The Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Local Government Bill 2013 with a majority vote on Wednesday, after turning down a series of amendments, including for party-based elections, proposed by a treasury MPA.
The opposition missed most of the session, which began at 10.30am, in order to attend an ‘all parties conference’ on the local government law. Two delaying amendments proposed by opposition members – the first that the bill be circulated among members to solicit their opinion before passage, the second that the bill be sent to a select committee for consideration – were taken up and defeated.
The opposition urged Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan to put off the passage of the bill and adjourn the session till Thursday so they could attend the conference in the afternoon, but their request was rejected. Using that as a pretext, they announced that they were boycotting the session and left the house. The 17 other amendments proposed by the opposition were not taken up.
In their absence, a group of treasury MPAs led by Chaudhry Tahir Ahmed Sindhu of the PML-N emerged as a thorn in the government’s side. Sindhu proposed 13 amendments to the bill. Though they were all defeated, they annoyed Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan sufficiently for him to dub them all as nonsense.
Sindhu stood firm and spoke at length on the amendments, backed up by Ijaz Ahmed Achlana, Waris Kalo, Rao Kashif and other treasury colleagues – all of whom were left out of the Punjab cabinet, or who have complained about problems in their constituencies being ignored.
However, the government easily defeated all the amendments and then passed the bill with a majority. It will now be referred to the governor to sign into law.
Opposition Leader Mian Mehmoodul Rashid told The Express Tribune that the opposition parties had issued a joint declaration at their conference calling for local governments to be given constitutional protection. He said that the new local government law should conform to Article 140A of the Constitution, which calls for devolution of power to the local level.
He said that the elections should be on a party basis and district health and education authorities should be under local, not provincial, control.
The provision in the PLG Bill granting the Punjab government the power to suspend local mayors was like the former Article 58(2)B of the Constitution, which allowed the president to dismiss parliament, he said.
Earlier in the day, opposition and treasury benches exchanged harsh words over a resolution against drone attacks left pending from a day earlier. Sanaullah Khan said that the government had a right to amend the resolution and it would not be presented in the house till then. The speaker sought to calm the situation and invited both sides to his chambers for a solution.
The assembly session was adjourned at 6.45pm by Deputy Speaker Sher Ali Gorchani, who had taken charge of proceedings from the speaker shortly before the close.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.