ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser presiding over the budget session on Wednesday.—APP
ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser presiding over the budget session on Wednesday.—APP

ISLAMABAD: A behind-the-scenes agreement between the government and two major opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has provided a virtual walkover to the government during the ongoing budget session of the National Assembly, making it a mere formality, as the two parties have agreed not to press for voting on cut motions and not to point out quorum till the passage of the budget by June 30.

The opposition parties have also agreed that only a maximum of 86 members (one-fourth of the total 342-member house), 46 from the treasury and 40 from the opposition, will be present in the house at one time to ensure the social distancing policy following Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

Interestingly, the terms of the agreement, which were called guidelines for ensuring implementation of the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) to stop spread of Covid-19, were read out on the floor of the house by none other than by PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar on the directive of Speaker Asad Qaiser at the outset of the sitting on Wednesday which also witnessed a noisy protest for a brief period from PPP members over the government decision to privatise Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) after offering a golden handshake to its employees.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), the other smaller opposition party, however, not only rejected the agreement, terming it “unconstitutional and illegal”, its members also staged a sit-in in front of the dais of the speaker to protest removal of their chairs from the house as only 86 chairs were placed in the house after the agreement.

To ensure social distancing, only 86 members will be present in NA at one time

Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, who was presiding over the sitting in the absence of the speaker at the later stage, announced that the seats for the JUI-F members would be placed in the house and all their members would be allowed to participate in the proceedings. However, the JUI-F members, despite assurance from the chair staged a walkout.

Maulana Abdul Wasay and Asad Mehmood protested over the terms agreed by the opposition and said that under the Constitution, no member of the house could be stopped from attending the sitting.

According to the accord, the members and the staff of National Assembly Secretariat who have not got themselves tested for Covid-19 would not be allowed to enter the assembly hall. The proceedings of the house will continue for maximum of three hours daily until June 30. The opposition will not point out quorum, except on the day the budget would be voted upon.

Mr Qamar said that chief whips of the parties would be responsible for providing the lists of the attending members on a particular day and only those members would be allowed to come to the house whose names were present in the lists.

No voting

The most interesting and surprising point of the agreement read out by Mr Qamar was that the opposition members would submit the cut motions, but there would be no voting on them and these would be withdrawn by them. He said voting would only be conducted on the demands for grants and final passage of the finance bill which, he said, was a legal requirement.

In parliamentary democracy all over the world, the presentation of the budget and voting on symbolic cut motions are considered to be the most important business of the parliament and opposition parties all over the world give a tough time to the governments through presentation of cut motions as the governments have to ensure presence of its maximum members during the budget session.

Parliamentary experts say a defeat to the government on a cut motion can be seen as a failure of the government to retain its majority and can become a cause of the government’s ouster even.

Explaining further points, Mr Qamar said there would be no need for the members to come to the assembly hall for attendance as they could mark their attendance at the main entrance, known as Gate No 1.

Maulana Abdul Wasay of the JUI-F while protesting over the accord said that under the constitution, no member of the house could be barred from attending the session. Criticising the PPP and the PML-N, he said the agreement had proved that the JUI-F was the only real opposition in the country. He said every member had the right to speak on the budget.

Maulana Wasay announced that all the JUI-F members would attend the sitting and demanded that chairs should be provided to them. This agreement, he said, was not acceptable to them at all. He said if the coronavirus situation was so serious then why the government was touching sensitive issues like the 18th Amendment, NFC Award and privatisation of the PSM at this time.

PSM Privatisation

PPP MNA from Karachi Agha Rafiullah distributed placards among the members inscribed with slogans against the government’s decision to privatise the PSM. The deputy speaker asked Mr Rafiullah not to distribute the placards, but he ignored the directives and some members also raised slogans.

Federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed while responding to the PPP protest said the PTI government was determined to convert country’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into profitable entities.

Lashing out at the previous two governments of the PPP and the PML-N in his usual aggressive style, he alleged it was unfortunate that all the SOEs, including PSM, PIA, Pakistan Post and Pakistan Railways, were destroyed by the PML-N and PPP in their tenures.

The minister said during PML-N tenure about 41 state institutions, including the PSM and PIA, were included in the privatisation list.

Earlier, Adviser to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan introduced four bills which were referred to the committees. These bills were the Maritime Security Agency (Amendment) Bill 2020; the National College of Arts Institute Bill, 2020; the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power (Amendment) Bill 2020.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2020

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