PPP leader asks Senate chairman to convene a session

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani has asked Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to immediately convene a session of the upper house of parliament to consider issues related to coronavirus and for ensuring parliamentary oversight of the measures being taken by the government to provide relief to the masses during the pandemic.

Mr Rabbani made the formal request to the Senate chairman through a letter on Tuesday

In the letter, Mr Rabbani proposed a 10-point agenda which, according to him, should be taken up by the Senate in its special session.

He also suggested a mechanism to hold sittings of the Senate through a video link in the buildings of the provincial assemblies in case senators failed to reach Islamabad to attend the session.

However, later through another letter, he withdrew his “alternative proposal”, saying that “in the light of the decision of the federal government pertaining to the opening of various sectors during the lockdown, I withdraw my alternative proposal of holding part of the session through the video link”.

“It is unfortunate that during the pandemic we have failed to develop a national consensus to put together a collective effort,” Mr Rabbani wrote in the letter, alleging that institutions provided in the Constitution like the Council of Common Interests had been made redundant.

“Historically during wars and grave epidemics, courts and parliaments have continued to function. Even in the present crises, parliaments of various countries continue to function partially and or have gone into limited recess after passing legislation pertaining to financial relief measures,” Mr Rabbani said.

“At a time of national crises when all other forms of leadership or institutions have failed to bring about a national consensus and provide a determined, and hope-oriented leadership, parliament must rise to the clarion call of history and play its historic rule of building national consensus while maintaining the parliamentary oversight on steps being taken to fight the virus. This is yet another historic opportunity for the parliament to redeem itself in the eyes of the people,” he wrote.

He regretted that the federal government had announced financial packages for various sectors of industry and altered the tax and duty structures without taking parliament into confidence. Moreover, he said, “the critical ministries handling the coronavirus crises, such as health, Ehsaas Relief, national security (controlling air links), information, overseas Pakistanis and the Tiger Force, are all under special assistants to the prime minister who are not members of the parliament”.

Therefore, according to him, in the given situation it was essential for transparency and parliamentary oversight that the Senate session be summoned as it represented the federating units.

Mr Rabbani said he was not discussing the issue of National Assembly session for the simple reason that its members must be involved in the efforts against the virus in their respective constituencies. Further, he said, there were 342 members and a congregation of such numbers, along with the mobilisation of the National Assembly Secretariat staff, would not be conducive in the lockdown.

Mr Rabbani also suggested a 10-point agenda for the proposed Senate session which comprises a discussion and review of “total foreign and local funding and its utilisation, foreign equipment and material received and its utilisation, oversight of Ehsaas Relief, oversight of National Disaster Management Authority, details of various financial packages being announced by the federal government, prime minister’s statement asking the world for debt relief, World Bank assessment that the growth rate of Pakistan will plummet, healthcare providers infected due to inadequate protective equipment, the UAE asking countries with labour forces to repatriate them and amendments to various laws, including the Income Tax Ordinance 2001”.

Being conscious of the rules and the various constitutional provisions, in particular Article 55 of the Constitution, he said the Senate chairman should develop consensus in the House that the quorum would not be pointed out, in these special circumstances, and no voting would take place.

Mr Rabbani also suggested that question hour, private member’s or government legislation, except related to coronavirus, adjournment motions and resolutions should remain suspended during the proposed session.

He also suggested to the Senate chairman that instead of mobilising the whole Senate Secretariat, only essential employees, on a rotation basis, should be called in service for the session.

“If the ban on intra-city flights continues, then it will be a question only of senators from provinces of Balochistan and Sindh to be brought to Islamabad,” he said, adding that senators from all other areas could travel by road.

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