Ever since the current Punjab Assembly was constituted in April 2008, ensuring the presence of a quarter of its members to meet quorum requirements has been an uphill task. Whether summoned by the treasury or opposition, the House has rarely operated without the threat of a sudden deferral due to lack of quorum.
One of the main factors for this state of affairs is the lack of interest shown in the assembly by the chief minister. He has rarely set foot in the assembly, and when he has, he has said little of substance. The rot travels downwards.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has been given sole charge of conducting the treasury’s business. He has no team of whips to ensure the quorum of 93 members in a house of 371, or the tabling of the treasury’s business. The majority of active participants in sessions are usually from Lahore or adjoining areas. Most members from far flung areas of Punjab are seldom seen after recording their attendance on day one.
The opposition has appeared even more disinterested. The leader of the opposition looks clueless when in the House. The opposition rarely pursues constructive business, preferring usually to walk out on one pretext or the other.
Yesterday, there were only 14 members in the house. The opposition, which had pressed the treasury for time to debate budget proposals, had only four representatives (two from the PPP, two from the PML-Q) in attendance at the time of the debate. The people in the visitors and press galleries far outnumbered the people on the benches below.
Seeing the sparse number, the speaker justifiably sought to call off the debate. But a couple of members wanted to make speeches and were allowed to do so. The PML-N’s Ijaz Ahmed Khan moved a resolution on the price hike in petroleum prices which was unanimously approved by the 14 members.
So far during the current session, the treasury has not moved any legislation. It is clear that it called the session purely to meet the requirement that the assembly complete 100 days (current count: 84 days) in session each parliamentary year.
Is this lack of interest an expression of no-confidence in the democratic process on the part of our MPAs, or are parliamentary proceedings too delicate for our elected representatives?
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2012.
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