Thursday April 18, 2024

Rabbani opposes holding of virtual session of Parliament

By Asim Yasin
April 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani opposed the proposal of holding of virtual session of Parliament, saying that it would have serious political ramifications, legal, rules, constitutional and will make Parliament dysfunctional.

Raza Rabbani gave his views not only to Senate chairman through letter and written also to the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Procedure and gave 6-reason of political ramifications, reasons of legal, rules, constitutional of holding of virtual sessions of the Parliament.

Besides presenting the political ramifications of the virtual session, he suggested way forward for the regular session in the testing times of Coronavirus. Raza Rabbani while giving the political ramification stated that given the history of marginalisation and attempts, to an extent successful, to make Parliament dysfunctional, virtual sessions of Parliament will be the final seal. Six political ramifications according to Raza Rabbani as follows:

a) A sundown clause, for the amendments cannot be a preventive as the principle would have been accepted. b) Virtual Parliament’s status will be worse than the status of a Shoora functioning in other Muslim countries. c) The concept of Trichotomy of Power envisaged in the Constitution, 1973, will be grossly violated. d) The virtual session of Parliament will be used to further political agendas, avoid accountability of the Executive and return to the era of a non-transparent closed government. e) In the present system the Executive in furtherance of a political agenda of saving a particular Ordinance, let a 121 days intervene between the 293rd and 295th Session of the Senate, both summoned by the president whereas, the 294th session was summoned by the Senate chairman. f) That with all these and other abbreviations and amendments in the system, procedures and the rules, the Constitution, 1973, will become dysfunctional.

The legal, rules and constitutional complications for the virtual session of the Parliament follows according to Raza Rabbani as follows:

A question can be raised as to the legality of a virtual session, should it so happen, the Senate will be standing in a Court of Law.

b) That, Article 54, Constitution, 1973, provides, when the President of Pakistan or the Senate chairman, summon a session they shall specify the “place and time” of such a session. Take note of the word “place”, it is in the singular. If each member is to participate from his/her home then summon under Article 54, Constitution, 1973, cannot be issued unless an amendment is made.

c) That, Article 55, Constitution, 1973, provides for (a) the quorum and (b) voting.

i) That, with reference to the quorum the Article comes into play upon pointation. The Senate chairman may come to an agreement with all parliamentary leaders that no such pointation shall be made in these special circumstances.

ii) That with respect to voting the words used are, “majority of the members present and voting” (emphasis provided).

- In international jurisdiction, in some parliaments the word present has been interpreted to mean, “in person.”

- Black’s Law Dictionary, defines the word present, to mean, “being in a set place at a given time”.

- The provisions of Rule 238 of “the Rules, 2012”, would become redundant because if the voice vote is challenged then by tradition members are asked to stand in their seats, if that is also challenged and or is not accepted then a division is called. In such circumstances of a virtual session neither a member can stand in his seat nor can a division take place.

- How will an amendment to any one of the motions moved under Rule 100 of the Rules, 2012, be moved and voted upon when a Bill is introduced in the House for passage.

d) Chapter XII – Legislation – Rules 94 to 131, “the Rules, 2012”, govern Private Member’s and Government Bills, recommendation to a Money Bill, Constitutional Amendment Bill, Bills passed by National Assembly and transmitted to the Senate, Bills passed by the Senate and transmitted to the National Assembly and passed by the National Assembly with amendment and retransmitted to the Senate, each rule will have to be visited to ascertain the amendments required in procedure and the voting system.

e) Chapter XIII – Resolution Not Mentioned in the Constitution – Rules 132 to 143, “the Rules, 2012”, will need to be visited for procedure and voting system amendments.

f) Chapter XIV – Resolution Mentioned in the Constitution – Rules 144 to 149, “the Rules, 2012”, will need to be visited for procedural and voting system amendment.

g) Chapter VII – Question – Rules 41 to 60, “the Rules, 2012”, in particular Rule 56 requires a member to stand in his seat and ask a question in his name, whereas, Rule 57 allows any member to ask a supplementary question to the question under reply, how will the Presiding Officer determine the Order of the Supplementary. An amendment to these two Rules will also be required.

h) Chapter XVIII, General Rules of Procedure, “the Rules, 2012”, these Rules pertained to Notice by Members, conduct of a Member in the House, Debate, Question for decision, voting, maintenance of Order, withdrawal and suspension of a Member etc, all these Rules will need to be revisited and appropriate amendments made therein.

i) That, adjournment motion is governed under Rule 89, “the Rules, 2012”, in order for an adjournment motion to be admitted, leave of the House is required by one fourth of the members standing in their seats. This Rule will also require an amendment.

j) The amendments to “the Rules, 2012”, and various Standing Orders are not limited to that what it stated herein. In actual fact, “the Rules, 2012”, Standing Orders, traditions and practice will need to be revisited and amendments made therein. In short are drafting of “the Rules, 2012”, shall be required.

Raza Rabbani also suggested the way forward for holding the regular session, saying that to summon a session of the Senate immediately under the existing constitutional and Rules dispensation. With SOPs for the safety of the staff and members.

b) To maintain the required distance of six feet between sitting members on the floor, one of the two given below proposals be adopted.

i) The letter written by the Senate chairman, requesting the Speaker for the use of the Hall of the National Assembly for sittings of the Senate.

ii) The precincts of the Senate Hall be extended to include the Official Gallery, Chairman’s Gallery, Visitor’s Gallery, all being on the same level as that of the House. Moving microphones can be used for such members who have been assigned seats in the galleries mentioned herein. The total seating capacity under such arrangement will exceed 300 seats.

c) That if the ban on intra city flights continues, then it will be a question only of senators from the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh to be brought to Islamabad, as the other senators from the provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and the Federal Capital Area can travel by road. For the senators from Balochistan and Sindh it is suggested that one special flight each from Quetta and Karachi may operate on a one time basis.

d) These are trying times, it is not essential that the entire Senate Secretariat be mobilized as per practice, for this Session. It is, therefore, suggested to the Senate chairman, that the following employees of the departments stated here in under, may continue not to attend the Senate during the session;

(I Senate Library, ii) HRM Branches, iii) Research Cell, iv) Hiring Branch, v) Committee Branches, vi) Production Unit, vii) Legislation Branches (Except issuing of Orders of the Day), viii) Services Centre and Protocol Cell, ix) IPR (I and II) and Protocol Branch.

Raza Rabbani suggested that the Senate of Pakistan be summoned to consider the following amongst other issues related to and pertaining with the coronavirus and oversight measures being taken;

i) Total foreign and local funding and its utilization. ii) Foreign equipment and material received and its utilization. iii) Oversight of Ehsas Relief. iv) Oversight of the NDMA. v) The details of the various financial packages being announced by the federal government. vi) Prime minister’s statement asking the world for debt relief. vii) World Bank assessment that the growth rate of Pakistan will plummet. viii) Health care providers infected due to inadequate protective equipment. ix) UAE asking countries with labour forces to repatriate them, Pakistan position. x) Amendments in various laws, including the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001.