ISLAMABAD - How to run important parliamentary business in a time of pandemic has become a challenge for countries across the globe.  Some of developed countries, amid fear of COVID-19, have taken no time shifting towards video conferencing to run the parliamentary affairs.

The novel virus made it entry in the world with the start of new year [2020] and around in a month it spread in most of the countries.

In Pakistan, Speaker National Assembly has taken an initiative to constitute a parliamentary committee on Coronavirus to oversee working of government.  But, it was insufficient step to cover all the affairs include passing allocation of resources, approving emergency laws and scrutinizing government’s action.

Major political cliques from different provinces, like their previous practice, have started wasting their energies in blame game compromising on real issue to avoid spread of deadly virus.

The idea of video conferencing in parliamentary committee tempted lawmakers from opposition to compel speaker national assembly to also allow online working of standing committees of the national assembly. The idea has yet to be materialized, but it has principally approved!

Though the digital democracy concept is new among parliamentarians but it has fast becoming popular. Like the National Assembly and Senate, the provinces have also contemplating to start online working or work limited work of parliament.

Political pundits viewed that approving budgetary proposals through video conferencing might become a challenge for PTI’s government.

“In normal days [In past] , the government lawmakers have to face some difficulty to approve budgetary proposals. Through video conferencing it would be a new challenge,” they said.  “It will be the benefit of video conferencing that the lawmakers could not able to engage in fist fight at least,” they commented on a lighter note.

Unlike previous budgets in the country, the budgetary allocations are believed to be related to Coronavirus. The parliaments in normal days have also witnessed many scenes of verbal and even physical brawls while approving the budgetary allocations.

About the allocations of funds, BNP-Mengal chief talking to this newspaper said there was a need to rationalize budgetary allocation at least in current crisis. “There was a need to focus on health related matters in upcoming budget 2020-21,” he commented.

Although the government has started online working of parliament but still some of parliamentarians from remote areas are not able to participate in democratic process. “Digital democracy amid Corona scare is fine, but how it can be completed without participation of all parties,” BNP-Mengal chief said, mentioning that there was very limited internet facility to participate in parliamentary committee on Coronavirus and other concerned committees. Almost same kinds of voices were also from Southern Punjab, Interior Sindh and other areas.

Though digital working of parliamentary business has fast becoming more comfortable mode for parliamentarians but a large number of lawmakers still believed that parliament continues to meet physically, but with restrictions. With certain restrictions including fewer sittings of complete sessions, changes to the venue of parliamentary meetings and with other steps by keeping social distancing the session of parliament can meet.

“I think national assembly session should be called in the same hall, as it has large capacity to maintain social distancing,” PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal argued in favour of calling session of national assembly. Some of the main parliaments in the world have restarted its work, which is point to ponder for Pakistan.

“Parliament has to perform real work, so it should start without any delay, as budget 2020-21 is also near,” he argued.

 Some of other legislators, desiring not be named, made same remarks that parliament should start its work as all other important institutions are not hesitating to perform duty. Doctors, engineers, law enforcement agencies are working amid fear of Coronavirus. Even many of doctors in different parts of countries have also been affected from COVID-19.

Though the parliamentary committee has yet not reached on final decision to call ‘Virtual session’, mixed views [in favour and against] can be heard in media [TV channels] about experiencing this concept.

Reportedly, Some parliaments including United Kingdom  have taken an early recess  after voting through a number of emergency measures. Others, such as New Zealand, have changed their operating procedures so that a special committee sits, rather than the whole house, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union is a global inter-parliamentary institution.

It says, Some parliaments are modifying laws and procedures to allow for remote working. For example, Spain and Brazil have amended their respective procedures to allow chambers to sit virtually. “Other parliaments are relaxing their rules to allow virtual committee sittings, including Estonia, Israel and the United Kingdom,” according to the report of IPU.