ISLAMABAD - The Senate House Business Advisory Committee on Wednesday asked another House Committee to suggest for convening virtual session of the Upper House of Parliament in the wake of outbreak of COVID-19.

The Committee presided over by Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani held its first-ever meeting through a video conference to discuss options with leaders of Parliamentary parties to summon sessions of the House  and its Committees amid spread of coronavirus.

After detailed deliberation, it referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges to suggest whether existing rules suggest or could be amended to summon a virtual session of the Parliament, an official of the Senate Secretariat informed The Nation.  He said that apparently existing Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate 2012 didn’t allow for an online session of the Parliament. 

The Committee deliberated on the emerging scenario amid COVID-19 and discussed in detail the hardships being faced in transecting the legislative business. Chairman Senate, at the outset, remarked that Parliament has to play a more robust role in the current crisis as there is need for a national response to overcome the pandemic, said a statement issued by the Secretariat.

Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan told the meeting that federal and provincial governments have taken a unanimous decision to extend the lockdown until April 30th.

“There is a need to consider overall situation with regard to lockdown, precautionary protocols and the risk factors involved before taking any decision.”

The Parliamentary leaders of the house participating in the discussion also floated various proposals for convening sessions of Senate session and House Committee.

Sanjrani observed that important legislation was pending as the house session couldn’t be summoned due to outbreak of deadly disease. However, he said that decision to convene Senate required detail examination of the existing rules and procedures.  The Chairman referred the matter to House Committee on rules seeking a report and said that any decision to convene the session would be taken in accordance with its recommendations.

“The economic fallout of the crisis cannot be ignored and Parliament has to take a lead in this regard with special reference to the upcoming budget.”

Leader of the House in the Senate Syed Shibli Faraz, Advisor to PM Babar Awan, Federal Minister Azam Swati and Senators including Mushahidullah Khan, Ms Sitara Ayaz, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, Sajjad Hussain Turi, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, and Aurangzeb Khan Aurakzai, directly participated in the meeting at the committee room.

On the other hand, Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq and Senators including Ms Sherry Rehman, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Usman Khan Kakar, Dr. Jahanzeb Jamaldini, and Siraj ul Haq participated through video link.

After the meeting, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman urged going forward with making the rules and arrangements for an online session as well as the regular meetings of House Committees.

She said that Parliament’s urgent role of scrutinising government, authorizing spending, making laws, and providing leadership during difficult times must be upheld.

“While Pakistan faces a risk of increased cases and casualties, the federal government’s decision-making, effectiveness of lockdowns as well as its health and economic policies remain questionable,” said Senator Sherry Rehman ,adding, that there was need for a consensus on effectively managing this state of emergency.

“The Senate, while ensuring no province is left behind in the decision-making process, needs to advocate for unity and cohesion to cope with this pandemic in the best interest for the public of Pakistan”,Sherry added.