceedings.

Later, speaking at a press conference, the PPP parliamentary leader in the Senate alleged that the government wanted to paralyse the Parliament. She warned that the opposition would stage a sit-in on the floor of the house if the government continued with this policy.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2019