Numbers crazy SA holds longest 40-day session

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It was all about a fatiguing number-game for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which finally has got the Sindh Assembly creating history by holding the longest ever 40-day session only to complete 100 parliamentary days, a constitutional requirement for the federal and provincial assemblies envisaged by the 18th Amendment.

On Monday the 168-member provincial legislature held the much-desired 100th sitting of the PPP-dominated assembly’s first parliamentary year that having commenced on May 29 last year would be ending on the 28th of this month.

Having been preoccupied with political hustle and bustle in the center and Sindh province, the PPP-led provincial government was on its toes to avoid a likely violation of the constitutional requirement of holding the 100-day parliamentary year.

Summoned by Acting Sindh Governor Agha Siraj Durrani on March 21st, the 12th and last session of the Sindh Assembly proved to be nerves-wrecking for all concerned, specially the lawmakers and bureaucracy, who had, seemingly, lost interest in the daylong sittings.

“The attendance remained low during this session which was the longest in the history of Sindh Assembly,” an official from Assembly Secretariat told Pakistan Today.

The legislators demonstrated their lack of interest on April 25 when only six of them, reportedly, showed up in the 168-member house.

Visibly annoyed Speaker Durrani adjourned the house within eight minutes of its commencement for lack of quorum. In a post-session media talk, the speaker chided the lawmakers, especially the ministers, for being unpunctual saying the latter must not claim TA-DA if they could not attend the session on time.

“The main purpose of holding this 40-day longest session was to compete days,” conceded the Assembly official.

Official record shows that this 40-day session came as longest after that of 2012 when the previous assembly had sat for 35 days from Dec 16, 2011 to January 26, 2012.

Having been boastful about setting new records of holding the cost-intensive Assembly sessions, the previous PPP government during its five-year reign had managed to hold 72 sittings in the first parliamentary year (April 5, 2008-April 4, 2009), 73 in the second (April 5, 2009-April 4, 2010), 107 in the third (April 5, 2010-April 4, 2011), 104 in the fourth (April 5, 2011-April 4, 2012) and 69 in fifth and last parliamentary year from April 5, 2012-March 19, 2012 when Sindh Governor Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad had dissolved the provincial assembly.

As a side effect, however, this year’s record-breaking sittings reflected positively on the lawmaking too. The outgoing year saw the Sindh Assembly passing some 36 bills into law most of which, 20, were the amended ones.

Compared to this, the number of bills enacted during PPP’s last five-year rule totaled at 124, 18 passed in 2008-09, 18 in 2009-10, 23 in 2010-11, 31 in 2011-12 and 34 in 2012-13.

The current year also saw three bills, titling Gambit Institute of Medical Sciences (Amendment) Bill 2013, Sindh Service Tribunals (Amendment) Bill 2013 and Sindh Coal Authority (Amendment) Bill 2014, having been withdrawn and one, National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (Sindh Amendment) Bill 2014, still pending.

However, the lawmakers and the assembly officials agree that the just-concluded months-long session was very exhaustive. “Yes it was! But it does not matter whether or not we are tired. We being government servants have to keep serving,” a helpless official shrugged off.

With ifs and buts tough, Sindh Minister for Women Development and Social Welfare Rubina Saadat Qaimkhani also tends to agree that the session was quite prolonged. The former PPP MNA, however, is not ready to give any concession to the lawmakers. “Yeah, but this is what the lawmakers are meant for,” she told this reporter while drew to the long-lasting session.

Citing reasons for the government’s rush, an official said the absence of political harmony in the deeply-divided house first did not allow the PPP to hold regular sessions during the whole year and then made it run for completing the century.

“There has been little or no political understanding between the parties represented in the house, especially the PPP and MQM (now having re-allied),” he added. Terming “political harmony” a must for any piece of legislation sailing through a politically divided house, the official said there was no hard and fast rule determining the length of a session.

Except the 11th one that lasted for 25 days, throughout the year the speaker or deputy speaker of the house kept proroguing the Assembly’s proceedings quite frequently. While the first, third, seventh and eighth session lasted, respectively, for 3, 13, 8 and 5 days, the remaining six sessions could see the house in order only for one day.

Short or long these sessions have a cost to be borne by the taxpayer, anyway.

Jam Tamachi Unar, an outspoken PPP lawmaker and former chairman of Public Accounts Committee, is widely believed to have been denied a party ticket to contest May 11 (2013) general elections for his repeated blasting of the government and opposition lawmakers alike who, he used to complain, were wasting public money on prolonged sessions with little legislation.