EDITORIAL: How imperative is quorum to legislative business? Article 55(2) of the Constitution provides the answer. In case the sitting is short of quorum, which in case of present strength of the National Assembly is 86, the presiding officer “shall” either adjourn the Assembly or suspend the meeting until at least one-fourth of such membership is present.
But to this mandatory provision there is a proviso; according to which, suspension or adjournment would follow only if attention of the presiding officer is drawn to the lack of quorum. This past Tuesday was the private members’ day and as expected had a huge agenda and therefore the business of the house was expected to be proactive, if not contentious.
But to one’s great astonishment the sitting lacked quorum from the word go, and at times it was as meagre as 18 members in the house of 342. But nobody pointed out the woeful lack of quorum and the house managed to take up over 100 agenda items out of 114 in about two-hour sitting, excluding a 48-minute Maghrib prayer break.
As is generally the case the agenda of the private members’ day comprises quite a few lightweight items, but there are some times some very important items which deserve extensive debate, as was the case on Tuesday. For instance, the house adopted the bill seeking an amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in order to ensure that the acid throwing burn crimes be made actionable as an act of terrorism.
The house also approved amendment to the assembly rules mandating that the timetable of committee meetings shall be decided by the chairperson of the committee instead of the concerned minister “after intimation to the concerned minister” instead of “in consultation with the minister”.
Moving the amendment, Abdul Qadir Khan Mandokhel recalled that in the last four years the committee on communications was able to hold only three meetings because of refusal of the then concerned minister, Murad Saeed, to attend the proceedings. Interestingly, only 18 lawmakers were present in the 342-member house as it sought and received changes in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business with a 17-1 vote.
The question is not whether a quorum-less legislation is legal or not, the question is how come so furiously fought seat in the National Assembly, as was the case during the recent by-elections, becomes so unattractive as this past Tuesday. The election to be member of an assembly is not merely a privilege to be a cog in governance as proxy of someone else.
The election imposes on the elected an unending all-time responsibility to represent their constituencies in the assemblies. ‘Democracy’, the Greek word, means governance by the people, and it demands active participation in making laws that concern the elected members’ constituents.
Then there is the issue of financial burden people bear to elect their representatives who should speak for them on the issues of their concerns – and not enjoy perks and privileges at their cost and miss out lawmaking by the elected houses.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022