ISLAMABAD - A major opposition party in

the Senate has called for summoning a virtual session of

the parliament to assume its

oversight role for tackling the

looming health crisis and economic and administrative challenges posed by rising spread of

COVID-19 in the country.

“Parliament’s urgent role of

scrutinizing government, authorizing spending, making

laws and providing leadership

during these testing times can’t

be pushed aside,” parliamentary

leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the Senate Senator

Sherry Rehman said yesterday.

She added that it was the need

of the hour that both houses of

the parliament should adapt

themselves to extraordinary circumstances and ramp up e-tech

capacity to temporarily shift towards a virtual parliament.

“These are very trying times

for the whole country, and parliament is the best platform to

shape unified responses that

address the urgent needs of our

people, while coordinating an

evolving situation across Pakistan.”

The demand from PPP leader for convening the virtual session of the National Assembly

and Senate has come days after

Free and Fair Election Network,

a non-government organization, had called the parliament

and the provincial assemblies

to take the centre stage in order

to forge political consensus and

provide leadership to the executive during COVID-19 crisis.

On March 13, the government

had abruptly prorogued the National Assembly sitting fearing

the gathering of large number

of lawmakers can cause spread

of coronavirus.

Similarly, it has not summoned the Senate since it was

prorogued on March 4 to prevent further spread of the disease in the country.

“There is clearly a huge resource-crunch hitting all sectors as lockdowns stretch on. It

is a national challenge that requires regular messaging and

creation of distancing spaces in

a country with populations living in cramped spaces,” the former opposition leader in the

Senate said adding that everything was done communally in

Pakistan.

She further said that parliament must take the lead in

working on all such issues creatively and transparently, in the

spirit of national unity.

“Many countries in the world

are innovating fast to meet

the needs of their populations

while keeping them safe, and

are creating online parliamentary spaces that can mobilize

democratic tools to re-order

many priorities.”

The PPP lawmaker said that

international aid coming into

Pakistan must be monitored

and placed under parliamentary sight. She urged that meetings of essential standing committees of the parliament

including health, finance, planning, information technology,

interior, law and others must

be convened online to plan for

contingent futures.

Stressing on the importance

of creating fresh protocols for

parliament staff, the lawmaker said that telework facilities

could be organized for the parliament staff as Senate staff runs

at 1,115 people, while 2,200 NA

staff including CDA officials are

posted during sessions.

“Like many parliaments that

are stepping up to the challenge, Pakistan too can address

key issues of security of votes,

online debates as well as committee work which has already

begun in one special committee

made for monitoring COVID-19

responses.”

Senator Rehman appealed

to the Senate chairman and

speaker National Assembly to

take this task into their own

hands as parliaments all over

the world can’t be exempted

from exploring urgent innovations to conduct crucial business. Our task as representatives has become even more

acute in times of crisis and legislators must continue to be answerable and available to the

public, she concluded.