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The third parliamentary year of the PTI-led government ended on Thursday without the mandatory debate on President Arif Alvi’s address to both the houses assembled together on August 20, 2020 – an event which opposition lawmakers described as “unprecedented”.
The agenda item pertaining to the debate on the president’s address – a major speech marking a new session of parliament every year – remained on the order of the day for weeks but a proper discussion could not take place till the last working day arrived.
As a result, the house had to pass “motion of thanks” without speeches or making any amendments in the address and a concluding speech by the government side. The motion stated: “This House expresses its deep gratitude to the President of Pakistan for his address to both Houses assembled together on 20th August, 2020.”
“This is an unprecedented event in the parliamentary history,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Naveed Qamar right after the motion was adopted as a routine item. He said that the lawmakers were hoping that someone would give a concluding speech.
Besides, the last session of the third year ended at extending an ordinance – the Pakistan Civil Aviation Ordinance, 2021. Reportedly, the government passed at least 18 ordinances in the third year – a practice which the political experts say saves the government considerable amount of work but it cuts short the contribution and diverse point of view of the parties concerned.
In addition, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan told the lawmakers that the television fee from mosques, worship or religious places will not be collected anymore after PTI MNA Raja Khurram Nawaz drew the house’s attention towards the issue through a calling attention notice. The minister, however, explained that the television fee was added in those electricity bills that were in the name of individuals, adding that the fee would be omitted if the persons concerned approach the relevant authorities.
Read: Suri irked over ministers' absence from NA sessions
In another major development during the session, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Qasim Khan Suri directed Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan to take up the issue of ministers’ absence from assembly sessions in the cabinet meeting.
The deputy speaker's directives came after it emerged that Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry was found absent and no other official from the ministry was present to answer the questions raised during the question hour.
“Who will answer these questions,” the deputy speaker asked the PM’s advisor, who conceded that the minister concerned should have been in the session to answer the questions.
“We were not even informed if someone else would come to answer than the minister himself,” observed the deputy speaker.
Initially, Suri deferred the question for a little while but before he could move ahead with the assembly proceedings, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) once again raised the issue of ministers’ absenteeism from the sessions.
PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, while criticising the “frequent” absence of ministers, assured the deputy speaker that the whole opposition would stand with him if he takes action against such officials.
“Take action against the ministers deputy speaker Sahib,” Abbasi stated. “The ministers must be here [in NA] to answer questions,” the former premier added.
Subsequently, the deputy speaker directed the SAPM to put the issue before the federal cabinet, as he attended cabinet meetings in the capacity of the premier's advisor.
Before coming to power, PM Imran had made a commitment that he would attend the assembly sessions at least twice a month to answer lawmakers’ questions.
However, that didn’t happen. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had earlier revealed that the sole reason for the prime minister being unable to come and speak on the floor of the house, from his first speech in parliament in 2018, was that the opposition frequently marred assembly proceedings in his presence.
“When we ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to come to the parliament he questions us why should he come to the parliament when the opposition doesn’t allow him to speak,” Qureshi had said.
During the question hour, the deputy speaker also referred the issue of ‘fake domiciles’ leaving less number of jobs for the youth of Balochistan in the federal government during the last three years to the committee concerned after MNA Agha Hassan Baloch raised the issue, which was supported by other members of the opposition.
In the last meeting of the third year, it also emerged that the incumbent government and the present PTV Management inherited accumulated losses of Rs11,375.619 million at the beginning of its tenure which have now been reduced to Rs9,398.399 million.
Moreover, to a question of MNA James Iqbal enquiring about the total amount available under the head of Covid-19 funds in Pakistan at present, the minister in-charge of the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division said that as of August 2 an amount of Rs109 million was available in the pandemic relief