The Senate, no doubt, is too formidable and prestigious a forum if you consider the Constitution of Pakistan, seriously, and genuinely want it to look “functioning,” in letter and spirit.

All our federating units are equally represented in this house and no law, even if passed by the national assembly with a thumping majority, can be enforced unless approved by the Senate as well.

Since the advent of the Imran government in August 2018, however, the upper house of our parliament increasingly began losing its worth and relevance. PTI does not have sufficient senators; forget the majority, in this house. Even its allies do not furnish comfort-ensuring numbers. The combined strength of the opposition parties remains overwhelming there and the PTI had failed, miserably, to find the means to effectively dealing with it.

Instead of developing some working understanding with its opponents in the Senate, the Imran government preferred to disregard the existence of Senate with arrogant-looking contempt. This house was not summoned to meet for more than three months. Bypassing the Senate, the government rather tried to introduce and enforce “new” laws through Ordinances, notified from the President’s Office.

This strategy was inherently faulty. It could not deliver, even in a dysfunctional “parliamentary democracy,” a hybrid version of which we are enduring in Pakistan these days. Our Constitution clearly enjoins that during a parliamentary year, the Senate must hold at least 110 sittings and, so far, the Senate had only met for less than 70 days. Lest you forget, by March 12, 2020, the Senate will complete its parliamentary year

Since the beginning of January 2020, therefore, the Senate continues to meet non-stop, simply to fulfil the requirement of meeting “for at least 110 days.” This attempt reminds you of lazy school kids tying hard to catching up, too close to end of their term. 

The government has not conceived any legislative business for the Senate. Monday was reserved for private initiatives in legislation, anyway. But at the outset of sitting, Raja Zafarul-Haq, the opposition leader, took the floor to enforce whining speeches over the wheat-shortage, which appears to have “suddenly” hit the country like an earthquake.

The chest-beating senators from the opposition benches hardly had anything substantive to explain the real causes of wheat shortage. They simply indulged in point scoring and blame passing. 

Senator Pervez Rashid of the PML-N did attempt to set some focus through his speech. Sticking to cold data, he recalled that in 2019, Pakistan had produced sufficiently surplus wheat than it required annually. The extra amount required being stored for rainy days, as per the established practice. But the PTI government decided to act otherwise. It rather allowed the export of surplus amount, primarily to Afghanistan, and fixed 29 Pak Rupees as the price for forty kilograms.

He sincerely desired that instead of delivering sobbing speeches, the senators should try to find out as to why the surplus wheat was not stored, as per the past practices, and why its export was allowed. Also, important was to find out persons responsible for reckless decision-making in the given context.

As if to furnish “procedural support” to Pervez Rashid’s demand, Syed Muzzafar Shah took the floor. He is a veteran parliamentarian, who had also served as the Sindh Assembly Speaker and the Chief Minister of the same province. In spite of being an ally of the PTI government, Syed Muzzafar Shah firmly demanded that the issue should be passed on to the Standing Committee on Food Security for deep probing.

Within a fixed timeframe, the Standing Committee on Food Security should find out the real causes of the wheat shortage and identify persons responsible for it.

Sadly, no opposition senator took the pain of endorsing a perfectly doable idea. All of them rather walked out to protest over the absence of Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, the minister in charge of food security.

Sadiq Sanjrani, the Senate Chairman, also preferred to appease the opposition by directing the government that the minister concerned must return to the House Tuesday to explain the causes of wheat shortage. He also wanted a daily update on this matter, throughout the ongoing session. He and the rest of senators failed to realize that the route suggested by Syed Muzzafar Shah was the most appropriate to identifying persons responsible for the wheat shortage.

But the PTI government remains in a denial mode over this matter. Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to insist that “mafias” have ganged up to malign and weaken his government by creating “artificial shortages” of multiple items of daily use. The nonstop price hike is also blamed on the same “mafias,” disregarding the fact that almost every month, the PTI government itself keeps increasing the rates of electricity and the gas supplied to homes for cooking and heating purposes.

To establish the “innocence” of Imran government regarding the wheat shortages, the social media brigade of the PTI has also begun recalling the 18th amendment. Cunningly referring to it, we are forced to imagine as if the Prime Minister savours no command and control, when it comes to deal with issues like the wheat shortage. The said amendment had “devolved” the subjects of agriculture and health etc., to “provincial governments.” Ensuring sufficient supply of essential items on affordable rates thus remains the “exclusive” responsibility of the provincial governments.

Spinning the diversionary story, the social media brigade of the PTI has been conveniently forgetting that the PTI remains the ruling party in Punjab and the KPK. The so-called Chief Executives, the chief ministers, of these two provinces are perceived as political lightweights. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) runs the same province while diligently pursuing the top-down model of governance, or the lack of it.

Instead of reporting to their respective chief ministers, the top bureaucrats of these provinces also remain in 24/7 communications with the PMO and almost every minute take directions from it.

Wheat shortage, let me insist, has certainly not hit as if like a natural calamity. The extended spell of heavy rains during the months of January and February in 2019 did not let the wheat to “mature,” appropriately, in vast areas of Pakistan. In most of rain fed territories it rather damaged the whole crop.

In the month of May 2019, I wrote a comprehensive column for our sister publication, Nawa-i-Waqt. Exclusively relying on real time and anecdotal evidence, one dared to report that usual hoarders from various towns of Punjab, famed for bulk trading, were literally “invading” the wheat producing villages to buy the harvested produce “at the spot.”

Many of my reporter colleagues, working for different news networks, had also produced multiple reports on the same issue. That should have forced the government to wake up and discover that manipulative market players were anticipating the wheat shortage. Their attempt to hoard for profitable days was too visible, at least in most of Punjab. The government preferred not to intervene and instead of vigilant stocktaking, eventually allowed a massive amount of wheat to be exported to Afghanistan.

Blaming “mafias” like the helpless victims wouldn’t help the government now and the same is bound to happen with crafty and diversionary references to 18th amendment and the so-called “autonomy,” it is presumed to have conceded to provincial governments.