LAHORE: The treasury lost a battle to the opposition in the Punjab Assembly, conceding that the proceedings of the first one-and-a-half hours of Monday’s session were illegal. The circumstances were later provided legal cover after the necessary procedure was adopted to run the house.
The legal debate kicked off when PTI’s Mian Shafi Muhammad chaired house proceedings as panel chairman in the absence of the speaker and deputy speaker. Opposition lawmakers raised the question over Shafi’s running of the house, especially as he had not been announced as the panel chairman by the speaker or deputy speaker of the PA.
They claimed both the speaker and deputy speaker were legally bound to announce a panel chairman who could run the house in their absence till the completion of a session. The legal debate heated up when Shafi ordered the assembly secretary to announce the panel chairman. Both treasury and opposition benches remained at loggerheads over whether Shafi could run the house or not.
The treasury remained adamant and was not ready to back down on its stance. It pointed out that as luck would have it, both the speaker and deputy speaker are not present in the house. The ruling lawmakers stated that, therefore, whoever was announced as the panel chairman in the earlier session could run proceedings.
The opposition claimed that the panel chairman could only run the session in which his name was announced for the position by the speaker or deputy speaker. They said his position automatically comes to and end with that particular session. The opposing MPAs pointed out that if both the speaker and deputy speaker were not present to announce the panel chairman, the assembly secretary would do the needful.
Following this, a motion would be moved by the provincial law minister and only then could the appointed panel chairman run proceedings with the consent of the house. The opposition lawmakers warned the opposition to either follow legal procedures or history would never forgive them.
The House was to start at 3pm, but proceedings got underway at 4:24pm. Both sides quoted different rules and sub rules of the “Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997” to establish whether or not Mian Shafi could run the House.
PML-N lawmaker Malik Muhammad Ahmed, Azma Zahid Bukhari, Samiullah Khan and others termed the house proceedings as illegal, claiming they will not let these circumstances continue for the sake of appeasing certain elements.
They grilled the treasury, saying it reflected the lackadaisical attitude of the government that neither the speaker nor the deputy speaker was available to run the house it properly. Samiullah demanded the formation of a committee to resolve the issue and avoid ruining traditions of the house.
Opposition quoted Rule 13 of “Rules of Procedure of the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab 1997. “At the commencement of a session, the speaker shall nominate, in order of precedence, from amongst members a panel of not more than four Chairmen and in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, the member having precedence amongst those present at the sitting shall take the chair”.
Provincial law minister Raja Basharat, on the other hand, quoted sub-rule 2 of Rule 13. “If at any time at a sitting of the Assembly neither the Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker nor any member on the Panel of Chairmen is present, the secretary shall so inform the Assembly and the Assembly shall, by a motion, elect one of the members present to preside at the sitting”.
Some PTI legislators also suggested that the consent of the house could be taken on the matter. A treasury legislator Abdullah Warraich said in 1985, a senor lawmaker was asked to preside over the assembly. PPP Hassan Murtaza said this is a House and not someone’s “dera’ where a panchayat was going to be held.
Finally, when all arguments of the treasury failed to work, the provincial law minister accepted the demand of the opposition in the “larger interest”. The secretary assembly announced the panel of chairman and then Raja Basharat moved a motion, giving powers to Shafi to preside.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2019.
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