LAHORE: Punjab Assembly members voiced concern about the constitutional validity of the ongoing session on Wednesday amidst reports that Governor Salmaan Taseer was not in the country.
Ali Noor Niazi of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, speaking on a point of order at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings, said that he was concerned about media reports that the governor was abroad. The speaker of the assembly is supposed to serve as acting governor while the governor is away.
Under the 18th Amendment, the speaker does not need to take an oath to assume the role of acting governor, but automatically assumes the role once the governor leaves the country. But the governor cannot run a session of the provincial assembly, Niazi said, and so the session was unconstitutional.
Niazi went on an angry tirade about Taseer’s. Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan later expunged his “objectionable remarks” about the governor on the insistence of Senior Minister Raja Riaz of the PPP.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told the house that at 8:30am, a television channel had reported that the governor had left the country.
He said he had called the news channel, Governor’s House, officials in Karachi, and the district coordination officer of Hyderabad in a bid to locate him, but had been unable to confirm where he was.
The speaker then announced a short break to seek confirmation that the governor was out of the country.
When proceedings resumed, Sanaullah said that the government would have confirmation in about an hour. An hour later, he reported that Taseer was apparently on his way back from Dubai, but that he could not confirm this.
Several MPAs took turns to condemn the governor as well as make fun of the situation. One member suggested that Taseer be reported as a missing person.
Sanaullah joked that he didn’t want that, since the police would probably suspect that the law minister himself was behind it.
Sheikh Alauddin of the treasury benches said that if the governor had been away for two days, it would mean that the last two days’ of assembly proceedings would be void. Sanaullah agreed. Saeed Akbar Nawani said the governor should have notified his departure.
“There will be an inquiry into the whole matter,” said Sanaullah.
“If he left without notification, it is a serious constitutional violation and it will be taken up at the federal level.” He told reporters outside the assembly that the federal government should sack Taseer for his “unconstitutional and illegal” action.
Opposition MPAs demanded that the speaker call off the session. He said he would not do so until the facts of the situation were clear.
“The house cannot act on mere surmise,” he said. “Let’s not get emotional. Let’s confirm it before getting into discussions about a constitutional void.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2010.