On remand, speaker ‘keeps Sindh Assembly hostage’ for longest-running session

Opposition says session being continued so that speaker can enjoy access to Assembly

Hafeez Tunio March 20, 2019
Opposition says session being continued so that speaker can enjoy access to Assembly. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly always claims to set new precedents when it comes to legislation. This time, it has broken all records of running the longest session, which has continued for the last 80 days now.

The current session of the Sindh Assembly started on January 9 and is being chaired by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani, who is currently in NAB custody. When asked the reason for the prolonged session, the government claims that public and national interest issues are being discussed. The Opposition, on the other hand, points to something more sinister.

Opposition's anger

Though the Assembly's rules of procedure don't bind the Speaker to a certain time frame of the proceedings in a sitting, it clearly mentions the classification and arrangement of business to be taken up in each month. According to the rules, the Assembly shall have to meet for sessions not less than seven, 12 or 15 days each from June to May each year.

"As per rules, the Assembly has to be in session for 100 days over 12 months," said Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan MPA Mohammad Hussain. "Since the Speaker is in NAB custody, he has also made the entire Assembly hostage by continuing the session."

Commenting on the prolonged session, he said, "I have not heard of any assembly in Pakistan that was in session for such a long period. The Speaker, who is facing multiple corruption charges, has sought refuge  in the Assembly where he can chat and meet PPP leaders and Sindh government officials to discuss the NAB investigation and get suggestions from them."

Referring to bills passed by the Assembly in the last six years, Hussain said, "We have passed around 194 bills, but the government has framed the rules of only nine bills. This means that there has been no implementation on almost all the laws, which are lying dormant."

Dismal performance

According to officials, the Speaker was supposed to prorogue the session by the end of February, but prolonged it due to his arrest.  "He has fixed his own time and schedule for running the Assembly. Even if there is no session, he comes to the Assembly citing the reason of different meetings. This is nothing but a joke with the people of this province," said Hussain, adding that in the last 80 days, the performance of the Assembly has been dismal.

There are around 168 MPAs belonging to different political parties in the provincial assembly. According to officials, over Rs3.5 to Rs4 million is spent on every session in the name of MPAs' travelling allowances, stationary expenses, utility bills and employees' allowances, among other expenditures.

'Assets beyond means' land Sindh Assembly speaker in NAB custody

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Barrister Hasnain Mirza, who belongs to the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), referred to the business of the assembly, especially the bills and resolutions passed in the last 80 days. He said there was no any business on the agenda except for question-answers.

"Opposition members are not allowed to speak on public interest issues," said Mirza. "Our bills, adjournment motions and resolutions are turned down. I fail to understand why they have continued the session," he claimed, adding that it was a mockery of the very legislative body that passed the first resolution for Pakistan.

Referring to a resolution he had submitted to the House regarding the "artificial water shortage" in Badin, Mirza said, "I submitted this resolution last month. It is a public interest issue, but the government is not allowing it in the House."

The boycott

For his part, the Opposition Leader in the Sindh Assembly Firdous Shamim Naqvi said that they have chosen to boycott the sessions, because there was no agenda and the PPP government had made the assembly a 'joke'. "The Speaker, after having breakfast, comes to the Assembly and starts the session at 4pm. He spends the entire day and goes back in NAB custody at night without giving any tangible results."

PPP’s thinly-veiled attempt to outwit the NAB

Naqvi also claimed that the Opposition wasn't allowed to partake in the proceedings. "In a democracy, every MPA, irrespective of party affiliation, has the right to speak and take part in the proceedings," he said. "But they are now allowing us. They are not giving the Public Accounts Committee to the Opposition to hold the government accountable. How can we take part in these proceeding when they are simply meant to give relief to the Speaker," he said, justifying the Opposition's decision to boycott the session.

PPP's response

Despite repeated attempts, PPP's minister for parliamentary affairs, Mukesh Kumar Chawla, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, PPP MPA Ghanwer Ali Khan Isran justified that they had passed many laws and resolutions during the current session, which had continued for the sake of public and national interest.

"After the Indian aggression, it was necessary to continue the session to speak on this issue," he said, adding that more than nine bills and dozens of resolutions were moved in the session.

"We have passed Sindh injured persons compulsory medical treatment bill to provide first aid to injured persons without any legal formalities. Many other bills including jails reforms are under discussion in standing committees," he explained. "Public interest issues are being discussed. I strongly condemn the Opposition's words that we have made them hostage," he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2019.