LAHORE - The Punjab legislature that actually met for 71 days during the first parliamentary year passed 31 bills, out of which only nine were the new pieces of legislation while the rest were mere amendments introduced in the existing laws.
Though the Assembly Secretariat received 13 notices in respect of private bills, no such bill sailed through the assembly during the period in question. In fact, only one private bill was allowed to be admitted to the House which was referred to the standing committee concerned for its recommendations which are still awaited.
The proposed legislation was meant to put in place a legal framework for prohibition of sheesha smoking in the province. It was tabled in the House by treasury member Ch Shahbaz Ahmad. The fate of another private bill on domestic violence submitted by two private members, Faiza Malik and Dr Nosheen Hamid is yet to be decided. A bill to check the incidents of acid throwing on women and men is also undergoing the usual process.
The present assembly, however, deserves credit for its pro-women legislation. It passed two such bills in the preceding parliamentary year. They are: The Punjab Commission on Status of Women Act, 2014 and Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act, 2014. The first one deals with overall uplift of the women while the latter ensures 33 per cent representation of women in all official boards and bodies set up by the government under different departments.
The government also boasts of passing “The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act, 2014”. Through this law, any citizen can seek information regarding any matter of public importance from the departments except the one declared as ‘classified’ by the government. But people, especially the journalists, are having problems to get the required information for their news stories.
The assembly also passed a highly controversial law in its first parliamentary year whereby the jurisdiction of Lahore Development Authority was extended to the entire Lahore division and the Punjab chief minister was made its chairman. The Opposition had raised objection to a provision in this law according to which six private real estate agencies, some of them owned by the PML-N men, have been given the authority to purchase private land for development purposes from the owners. The LDA would then acquire this land from these companies.
Out of 4,724 questions pertaining to working of different departments, only 2,757 were admitted to be taken up by the assembly, but only 1,210 were actually answered by the ministers concerned. While 334 questions were disallowed at the initial stage, 1,571 still under process.
Out of 1,743 adjournment motions, only 400 were admitted while 65 are still pending for decision. Similarly, out of 686 notices of calling attention by Assembly members, 479 were admitted for consideration of the legislature, but only 52 were answered by the government.
It is worth noting here that it is through adjournment motions, calling attention notices and questions that members draw government’s attention towards corrupt and illegal practices in provincial departments. If many of their questions or motions are either killed at the initial stage or not answered properly, the role of the assembly to act as a check on the working of departments is largely undermined.
Out of 55 privilege motions submitted by the lawmakers in the Assembly Secretariat, 33 were admitted for consideration of the House. While 23 of these were referred to the privilege committee for disposal, six were rejected by majority vote. Through a privilege motion, a member usually lodges complain against rude behaviour of the government functionaries who generally don’t pay heed to his/her problems.
Punjab Assembly Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal is very much satisfied with the performance. “Both the Treasury and the Opposition have performed well in the last one year”, he told The Nation while lauding the legislature for enacting laws to protect rights of the people.
The opposition members, however, are not satisfied with the conduct of the speaker. “The speaker on many occasions bailed out the ministers when they had no answers to the questions raised by the members”, PPP’s Faiza Malik observed. “He had also not admonished the ministers for giving unsatisfactory answers”, she added.
PTI’s Arif Abbasi termed attitude of the speaker ‘highly partial’. “Many of our adjournment motions and questions which could embarrass the government were killed by the speaker before they could be taken by the House,” he alleged.