Punjab government beats Punjab Assembly

LAHORE - In the last five years or so, the Punjab government has successfully defeated the outgoing provincial legislature in the latter’s endeavor to act as a watchdog on the performance of provincial departments, according to the data compiled by the assembly secretariat.

Statistics show the government hoodwinked the Punjab Assembly throughout its five-year term by not responding to as many as 5,605 questions and 1,311 calling attention notices asked by the lawmakers on the functioning of various departments. It also blocked 3,797 adjournment motions and 2,847 resolutions of public interest quite effectively. The government also adopted the same attitude in respect of 69 private bills moved by the legislators.

Needless to say, the legislatures in a parliamentary system act as the watchdog on the working of government departments. They perform this function by moving questions, adjournment motions and calling attention notices on the corrupt and illegal practices going on in the provincial departments. If many of their questions or motions are either killed at the initial stage or not answered at all, the above said role of the assembly is largely compromised.

Also, the government did not empower the standing committees of the assembly thereby curtailing its role in matters of public interest. It merits mentioning here, that Punjab Assembly, a representative house of over 100 million people, is the only legislature in Pakistan with the least effective standing committees. Last year, the chief minister did not give his assent to the recommendations of a house committee seeking empowerment of the standing committees. Reportedly, Law Minister Rana Sanaulla told the house committee at that time that Punjab legislators lacked the required caliber and ability to handle the policy matters.

On the other hand, the Punjab Assembly fully cooperated with the government in the passage of bills tabled in the house on behalf of provincial departments. While only one private bill (The Sikh Marriage Act) sailed through the assembly in the last five years, the house adopted 175 government bills in the same period.

As per the official data, the assembly secretariat received 70 notices in respect of private bills, but they were not considered for adoption on different pretexts. Out of 20 private bills admitted for consideration of the House, 11 bills including two on prohibition of child marriage and sheet smoking were referred to the concerned house committees for recommendations. But they are still sitting over them since long.

A bill on domestic violence against women submitted by two private members, Faiza Malik and Dr Nosheen Hamid was knocked out on technical grounds even before presentation to the assembly. The movers were told that government intended to bring its own legislation on the subject, and hence there was no need for a private bill.

This only shows government’s utter disregard for the legislators whose good initiatives on the assembly floor would not find majority support for political reasons. Even a private bill by a treasury member will not be welcomed in the assembly no matter how important the subject matter may be. However, Sikh Marriage Bill moved by a treasury MPA and passed by the assembly in its last session is an exception. 

A private bill on prohibition of sheesha-smoking moved by a treasury member Ch Shahbaz was referred to a house committee for consideration on March 11, 2015. The house is still awaiting its return though the present assembly is about to complete its tenure in two months.

During the last five years, out of total 11,686 questions pertaining to working of different departments, 9,380 were admitted to be taken up by the assembly, but only 5,605 were actually answered by the ministers concerned.

As per details, out of total 58, 23 adjournment motions, only 2035 were admitted, while 2028 were eventually entertained. Similarly, out of 1466 notices of calling attention by assembly members, 953 were admitted for consideration, but only 155 were answered by the government.

Out of 219 privilege motions submitted by the lawmakers in the assembly secretariat, 131 were admitted for consideration of the house, while 107 of these were referred to the Privilege Committee for disposal. Nonetheless, Punjab Assembly deserves credit for its pro-women legislation. It passed three bills during the period for the betterment of women, the most important being the one providing for establishment of commission on the status of women.

The commission has been mandated to review laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women and suggest repeals of existing laws and draft new legislation for empowerment of women, expansion of opportunities for socio-economic development of women and elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act, 2014 is another important piece of legislation in this regard. It ensures 33 per cent representation of women in the boards of all statutory organizations, public sector companies, special purpose task forces and committees. Through an amendment in the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, the Punjab Assembly has enacted to ensure expeditious resolution of family disputes in courts of law.

The assembly also passed a highly controversial law in its first parliamentary year whereby the jurisdiction of Lahore Development Authority was extended to the entire Lahore division and the Punjab chief minister was made its chairman. The opposition had raised objection to a provision in this law according to which six private real estate agencies, some of them owned by the PML-N men, were given the authority to purchase private land for development purposes from the owners. The LDA then acquires this land from these companies.

The assembly also passed Punjab Local Government Act, 2013 to streamline the affairs of local governments. Interestingly, this law was later amended for 20 times to empower the provincial government vis-à-vis the local governments.

The most important piece of legislation during the second year was the passage of Compulsory Education Bill. It provides for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years. It was passed in line with Article 25A of the Constitution which enjoins that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years. But this remains the only legislation by the assembly which shall not come into effect immediately unlike other laws. It would be up to the government to decide when to start implementation on its provisions.

Assembly passed Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Bill during the second parliamentary year. Through this legislation, the government would receive and redress the grievances of overseas Pakistanis relating to government agencies and refer complaints and suggestions of overseas Pakistanis to the concerned offices.

Another significant bill passed by the assembly relates to the establishment of Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center to provide state of the art medical and surgical services to patients with kidney, bladder, prostrate, liver and pancreas diseases irrespective of race, religion, color, creed, ethnic or financial status of patients. This institute shall provide free of cost or own cost basis diagnosis and treatment of kidney, liver and bladder diseases and also educate people about prevention of these diseases.

The bills on the establishment of universities in Sahiwal and Jhang, and upgrading the status of Fatima Jinnah Medical College into a university can also be regarded as the most important pieces of legislation in the last five years.

Of late, Punjab Assembly unanimously passed the Women Protection Act which aims to meet the requirements of the existing legal system to effectively address the menace and violence against women. The bill also envisages rehabilitation and justice to women if they fall victim of domestic, emotional, psychological violence, verbal abuse, stalking and cyber crime. 

During the first parliamentary year, the Punjab legislature remained in session for 100 mandatory days but actually met for 71 days if the two weekly and public holidays are excluded from the total count. But the off days are also counted towards the 100 mandatory days during which the assembly has to be in session.

In the second parliamentary year, the assembly remained in session for 101 days but the number of actual sittings remained 62. In the third and fourth parliamentary year, the assembly remained in session for 101 days (each year) while the actual sittings were counted as 75 and 73 respectively. The assembly is only short of 10 days to complete the 100 mandatory days for the last year.

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