The Senate Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges observed that the Constitution of Pakistan does not provide for holding a virtual session of the parliament, the galleries in the Senate Hall, however, can be used by parliamentarians.
The Committee proposes holding Senate House proceedings in the National Assembly Hall in the prevailing conditions to follow the principle of adequate distance in seating.
In relation to the situation arising out of COVID-19, a meeting of the committee was called via video link to discuss the issue of holding virtual senate sessions and in light of the constitution and mechanism to be adopted for the same.
The meeting was chaired by Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq and was attended among others by Leader of the House Senator Shibli Faraz, Senators Sherry Rehman, Mian Raza Rabbani, Dilawar Khan, Nighat Mirza, Waleed Iqbal, Pervaiz Rasheed, Asif Kirmani.
Chairperson of the committee remarked that the pandemic has engulfed the entire world and parliamentarians across the world have adopted different ways and means to continue working for the public. She said that Pakistan is also experiencing similar challenges and like the executive and judiciary, parliament and its members also need to work out mechanisms to convene a session as early as possible to take steps to resolve the problems.
She observed that Parliamentarians are the representatives of people and we stand with the people of Pakistan in this hour of need.
Senator Mian Raza Rabbani briefed the committee on the constitutional requirements of voting, attendance, quorum, and other aspects that cannot be observed adequately in a virtual session. He said that the Rules of Senate also do not have any provision for holding a virtual session and for holding such a sitting a large number of amendments would be required in the Constitution as well as the rules.
He also said that the fact that all other government departments are working but Parliament cannot convene is beyond comprehension. He proposed that visitor’s galleries can also be used in the Hall for members to ensure proper distance is maintained between individual sitting.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs said that the meeting of the parliamentary committee held yesterday deliberated upon the matter and the National Assembly session with limited representation may be called in days to come.
Senator Waleed Iqbal also agreed that a virtual session is not a possibility and proposed that senate sessions are convened in the National Assembly hall and the National Assembly session is convened in the convention center to have a proper sitting arrangement. He said that everyone coming for meetings or sessions should get himself/herself tested first.
Senators Nighat Mirza, Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Dilawar Khan, Pervaiz Rasheed, Asif Kirmani also agreed that House sitting should be called and Parliament should continue its work while taking all precautionary measures required.
The leader of the House said that the views of the members should be considered and mechanisms should be adopted to make it as safe as possible. Senator Sherry Rehman also called for holding the session and keeping the Parliament fully functional while also working towards making it more digitized.
Chairperson Committee rounded off the discussion with two proposals; either the session of Senate be held in the National Assembly Hall or if it is held in Senate Hall then the visitor’s galleries may also be used by the members for seating.