If someone was handing out awards to legislative assemblies for coming up with the most bizarre legislation and the most frivolous debates, chances are that the Punjab Assembly — the largest legislative house of the country — would win. The house has turned into such a joke of late that one wonders about the ability of most of its members to just be rational, let alone their ability to make laws.
Every other day, members of this supposedly august house are reported in the media with regard to their involvement in verbal spats, even at times on the assembly floor, calling one another such impolite names that they often need to be taken off the records. From trying to pass legislation against mobile phone packages to legislation encouraging polygamy, and from calling names to throwing shoes and chairs at people, members of the Punjab Assembly have indulged in just about everything — at times, repeatedly so.
Instead of taking up vital issues that affect the province — such as the high number of children out of school, the recent young doctors’ strike, increasing unemployment or the increase in beggary — members discuss matters that are irrelevant and can in no way be passed as matters of government interest, political debate, legislation or attempts at legislation, which is their raison d’être. Latest in the long line of inane debates is the discussion over Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s promise to pay Rs3 million to acid burn victim Rukhsana. Instead of discussing ways to strengthen laws on domestic violence, acid throwing and police reforms, the house went after the film-maker who first highlighted the often ignored issue through her work. It was quite ironic that the motion to ‘help this poor woman’ was moved by Sheikh Alauddin who is quite well known for his misogyny and has harassed his co-workers in assembly on camera.
When members of the assembly do work on issues of importance, they apply less and less diligence and care. For example, according to a PILDAT report, it took the provincial assembly only 21 hours and 56 minutes to pass the annual budget for the fiscal year 2012-13, which was around Rs782 billion. In comparison, the budget debates for 2011-2012 consumed approximately 39 hours — almost double the amount of time for 2012-2013 debates. The house passes multiple bills which have been returned to the assembly secretariat from the governor’s office with objections and reservations, without any changes made in the text. The provincial law minister disregarded the governor’s reservations by saying that the “governor has hired a team of English writers, who write the same type of objections on every bill.”
Perhaps, the Darwin Award for the most incredible legislation goes to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan who moved a motion to remove the ostrich from the bird category and place it in the same category of animals as goats and sheep, in order to meet the increasing demand for meat in the province. One wonders why the poor birds had to be removed from their rightful place in the animal kingdom; if the reason was to encourage people to eat them, they could have done it without the hyperbole of legislation.
Going by the performance of this house, the election commission should be advised to start testing candidates on basic IQ tests before approving their nomination papers for the next elections. Who knows, the next assembly might want to declare elephants as fish.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.