Separate sessions put Punjab budget under legal scanner

Published June 18, 2022
Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari is seated for the budget session on Wednesday. — Photo provided by Adnan Sheikh
Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari is seated for the budget session on Wednesday. — Photo provided by Adnan Sheikh

LAHORE: The Punjab governor’s ordinance placing the provincial assembly under the law secretary has come under legal scrutiny and has been termed “unlawful” as the house was still in session when the ordinance was promulgated.

Legal eagles and veterans proficient at parliamentary procedures maintain that prorogating and summoning the session for presenting the Punjab budget at Aiwan-i-Iqbal, notified by the law secretary, had no legal value.

They also assert that the secretary issued orders for summoning the 41st session even before the governor’s ordinance was notified, hence carrying no legal weight.

Currently, two parallel 41st sessions are in progress — one chaired by PA Speaker Parvez Elahi on the assembly premises on the requisition of the opposition, and the other called by the governor and chaired by Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari at Aiwan-i-Iqbal where the fiscal budget for 2022-23 was presented and would be debated on from Saturday (today).

Dawn sent a questionnaire to Law Secretary Ahmad Raza Sarwar on WhatsApp about how an ordinance can be issued when the assembly was in session on June 14 and 15; how the secretary can prorogue and summon a session since the power lied with the assembly secretary under Punjab Assembly Rules; and how he can override assembly rules.

Mr Sarwar, however, chose to stay mum and did not even respond to repeated calls.

Meanwhile, a news release issued by the assembly speaker stated that the custodian of the house had summoned the next assembly session (presumably 41st) on the requisition of the opposition on June 15.

Legal experts and parliamentarians adm­itted that the calling of the new session was tantamount to accepting the governor’s prorogation order notified by the law secretary.

The speaker also stated in the news release that the ordinance promulgated by Governor Balighur Rehman — The Punjab Laws (Repealing and Removal of Difficulties) Ordinance 2022 curtailing the speaker’s powers and empowering the Punjab law and parliamentary affairs department to issue notifications regarding summoning or prorogation of the Punjab Assembly — had been nullified through a unanimous resolution adopted under Article 128(2)(i) of the Constitution.

Speaker Parvez Elahi maintained the powers to prorogue and/or summon an assembly session rested with the Punjab Assembly secretary.

He stated the assembly secretary had issued orders on June 14 to call a session the next day, and the session was held in the assembly building as per schedule.

“The assembly session called other than the one in the assembly chambers carries no legal and constitutional cover,” the speaker said and added that a session called by the speaker could only be prorogued by him only.

When contacted, MPA Mohsin Leghari of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf claimed the governor had no powers to issue ordinances to override the powers conferred on the speaker by the Constitution under Article 67 read with Article 127.

He also stated that an ordinance could not be issued when the assembly was in session, as per Article 128.

Mr Leghari said the prorogation of 40th session and summoning of the 41st session notified by the law secretary had no legal standing and the budget session held at Aiwan-i-Iqbal under Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari carried serious legal lacunae.

Mr Mohsin, who is a former senator and irrigation minister, also raised questions over the sequence of the governor’s orders and notification by the law secretary. The prorogation order for the assembly’s 40th session through the law secretary was issued on June 14 under notification number 6137.

Later that day, the 41st session was summoned for June 15 at Aiwan-i-Iqbal under notification number 6139. But the governor’s ordinance that “empowered” the law department to issue such orders was notified later under notification number 6141 after it had already issued the prorogation and summoning orders.

Mr Mohsin said Speaker Parvez Elahi had thrice asked ‘temporary’ Punjab Finance Minister Awais Leghari to present the budget for fiscal 2022-23, but the lawmaker walked out, saying the governor had prorogued the session.

“The governor’s prorogation order was not received by the assembly secretary for forwarding it for gazette notification neither on June 14 nor on the 15th,” he maintained.

“The legality of the budget being presented at dubious summoning of the assembly doesn’t have any legal standing and can be challenged,” Mohsin Leghari stressed.

Published in Dawn, June 18th, 2022

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