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November 22, 2020

Speaker-Opp stalemate affecting parliamentary affairs

November 22, 2020

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar and the combined opposition have refused to budge from their respective stands on parliamentary affairs, resulting in a stalemate.

“It is a wrong claim that I have been partisan and partial against any member or parliamentary group or I am being controlled by somebody to do so,” the speaker has told the opposition in a letter. He was responding to a communication from the opposition, which took exception to his conduct in running the business of the National Assembly. “I always go by the book.”

Asad Qaisar said that while he has been ordering the production of detained opposition members, the opposition has told him in black and white that it had stopped even requesting the issuance of such orders after its bitter experience of the Speaker not obliging them in several cases as mandated by the rules.

“We told him that he has to follow the parliamentary norms, traditions, rules and law so that the values and dignity of the legislature is upheld,” former Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, one of the signatories of the opposition’s letter, told The News.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader said the primary objective of the letter was to explain to the Speaker that the House proceedings could not be run the way he wanted because this is contrary to what parliamentary history shows.

Ayaz Sadiq said that it was futile to have further discussions with the Speaker when he was not willing to accept even the meaningful proposals and recommendations of the opposition.

There has been no interaction between Asad Qaisar and the opposition for quite some time now nor is there any prospect for any consultation in the near future because of the stances taken by the two sides.

“Given the policy and approach of the Speaker, I don’t think any opposition member of the Parliamentary Committee on the Coronavirus Disease, headed by Asad Qaisar, will attend its meeting on Nov 25,” Ayaz Sadiq said.

The time of the meeting, which will now be in-camera, has been advanced by two hours on the same day to discuss matters relating to the National Assembly session due to Covid-19. It will be briefed by top officials on the Covid-19 situation.

The 26-person committee also includes a large number of senior opposition leaders apart from several ex-officio members such as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Dr Faisal Sultan, Adviser on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Planning Asad Umar and two special invitees.

Ayaz Sadiq said that merely writing letters to the opposition leaders, without any prior consultation, inviting them to a parliamentary committee meeting is not a good move when there has been no coordination and harmony between the two sides.

To a question, the former speaker said that the opposition has not been contacted by anyone for discussions on the much-touted electoral reforms the government wants to introduce. “There has only been a public statement from the prime minister in this connection.”

He said that the opposition was aware of the hidden objective behind certain clauses in these reforms whereby no questions could be asked about some treasury members who were facing cases at different forums. The speaker-opposition relations, which have hardly been normal for a long time, worsened during the joint parliamentary session when the leader of the opposition, Shahbaz Sharif, and other opposition stalwarts were not allowed to speak while the government carried out a large amount of legislation, including the approval of the bills relating to the Financial Action Task Force, Pakistan Medical Commission and Islamabad High Court.

Meanwhile, while the Senate has cancelled the meetings of all the parliamentary bodies in the face of a significant spike in Coronavirus cases, the National Assembly’s committee system has also been considerably affected by the new wave of the pandemic.

However, the schedule of the deliberations of the sub-panels of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) remains undisturbed. At least 11 subcommittees are holding their sessions in the next couple of weeks.

As far as meetings of the other parliamentary bodies are concerned, just three committees — on the cabinet secretariat, government assurances and China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) — are holding their meetings next week. After that, no meeting is so far officially scheduled.