ISLAMABAD: PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari presided over a party meeting at Zardari House on Monday to discuss the prevailing Covid-19 situation in the country and the strategy and mechanism for the upcoming session of parliament, particularly the budget session.

The meeting was attended by some party leaders through video link, in accordance with a policy of social distancing due to the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

A senior PPP leader told Dawn after the meeting that a majority of the participants believed that virtual sittings of parliament seemed to be impossible for a number of reasons.

The PPP leader explained that, first of all, the rules of the National Assembly and Senate would have to be amended to allow virtual sessions held through video link. And, he said, there was no option but to convene the routine assembly and the Senate sessions at least once to approve these rules.

Party leaders discuss possibilities of parliament’s virtual sessions

Secondly, he said, some of the members believe that the Constitution would also be need to be amended as according to it, the president can convene the sessions at any “place” and in case of a virtual session, the word “place” would have to be redefined. Another issue, according to him, would be that of the quorum.

The PPP leader said the government had already constituted a committee to suggest amendments to the rules for this purpose and the party would raise its concerns in the meeting of the committee scheduled to be held today (Tuesday).

Another party leader said that they also discussed the strategy for the upcoming budget sessions of the two houses of parliament. He said the presentation and the passage of the budget was the responsibility of the federal government and not the National Assembly speaker or the chairman of the Senate.

Under the Constitution, the finance bill is required to be presented before both houses of parliament. The passage of the budget was considered to be the most important job of parliament and even the survival of a government depended on its approval through voting.

He said a number of important ordinances that were promulgated by the government were about to lapse and if the government wanted to extend them, approval can only be obtained through parliament.

The PPP leader said that since they were facing an unprecedented situation that had never been foreseen, therefore they were required to take every step carefully and in view of its future consequences. He said the picture would be clearer after hearing the government’s point of view in this regard.

Meanwhile, according to an official handout issued by the party’s media centre, during the meeting, Mr Bhutto Zardari feared the coronavirus pandemic was likely to create a constitutional crisis for the country as the first meeting of the special parliamentary committee would be held on Tuesday to decide how the National Assembly’s budget session would be conducted in the wake of the outbreak.

The task seems to be a difficult one amid reports that two staff members of Parliament House have tested positive for Covid-19, he added.

The Parliament House building was closed for three days - Friday to Sunday - as a precautionary measure after the two staffers contracted the virus.

PPP secretary general and former Senate chairman Nayyar Bokhari briefed the party chairman about relief activities being carried out by the party.

Mr Bhutto Zardari said at the moment, the priority was to save lives from Covid-19. He said it was the responsibility of the party to help the people in this hour of need. He said while helping those in need, their self-respect should not be compromised.

Prominent among those who attended the meeting were former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Farhatullah Babar, Nayyar Bukhari, Syed Naveed Qamar and Sherry Rehman.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2020

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