LAHORE - While the adjournment of House due to lack of quorum is an accepted norm in the legislatures, the suspension of the Assembly business owing to suspension of a minister is something very rare and a matter of shame for the government.

This rarity happened in the Punjab Assembly on Monday. Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal was visibly at pains when he announced suspension of the question hour due to absence of Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Syed Haroon Ahmad Sultan Bokhari from the House. Nonetheless, the Speaker shied away from describing the exact reason behind minister’s absence as he only confined himself to saying that it was not something to be talked about in explicit terms.

Though the minister was present in the assembly, but he had been barred from attending the sitting by the Election Commission over non-compliance of an election law requiring all the lawmakers to submit a statement of their assets and liabilities with the commission by September each year. Mr Haroon has lost membership of the Assembly as well as his ministry for the time being.

It came as a big embarrassment for the government but still it could have been avoided had the parliamentary secretary Sajjad Haider Gujjar been present in the House. A parliamentary secretary is authorized to respond to the questions during the Question Hour in the absence of a minister.

When the Speaker announced suspension of the Question Hour, PTI’s Murad Raas pointed out lack of quorum in the House saying he was doing so as a token of protest over non-serious attitude of the treasury members towards Assembly business. The Speaker gave five minutes for completion of the quorum, but the Treasury could gather only 55 members, 38 short of the required number. 

Rana Iqbal had to adjourn the sitting till Tuesday. Besides suspension of the Question Hour till next week, two bills - the Provincial Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2017 and the Punjab Zakat and Ushr Bill 2017 were not taken up.

Earlier, the sitting started with an unprecedented delay of around four hours which continued only for 18 minutes. The Assembly could not transact its agenda as most of lawmakers were absent.

The issue of lack of quorum in the Assembly was worst confounded also for another reason. The Election Commission of Pakistan yesterday notified suspension of Assembly membership of 84 lawmakers, majority of whom belongs to the ruling party. The list also includes five sitting ministers. They include, Syed Haroon Sultan Bokhari, Hameeda Waheedudin, Syed Raza Ali Gilani, Muhammad Iqbal Chantar and Chaudhry Muhammad Shafique. Punjab Government’s spokesperson, Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan is also among the defaulters.

However, the premature adjournment of the sitting proved a blessing in disguise for the Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah who surely escaped the wrath of Assembly members at least for a day. Despite several clarifications over his alleged utterances in support of the Ahmadi community, some members of the House are not ready to forgive the minister.

As the Speaker announced deferment of the Question Hour, Moulana Ilyas Chinioti, a PML-N lawmaker from Jhang, sought Chair’s permission to speak on a point of order. But he was not allowed to speak because the speaker knew he would agitate the most sensitive issue of Khatam-e-Nabuwat (Finality of the prophet Muhammad).

Moulana Chinioti is known for his great abhorrence for the Ahmadis. He has also led a Khatam-e-Nabuwat movement at the world level in the past. A few would remember that he did not cast his vote in favour of Senator Pervaiz Rashid in 2015 Senate elections on the mere suspicion that he was an Ahmadi. He had done this in violation of the party discipline, but the leadership did not dare take any disciplinary action against Mr Chinioti at that time.  Some of the opposition members also had plans to malign the minister on this issue.