LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly speaker, incensed by absence of ministers on the first day of the session, has ruled that the session will not be conducted if ministers did show up on Friday (today).
The session, which began on Thursday after a delay of an hour-and-a-half, was adjourned without any debate as Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan was absent.
The only minister who had showed up for the scheduled proceedings was Mian Mujtaba Shuja Rehman, the provincial education minister, but he also chose to leave after the question hour for his department concluded.
But when Khalil Tahir Sindhu, parliamentary secretary for law and parliamentary affairs, began responding to call-to-attention notices, the opposition argued that he was not authorised to perform the duty.
Pakistan Peoples Party’s MPA Ehsanul Haq Nolatia said that according to an amendment to the Punjab Assembly’s Rules of Procedure 1997 in 2002, either the chief minister or a minister can reply to these notices. Before 1999, he said, only the provincial chief minister could reply. He cited section 65 of the rules of procedure and said that since no minister was present, debate on the notices should be adjourned.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s MPA Chaudhry Zahiruddin Khan asked the chairperson to postpone discussion on the notices until Monday. “The treasury benches have failed to reply to the notices through its ministers. The chief minister himself is performing all duties, even those entitled to lower cadres.”
Speaker Rana Mashhood Khan said that the house was not taking up the notices and Sindhu was merely informing that they will be taken up on Monday. But Nolatia objected to even that and asked the Khan not to ‘flout’ the rules of procedure.
PML-Q Parliamentary Leader Chaudhry Zahiruddin Khan said that such a relaxation should only be a one-off and must not be repeated. “There should be 39 ministers in the Punjab cabinet but unfortunately, not even one member has turned up.”
Mashhood then ruled that if no minister attended Friday’s session, it will simply be called off.
Speaking on a point of order, PPP Parliamentary Leader Major (retd) Zulfiqar Gondal tried to divert the house’s attention to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s decision to appear before the Supreme Court in a contempt case. But Mashhood disallowed him from speaking.
On another point of order, a question related to the sports department was asked. But neither the education minister nor the assembly speaker was aware of who handles that portfolio. Opposition members, including PML-Q MPA Sameena Khawar Hayat, noisily protested against this ignorance.
The session was then adjourned until Friday.
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