PA passes health bill: CM makes the House work
LAHORE: It took the presence of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for the Punjab Assembly to sustain the quorum, which was pointed out twice and once found short, and pass the Punjab Healthcare Bill, 2009.
The bill was certainly the most important event in the Punjab Assembly’s legislative history as it replaced the pre-partition legislation. But the members, especially the treasury, looked least interested in the bill, if their behaviour in the House was something to go by.
The level of their interest could be gauged from the fact that, while rejecting the amendments moved by the opposition, Rana Sanaullah, and sometimes even speaker, had to Â‘signal’ the treasury members where they needed to say “yes” and when “no”. Mohsin Leghari of the opposition pointed it out to the speaker that the chair was not supposed to ‘guide’ the treasury for a particular response.
To the government’s embarrassment, quorum was pointed out twice during the legislation, which forced the law minister scampering twice to galleries and herding the members doing the bunk back to the House. But, these members left the House in droves as soon as the quorum was declared on both occasion, compelling the Speaker to wonder, “Do the chairs bite the members who cannot sit in the House.”
Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood Ahmad, who later chaired the session, and Finance Minister Tanveer Ashraf Kaira were among those who never sat in the House despite speaker’s snub.
Ultimately, the chief minister arrived in the House and the treasury started behaving like a part of legislative process.
The treasury then beat the opposition’s filibustering, rejected all the amendments moved by it, including even those that apparently made sense — like the one proposing to throw the Bill for public opinion, and passed the bill.
The opposition, apart from very incisive Mohsin Leghari, could not make the impact either. It was Leghari who reminded the law minister that his (Sana’s) claim of the Standing Committee of the House making “thorough deliberations” spanning eight months on the Bill was more of a hoax given the fact the committee met only twice during those eight long months. The entire deliberations were held at the health department led by the bureaucracy, which should have followed the instruction of the House, instead of leading it, he said.
“It is what irks the opposition; the treasury, instead of making the House more respected by putting it on the driving seat, is insulting it by delegating its role to bureaucracy. Let the Bill go to a select committee of the House and let it see its weaknesses, if any,” Leghari suggested to the chief minister.
He, however, was almost certain that his suggestions would be taken as “customary criticism by the opposition” and thrown into the dustbin. It did not take the treasury long to do what the Leghari had feared, and the bill was taken through.
Rana Sanaullah insisted the Standing Committee had kept the bill for eight months and consulted all stakeholders. Since the House represented 85 million people of the Punjab and reflected the public opinion, there was no need for taking the bill again to people, he argued.