If someone was handing out awards to legislative assemblies for coming up with the most bizarre legislation and the most frivolous debates, chances are that the Punjab Assembly — the largest legislative house of the country — would win. The house has turned into such a joke of late that one wonders about the ability of most of its members to just be rational, let alone their ability to make laws.
Every other day, members of this supposedly august house are reported in the media about their involvement in verbal spats, at times, on the assembly floor, calling each other name that are so impolite that they often need to be taken off the records of assembly proceedings. From trying to pass legislation against mobile phone packages to legislation encouraging polygamy and shout fests, from calling names to throwing shoes and chairs at people, members of Punjab assembly have indulged in just about everything – at times repeatedly so.
Instead of taking up issues that adversely affect the performance of the province – such as high number of children outside the schools, the recent young doctor’s strike, increasing unemployment in the province or increase in beggary – the members discuss matter that are irrelevant and can no way be passed as matters of government interest or political debate, legislation or attempts at legislation which is their raison d’être. Latest in the long line of inane debates is discussion over Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s promise to pay Rs 3 million to acid burn victim Rukhsana. Instead of discussing and strengthening laws on domestic violence, acid throwing and police reforms, they decided to go after the film maker who highlighted this issue through her work. It was quite ironic that the motion to ‘help this poor woman’ was moved by Shaikh Alauddin who is quite well known for his misogynyand has harassed his co workers in assembly on camera.
When the members of the assembly do work on issues of importance, they do not do so with the required diligence and care. According to a PILDAT report, it took the provincial assembly only 21 hours and 56 minutes to pass the annual budget for the fiscal year 2012-13 which was around Rs 782 billion. In comparison budget debate 2011-2012 consumed approximately 39 hours. Hence a decline of55% was witnessed this year in the actual time devoted for Budget debate. They pass multiple bills which had been returned to the assembly secretariat from the governor’s office with objections and reservations, without making any changes in the text or the context of the bills. The provincial law minister disregarded the governor’s reservations by saying that the “governor has hired a team of English-writers, who write the same type of objections on every bill.”
Perhaps, the Darwin Award for the most incredible legislation goes to Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan who moved a motion to remove the ostrich from the bird category and place it in the same category of animals as goats and sheep, in order to meet the increasing demand for meat in the province. One wonders why the poor birds had to be removed from their rightful place in the animal kingdom; if the reason was to encourage people to eat them, they could have done it without the hyperbole of legislation. After all we, as a nation, eat poultry like there is no tomorrow.
Going by the performance of this house, the election commission should be advised to start testing candidates on basic IQ tests before approving their nomination papers for the next elections. Who knows, the next assembly might want to declare elephants as fish.
Originally written for The Express Tribune