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December 2, 2020

COVID-19: Parliamentary committee system comes to a standstill

National

December 2, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The committee system of both the National Assembly and Senate has almost come to a grinding halt due to the fast spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Neither has there been a meeting of any standing committee of the Senate since November 24 nor is any session scheduled for the near future. In normal times, the committee system of the Upper House of parliament has been very vibrant and its parliamentary panels are known to regularly take up a host of issues. As the second wave of the pandemic hit Pakistan a few weeks back, the Senate Secretariat cancelled meetings of all of its standing committees. Even the implementation and pursuance of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) devised by the government could not persuade the secretariat to go ahead with meetings of the House committees. As far as the National Assembly is concerned, four sub-panels of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are holding their sessions on December 8 and 9. All the eight sub-committees of the PAC have been busy all the time despite Covid-19. A virtual attendance facility has been arranged for members to avoid physical contact.

Besides, the Parliamentary Committee on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will meet in Muzaffarabad on December 9, 10 and 11. During its three-day stay there, the 20-member forum will hold a meeting on the CPEC projects relating to hydel power, infrastructure and socio-economic development. A seminar will also be held on CPEC. Meanwhile, no early session of either the National Assembly or the Senate is planned any time soon due to the coronavirus threat. Discussions have been held on holding virtual sessions of the National Assembly, but the opposition parties have opposed the move. A proposal was debated at the time of the presentation and debate on the last federal budget, but no consensus could be evolved on the subject.

Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser have also exchanged views on parliamentary matters in the backdrop of Covid-19 and the related SOPs. They have deliberated upon holding meetings of the standing committees and the two Houses. However, because of the intensifying political confrontation, there have been no consultations between the government and opposition parties or between the opposition and the Speaker to mull over ways and means to make the National Assembly and its committees functional during this difficult time.

Senate Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwala, who belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has announced that a special session of the Upper House was being requisitioned by all the senators to take up one point of his privilege motion against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for ‘maligning’ him. He says the NAB chairman will be summoned by the privileges committee to answer questions relating to ‘scandalising’ the deputy chairman. The opposition is not willing to even sit down for talks with the Speaker, who has traditionally been serving as a bridge between the two sides.