ISLAMABAD: Only 60 (19.23pc) of the total 312 members of the National Assembly attended all sittings of the first annual budget session of the house.

According to a report released by Free and Fair Elections Network (Fafen), these included 42 male and 18 female lawmakers.

Leader of the opposition in the House Omar Ayub Khan was amongst those who attended 100 per cent sittings while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif attended seven (54pc) of the 13 sittings.

The speaker and deputy speaker attended 76 and 92 per cent sittings, respectively.

Citing the official attendance records, the report says the average attendance per sitting was 231 (68pc of the total membership) during the session.

Leader of opposition Omar Ayub Khan attended 100pc, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif 54pc of 13 sittings

Five lawmakers including three belonging to PML-N and one each to BNP and PML did not attend any of the sittings during the session.

On an average, each member attended 10 sittings. Male lawmakers attended an average of nine sittings while females 11 sittings.

Similarly, the ministers’ average attendance was slightly lower than the private members’ attendance.

On an average, each minister, who is member of the National Assembly, attended eight sittings whereas each private member attended 10 sittings.

The maximum attendance was 287 (85pc) recorded during the last sitting of the session when the Finance Bill 2024 was passed.

The lowest attendance was 174 (52pc) on the day when the general discussion on the budget began during fifth sitting. The speaker chaired 43pc of the proceedings and the deputy speaker 44pc.

The rest 13pc were presided over by two members of the panel of chairpersons.

The prime minister and members of his cabinet made nine specific commitments in response to issues raised by private lawmakers.

This number excluded the financial commitments announced by the minister for finance in the budget speech.

The government commitments included plans to induct 975 new teachers in Islamabad schools, setting up Daanish School in Islamabad, increase monthly payments to widows under the benevolent fund by 10pc, to address the issue of electricity outages and overbilling in Karachi and resumption of work on the Sukkur-Karachi motorway.

Only two commitments included implementation timelines. The House Committee on Government Assurances is yet to become functional as it has not elected a chairperson till date.

Records such as the agenda items, daily bulletins, drafts of legislation and lists of questions were uploaded, although verbatim records were only available for five out of 13 sittings.

Certain parts of the video recordings on the official YouTube channel were muted without announced reasons.

Video records of 10 out of 13 sittings had muted segments. A comparison of both the video and verbatim record for a sitting shows the remarks censored in video were included in the verbatim record.

Lawmakers from both opposition and treasury emphasised the need for targeted interventions and financial commitments for women and other marginalised groups.

Issues raised included funding for girls’ schools, financial support for widows and women affected by floods, adherence to employment quotas for persons with disabilities and business loans for women.

The women-focused commitments in the finance minister’s budget speech included privatisation of the First Women Bank, increase allocations for Benazir Income Support Programme and launch of initiatives such as a free meals programme for schools and the pink bus service for girls.

However, some remarks during the session reinforced gender stereotypes and faced backlash from the House.

One SIC lawmaker’s membership was suspended for using inappropriate words during his speech.

As many as 179 lawmakers participated in the discussions on budgetary proposals for financial year 2024-25 with the opposition lawmakers receiving the majority (52pc) share in the time allocated for the discussions.

The budget proceedings consumed around 48 hours and two minutes.

The lawmakers participating in budget discussions comprised 69 from Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), 40 from Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), 37 from PML-N, 18 from MQMP, five from Jamiat Ulma-i-Islam Pakistan, five independents and one each from Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), National Party (NP), Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP), PML and Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen Pakistan (MWMP).

Approximately, 125 (70pc) of the lawmakers participating in the budget discussions expressed critical views on the budgetary proposals.

The criticism came from members of both the treasury and opposition benches. The general discussion on budget spanned five sittings and consumed almost two-third of the entire time allocated for budget approval.

The discussion and voting on demands for grants and cut motions on these demands took around 20pc of the time.

The discussion on the charged expenditure accounted for six per cent, the debate and vote of the Finance Bill 2024 took four per cent and the discussion on Senate recommendations on the Finance Bill took two per cent.

The finance minister’s budget speech consumed two per cent of the total budget proceedings.

The opposition lawmakers sought reduction in 30 out of 133 demands for grants to meet the expense of government ministries and divisions through 422 cut motions.

However, all these motions were defeated. The supplementary and excess demands for grants for the financial years 2022-23 and 2023-24 were approved without any discussion.

The House also passed five government bills with minimal debate and by suspending the due legislative procedure. Furthermore, three resolutions were adopted and six calling attention notices raised, highlighting governance issues.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2024

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