ISLAMABAD: Despite having no serious business in hand, the government and the opposition have agreed to drag the ongoing Senate session for the whole month of February merely to meet the constitutional requirement of remaining in session for a minimum of 110 days in a parliamentary year.
Holding each other responsible for the unusual situation, both the government and opposition members, however, agree that continuing the session for nearly two months only to fulfil a constitutional requirement is tantamount to undermining the sanctity of the Senate, besides bringing a bad name to the parliamentarians.
Article 54(2) of the Constitution states that the “Senate shall meet for not less than one hundred and ten working days in each year”.
The parliamentary year of the Senate began on March 12 last year, and until Jan 17 this year, the upper house of parliament has been able to meet for only 70 days.
If the three joint sittings are also counted, the Senate has so far remained in session for 73 days, which means that it requires being in session for another 37 days by March 11. Interestingly, the number of actual sittings of the house is only 48 days in the last 10 months as under the rules, the two-day recess sandwiched between the working days is also counted in session days.
Though Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz admitted this slackness on the part of the government, he put the entire responsibility for it on the opposition.
Talking to Dawn, Mr Faraz, who is a senior member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, agreed that the parliamentary system remained paralysed due to the government’s decision to not convene the Senate session for almost four months, but said that “by doing so, we have saved the government from getting paralysed” which, according to him, would have more adverse effect on the country and people.
The opposition, he alleged, had created an environment which was not conducive to carrying out legislative business in a smooth manner. He said the opposition due to its numerical strength in the Senate was bent upon creating hurdles in the way of legislation, forcing the government to do it through presidential ordinances. He said the opposition during one of the requisitioned sessions had rejected an important ordinance through a disapproval resolution.
Mr Faraz alleged that the opposition was using its numerical strength in the upper house of parliament to put pressure on the government and to make it a political tool for negotiations and point scoring.
He also agreed that by unnecessary dragging the Senate session for long, the quality of their work as parliamentarians would be compromised. He suggested that the constitutional provision regarding the number of sittings was needed to be reviewed in an objective manner as it brought the working of parliament and its members under question, besides burdening the national exchequer.
Senator Raza Rabbani, a veteran leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and former Senate chairman, alleged that the government had not convened the session for four months with a “mala fide intent”. He said the government was running the country through ordinances and it did not convene the session fearing that the opposition might reject these ordinances. He said the opposition had rejected the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council ordinance through a resolution, but the government “committed a breach of the privilege” of the Senate by re-promulgating it.
Moreover, Mr Rabbani was of the opinion that the government by delaying the Senate session had also committed the breach of the privilege of the senators by depriving them of their right to move a disapproval resolution against the ordinances.
When asked as to why the opposition was cooperating with the government in fulfilling its constitutional requirement by agreeing to drag the session, he said the government had already made parliament redundant and they did not want a “complete shutter down” of parliament.
In response to a question, Mr Rabbani agreed that the opposition should also be blamed for not playing its due role in highlighting the public interest issues in parliament which was evident from the fact that not a single walkout or protest was lodged over the increase in oil prices on Jan 1, the day both the houses of parliament began their fresh sessions.
Mr Rabbani said he was surprised to see Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s news conference in Washington in which he provided complete details of the efforts made by Pakistan for facilitating the US-Taliban dialogue, saying the government had never taken parliament into confidence on such national and sensitive issues. He said the foreign minister had talked about the government actions for which a parliamentary sanction was required.
Mr Rabbani said the government had so far informed them that the current session would continue till at least first week of February.
When contacted, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz chairman Raja Zafarul Haq also criticised the government for allegedly making parliament irrelevant. He said the government stated that it had not convened the session because the opposition was not cooperating with it. He said the government wanted to run the country through ordinances and was not interested in the functioning of parliament.
When asked as to why the opposition had not agitated in the house over the price hike, Mr Haq said they would definitely register their protest and talk about it. He, however, said if the opposition staged a walkout, the government would find an excuse to adjourn the sitting due to lack of quorum, thus depriving them of their right to speak on public issues.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020