LAHORE - Chief Whip Rana Muhammad Arshad can now relax in the Assembly. The government has hired services of the chief secretary to perform the most difficult duty of maintaining quorum in the house.

In what appears to be a desperate measure to maintain quorum in the Assembly, Chief Secretary Capt (R) Zahid Saeed has been press-ganged into setting up a camp office at the Assembly secretariat to make him available to legislators.

In view of the development, there are strong fears that Punjab legislators will run him rugged this week as he sits in the Assembly. With elections approaching fast, they have a number of problems in their constituencies which need to be solved before the polls. And their number exceeds 300.

The decision comes after Treasury’s repeated failures to keep the required number of lawmakers in the House. In the last year of its tenure, the PML-N is finding it hard to ensure presence of 93 members inside the Assembly despite having over 300 members.  Capt (R) Zahid Saeed would now be spending some time in the Assembly whenever the Assembly is in session. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif has reportedly taken notice of the consecutive quorum breaks and directed the chief secretary to sit there for few hours.

The legislators are found absent from the Assembly because they have to spend most of their time in the civil secretariat - a seat of power for the top bureaucrats - to get their works done.  Previously, the chief minister’s brigade comprising his trusted officers from his secretariat would stand guard at the Assembly entrance to prevent the members from leaving the premises. But this arrangement did not work well as majority of them stopped even coming to the Assembly. They would come just before adjournment of the sitting only to mark their attendance which made them eligible to draw their daily allowance.

The problem is that Assembly rules don’t prohibit the lawmakers to mark their attendance even if they come to the Assembly minutes before the stipulated time of five hours fixed for a sitting. And if the sitting is adjourned after 15 minutes of its initiation, the members can still come to the Assembly and mark their attendance if they are within the time the Assembly was scheduled to remain in session.

The chief secretary on Tuesday had a meeting with Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal at the latter’s chamber to work out modalities of his meetings with the legislators. Punjab Minister for Law Rana Sana Ullah and Assembly Secretary Rai Mumtaz Hussain Babar were also present along with senior assembly officials.  The issue of administrative secretaries sitting over the Assembly questions for long and sending wrong answers at times also came under discussion in the meeting. The speaker had sent a letter of displeasure to the chief secretary last week over the issue in question.

However, this is not for the first time that chief secretary would be sitting in the Assembly Secretariat. This experience was previously done during the last budget session to address the longstanding issue of lack of quorum and it worked well.