Sharjeel Inam Memon was once the Sindh information minister, a well known figure who was on every reporter’s speed dial and a frequent fixture on TV. On Monday, the same reporters who covered him merely gawked as he walked into the assembly, his first appearance since he lost his post courtesy a friendship with former home minister Zulfiqar Mirza that went too far.
As luck would have it, Memon was seated in front of his successor, Shazia Marri. But while Marri routinely conferred with her colleagues, Memon was virtually ignored by the Pakistan Peoples Party’s leaders in the assembly.
While Memon got a reality check, so did the other MPAs, who started off Monday with a dose of honesty that was delivered at the Sindh Assembly, courtesy some of their frank peers.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement MPA Syed Sardar Ahmed – answering questions put to the environment department by assembly members – repeatedly said that the federal government had given up responsibility completely for the areas devolved under the 18th Amendment.
Climate change and the fears of land being lost to erosion in Badin and Thatta occupied assembly members for over an hour. MPAs and Ahmed indulged in the kind of policyspeak that results in very little: the number of surveys carried out to determine erosion or how environmental checks on vehicles are conducted.
MPA Humera Alwani – who passionately debates any provincial issue – remarked to Ahmed that inspectors rarely carried out scheduled checks of industries. Ahmed laughed, and said, “If the inspectors had their way, they’d carry out inspections every day!” His not-so-subtle comment on the stereotypes associated with inspectors (threats and bribes) left Alwani smiling. “I understand, and so does all of Sindh.”
Marri was also straightforward in her criticism of other MPAs, as she discussed the problems with the polio drive. “The technical staff does not do its job properly – and there are many among us who will vouch for and recommend these officials. We need to point the finger at ourselves first.”
While MQM MPA Shoaib Bukhari laughingly pointed out the “effectiveness” of the standing committee on the home department, Speaker Nisar Khuhro said he had been “hurt” by committees not delivering reports on time. Law Minister Ayaz Soomro feigned concern: “Please don’t take such sorrows in this age,” he quipped.
And while MPAs are far too often criticised for not pushing important issues, a discussion on karo kari killings in Sindh earlier on in the session was abruptly cut short by Khuhro who moved to the question-and-answer session. The female MPAs, including MPA Nusrat Abbasi, who brought up the issue, looked fairly put out as Khuhro, rather oddly, said issues that actually had solutions should also be discussed. The speaker did praise them later for being actively involved in developing questions for the Q&A session as compared to their male colleagues.
But all MPAs, regardless of gender, were united on demanding answers on one issue close to their heart – a report on salaries for MPAs, ministers, speakers and special assistants. Khuhro tried to maintain order once the word “salaries” inspired a host of MPAs to get to their feet and start talking at once, and MPA Arif Mustafa Jatoi plaintively asked why presenting a few pieces of papers was such an issue. Had the constituents of many of these MPAs – who don’t even earn the minimum wage – been present, they would have realised that this, really, is the state of priorities.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2011.