KARACHI: Ahead of the provincial budget being presented, the Sindh government has begun deliberations with the opposition parties over convening a virtual assembly session for the budget. The move comes after as many as 23 MPAs tested positive for the coronavirus.
At a consultative meeting, convened by Sindh Assembly speaker Agha Siraj Durrani on Saturday, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers suggested a 'hybrid' session, with a mix of both online and physical presence, while the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) boycotted the meeting, opposing the idea.
Meanwhile, the Grand Democratic Alliance proposed the use of a larger venue if the assembly is not fit to accommodate MPAs in line with the pandemic standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Sources privy to the development told The Express Tribune that the Sindh government wanted to make the law and change rules for summoning the virtual session, which required the consent of opposition parties.
"The government has held two meetings on the matter. We have not yet evolved consensus," a senior Sindh Assembly officials told The Express Tribune. "The pre-budget session is on Monday, and only 25 per cent of the 168 members of the house may be allowed to attend due to the pandemic."
According to Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, it was necessary to hold the budget session virtually given the extraordinary circumstances. "Many of our colleagues are already infected," he pointed out.
MQM-P's Kunwar Naveed Jameel, though, was of the view that the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party was only trying to avoid debate on the budget through such moves. "We have opposed the idea. I ask them to cancel the passes of guests and ensure the implementation of SOPs."
PTI parliamentary leader Haleem Adil Sheikh, meanwhile, explained that his party had suggested a hybrid session, with 91 MPAs physically present while others joined online from their offices, chambers or residences. "When people can go to work and doctors and paramedics attend to patients at hospitals, what's wrong with physical presence at the assembly with proper SOPs and limited attendance?"
He added that the government only wanted to allow a quarter of the lawmakers at Monday's session, but the PTI was opposing this.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, GDA parliamentary leader Hasnain Mirza said, "The constitutional clauses on conducting a session imply one location, thereby a virtual session could be ultra vires, though it is open to interpretation."
He added that the Sindh government was of the opinion that the Constitution was silent on the issue and the requisite rules could be drafted and passed on Monday for legal cover.
"I proposed we move to a larger venue to safely accommodate all members, as was done for the Punjab Assembly. We all realise the need to maintain a safe distance, and realise it is for our own safety, but we are toying with a dangerous concept," he said, adding that there were many other venues available such as wedding halls, hotels and even the National Stadium.
Meanwhile, GDA MPA Naseem Rajper tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, along with 16 Sindh Assembly Secretariat staff members. MPAs and staff members were tested for the virus ahead of Monday's session.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2020.