Wednesday April 24, 2024

Covid-19 threat: Video-conferencing being tested by MPs panels

By Tariq Butt
April 18, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Even before amending the rules, the National Assembly standing committees have decided to hold meetings through video-conferencing given the peril of COVID-19 pandemic spread.

Meanwhile, a nine-member bipartisan committee formed by Speaker Asad Qaisar three days back to change the rules of procedure of conduct of business in the National Assembly is yet to hold its first session.

“We haven’t so far received any notice of the inaugural meeting,” former Speaker and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who is a member of this body, told The News when contacted.

However, the Speaker did phone him and hinted that the first meeting of this committee may be convened on Tuesday.

Different ordinances promulgated by the government relating to the enforcement of women’s property rights and critical amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law will expire after a week if not passed by Parliament. However, the Naya Pakistan Housing Authority ordinance, which was extended by the National Assembly on Jan 31 for 120 days, will lapse in end-May. It provides for the launch of the flagship project of the present government.

Ayaz Sadiq said he told the Speaker that despite the coronavirus spread threat, the National Assembly sessions could be held by limiting the presence of the members. On an average a hundred plus MPs usually attend the sittings in the debating hall that has a seating capacity of 450 persons. This number of attendees can be spread throughout the hall to maintain distance, recommended by the health experts, he said.

The former speaker said that the visitors’ galleries can be closed to have more seats for the members and added that the opposition would not accept the coming budget session through video-conferencing. “Without face to face contacts, no meaningful business can be transacted.”

Ayaz Sadiq said what could be done was that the question hour could be dispensed with, and only most important queries particularly those pertaining to the COVID-19 and sugar and wheat scandals could be taken up. The business can be reduced to most significant issues only. The sittings can be restricted to a maximum of two hours each to shorten the assembling time, he proposed. Even two votes of one MP can be counted to trim down attendance at one time.

The meetings of three National Assembly committees are planned through video-conferencing. The panel on finance meeting on April 21 will be briefed on allocation and utilisation of Rs1,200 billion (COVID-19 relief package) to deal with the pandemic. The committee has sought details of disbursement of the government money and will also discuss the package for the construction sector.

The committee on coronavirus disease, headed by the Speaker, holds its in-camera session on April 20 to get a briefing on the disease and report on implementation status of its previous recommendations along with latest position on COVID-19.

The special assistant on health, and health ministers of the provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan have been asked to brief the body. Written statements have been sought from the minister for industries and production; and advisers of finance and commerce and investment and the National Disaster Management Authority chairman on tackling coronavirus.

The Standing Committee on National Food Security and Research meets on April 22 to get briefing on the wheat procurement plan.

The members have been asked to attend these meetings but if it was not possible, be available for video-conferencing.

However, the Senate has not introduced this hi-tech mode. Its Functional Committee on Problems of Less Developed Areas is the only body that is holding its session.