Ministers Absence in Session enrages Speaker
ISLAMABAD: On a second day of stark ministerial absenteeism and bureaucratic disregard of the National Assembly, a stern warning by the house speaker put the government in a tight spot before it was let off the hook with a “last chance” warning.
In what looked like a suo motu notice a la former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq took the unusual step of suspending question hour for some time to dress-down senior government functionaries – whose ministries were found wanting – in his chamber.
Amid dramatic events, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed again bemoaned his helplessness in seeing government business going awry, much like he did in a previous sitting of the house on Monday.
It all started with a question about the Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis. The speaker observed that no federal official below the rank of joint secretary should be present in the galleries during questions about their respective ministries.
Then, there was the matter of no reply sent to a listed question for the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, prompting the speaker to ask why it was so before directing Sheikh Aftab, who is also the chief whip of the ruling party, to summon the ministry’s secretary to the speaker’s chamber.
Then it transpired that neither Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan nor his ministry’s parliamentary secretary was present to answer a question. Sheikh Aftab, who often stands in for absentee ministers, said he could do the job in this case because some ministry official had briefed him only five minutes before the scheduled start of the sitting.
That seemed to be too much for the speaker to stomach as he had already given numerous previous warnings with little in the way of compliance, and he ordered the commerce secretary to be called to his chamber.
Saying that even written requests had failed to move his cabinet colleagues and the bureaucracy to show respect for the house, Sheikh Aftab said he didn’t feel like he was a member of the government, “but an accused”, and requested the speaker to issue a clear directive to rectify the situation.
“Time for directives is over,” the speaker said and suspended question hour on a suggestion from Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi to meet the summoned officials along with Sheikh Aftab and some opposition figures.
On his return, some 15 minutes later, question hour had ended. The speaker then told the house of a decision to give the defaulters “a last chance”.
In the previous sitting on Monday, when opposition leader Khursheed Ahmed Shah and some other opposition lawmakers complained about absenteeism on the treasury benches, Sheikh Aftab lamented that he felt so helpless that he had thought of resigning his position.
The front ministerial benches were as empty on Wednesday as they were on Monday, but the speaker said nothing about disciplining them.
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