LAHORE -  Punjab Assembly’s tale of woes is infact a cautionary tale for the politicians intending to run the next elections to become its member. Old-timers believe they have not seen such a worthless Assembly in their life-time.

It is in fact a story of a constant decline in the political authority of the Speaker, the Ministers and the lawmakers vis-a vis the bureaucracy which surrenders only to one authority-the Chief Minister. 

Friday’s Assembly sitting had to be adjourned without transacting any business, only for the reason that Secretary, Primary and Secondary Health Care, Mr Ali Jan Khan known for his good working relationship with the Chief Minister, was not present in the official gallery.  He had sent an Additional Secretary in his place.

Though the Minister concerned, Khawaja Imran Nazir was also not present in the House, his Parliamentary Secretary was there to respond to the questions.

Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal suspended the questions pertaining to his department expressing displeasure over lackluster attitude of the provincial bureaucracy towards the Assembly business.  He also directed Secretary Assembly Rai Mumtaz Hussain Babar to write yet another letter of displeasure to the Punjab Chief Secretary Capt.(Retd) Zahid Saeed. It is third in the row in the last two months. 

It was more intriguing to see this happen since the Chief Secretary had given strong assurance to the Speaker only couple of days back that all Administrative Secretaries would sit in the official gallery when the Assembly takes up questions about their departments.

Zahid Saeed had a meeting with the Speaker on Tuesday last to sort out the issue of Administrative Secretaries not providing accurate answers to members questions and their perpetual absence from the official gallery.

He had left Speaker’s chamber with a firm commitment to take up the matter with the Administrative Secretaries.

The Chief Secretary had then also agreed to an arrangement wherein he and some Administrative Secretaries would sit in the Assembly on certain days to be available to the lawmakers especially on the day when the Assembly undertakes legislation. This measure was meant to ensure quorum in the Assembly.

Also, Punjab Minister for Law, Rana Sanaullah, who was present in the meeting, had also pledged to personally talk to the Chief Minister, Shehbaz Sharif on the issue of non-availability of Administrative Secretaries.

The Minister had assured the meeting that he would request the Chief Minister to schedule his meetings requiring presence of the Secretaries keeping in view their engagements in the Assembly. The persistent issue of lack of quorum, however, marred second part of the proceedings as the House could not take up for debate the annual report of Punjab Commission on the Status of Women. The House will now meet on Monday.

As is true of all the legislatures, the Punjab Assembly is supposed to act as a watchdog on the functioning of provincial departments apart from its primary responsibility of making legislation. It is because the provincial heads are answerable to the Assembly through their respective Ministers.  The legislator can ask any question on the working of departments, and the Minister concerned is bound to satisfy them.

The presence of Administrative Secretaries in the official gallery is also mandatory during the Question Hour.

This gives them a clear idea of the problems facing the general public, and how they could resolve them in the light of the debate which takes place in the House.  

But in actual practice, however, the Punjab Assembly has always been at the receiving end of bureaucrats inapt response to the Assembly business.