ISLAMABAD                    -             Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart Senator Raza Rabbani has urged Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani that Senate should be summoned immediately as the Parliament has failed to develop a national consensus to put together a national collective effort to fight against COVID-19.

In a letter written to Sanjrani, former Chairman Senate Rabbani said that it was essential to summon Senate, being a representative of the federating units, and to ensure transparency and Parliamentary oversight.

“At a time of national crisis when all other forms of leadership and or institutions have failed to bring a national consensus and provide a determined, firm and hope-oriented leadership, Parliament must rise to the clarion call of history and play its historic role of building a national consensus,” the letter reads.

It adds that Parliament should maintain a Parliamentary oversight on the steps and measures being taken to fight the virus. “This is yet another historic opportunity for parliament to redeem itself in the eyes of the people that it represents.”

In a statement separately issued, PPP lawmaker requested that contents of the letter should be considered in the House Business Advisory Committee, which is scheduled to meet today (Wednesday), to discuss options for convening a session of the Upper House of the Parliament.

On April 13, Chairman Senate had summoned a meeting of the advisory committee of the Senate to discuss the current COVID-19 situation in the country. 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.

Rabbani in the letter said that historically, courts and Parliaments have continued to function during wars and grave epidemics.

Even in the present crises, Parliaments of various countries continue to function partially or have gone into limited recess after passing legislation pertaining to financial relief measures, he added. To the contrary in Pakistan, the federal government has announced financial packages for various sectors of industry and altered the tax and duty structures without taking Parliament into confidence, reads the letter.

It is of concern that critical ministries and departments handling the coronavirus crises, such as health, Ehsas Relief Programme, national security controlling air links, information, overseas Pakistanis and the Tiger Force, are under special assistants to the Prime Minister who are not members of Parliament, the Senator explained. Rabbani pointed out that he had not made a demand to summon the National Assembly for the simple reasons that its 342 elected members must be involved in the efforts against the virus in their respective constituencies.

Further, the congregation of such large number of MNAs alongwith the mobilisation of the National Assembly Secretariat will not be conducive in a lockdown, he said.

He stressed that the Senate should be summoned to discuss the coronavirus related issues and measures including total foreign and local funding and its utilization; foreign equipment and material received and its utilization; over sight of Ehsas Relief Programme; and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Similarly, the details of various financial packages being announced the federal government; PM’s statement asking the world for debt relief; World Bank assessment that growth rate of Pakistan will plummet; health care providers being infected due to inadequate protective equipment; UAE asking countries with labour forces to repatriate them and Pakistan’s position; and amendments in various laws including the Income Tax Ordinance 2001 would also be disused in the house, he added.

The Senate will act as a two way traffic; it will oversee and the government will get a direct feedback of the ground situation in various provinces.

“The Parliament of Pakistan must learn from the work methodology adopted by the superior courts in taking up urgent and bail related matters only,” PPP legislator said.

He suggested that essential employees of the Senate only on rotation basis may be called in services for the session. The chairman should develop a consensus that the quorum will not be pointed out in these special circumstances and no voting would take place, he said.