ISLAMABAD: The Senate is underway today (Tuesday) to discuss and debate the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The session, under Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, began with measures in place to ensure lawmakers’ safety against the virus.
The members were provided with masks, gloves, sanitisers and seated within a presumably safe distance to limit contact.
Addressing the House, Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq said that the government should have taken a lead in summoning an in-person session, but the opposition had to requisition it.
“During such times, opinion is sought from the institutions such as the Parliament,” he said.
He lamented that the government, instead of consulting the opposition to find solutions against the pandemic, did not bother to even approach them.
‘Who is running the country?’
PPP Parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman took over the floor, questioning the alleged lack of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s policy.
“Where is the prime minister? Who is running the country?” she said, adding that the premier is ‘missing’ these days.
Rehman said that the Standard Operating Procedures are being flouted and the top leadership is sending ‘confused’ messages regarding the lockdown situation.
She lamented that the doctors are warning that the healthcare system will outrun its capacity, but their statements are being neglected.
“We only need to focus on coronavirus,” she said.
Rehman said that today’s session should have mulled over an increase in the health budget, adding that the annual budget needs to reconsider its ‘priorities’.
“This is a bigger disease than terrorism for us,” she emphasized, saying that the medical staff is sacrificing their lives.
“Which sort of work is keeping the prime minister busy even today? He should appear in the Senate day after tomorrow to give his statement regarding the coronavirus,” said the PPP senator.
No confusion in the country, policy is clear: FM Qureshi
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also addressed the House, where he responded to the criticism, saying that there was no ‘confusion’ in the country as stated by Senator Sherry Rehman.
He said that the policy is clear and the national strategy has been devised, adding that Sindh’s input is a part of the policy regarding the pandemic.
“There is an impression being given that the only solution to the coronavirus is imposing lockdown but it is incorrect,” he opined.
FM Qureshi, in response to questions regarding the premier’s absence, said that PM Imran is in Islamabad and chairs a session daily on the virus-related issues.
He said that the National Coordination Committee also included Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah.
“In a parliamentary democracy, the importance of the parliament cannot be eschewed,” he stated.
He said that the government summoned a session of the National Assembly, which was to listen to the opposition’s views.
Requisiton for the session
Last week, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjarani had announced the session upon the opposition’s requisition. Sanjrani while presiding over a session of the Senate House Business Advisory Committee, had said that less staff should be present on the day of the session.
Opposition leader in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq had said that due to the ongoing pandemic all the members didn’t need to attend the session at the same time.
The chairman had added that adequate measures have been taken for the meeting of the lawmakers and that measures based on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been put in place inside the Senate hall.
Sanjrani had added that the session would not be for more than two hours, spanning over a week, and that it would be ensured that there would be no gathering of lawmakers anywhere at the premises or the hall.
Last week, Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla had suggested that the sessions of both Houses of Parliament should be postponed after two parliamentarians were found infected with the coronavirus.
The National Assembly held its first session after nearly two months on Monday, despite several members testing positive for the virus.
“The virus has reached the parliamentary galleries,” Mandviwalla had said, expressing concern over reports of parliamentarians and assembly staff contracting coronavirus.
“More lawmakers and staff are likely to be affected by the virus,” he said and warned that summoning the National Assembly and the Senate sessions at this time could have serious consequences.
He had urged that the proceedings [of both the houses of Parliament] be delayed, and steps should be taken so that no one entered the premises untested.
Rehman Malik wants meaningful Parliament session on COVID-19
Senate Standing Committee on Interior Chairman Senator Rehman Malik in letters to leader of the opposition in Senate and Advisor to Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan said he wanted to adopt his resolutions for the well-being of the country, adding that the Parliament session on COVID-19 should be meaningful and result-oriented rather customary, reported The News.
“Our country, unfortunately, will have a drastic increase in the cases of coronavirus because of no social distancing and government confusion about the lockdown,” he had said.
He added that the steps recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were not being followed in markets, streets and other public places. He added that he had advised the prime minister to deal the coronavirus as per WHO’s SOPs.
“The 37 Points Anti-Coronavirus National Action Plan that I recommended contain all the SOPs and have been approved by the Senate Standing Committee on Interior. “The situation would far different and better if those 37 points were followed in true letter and spirit,” he said.
He added that neither was he criticising nor doing any blame game but being the Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior, he felt that it will be his failure in national duty if he does not point out the mistakes. “Our survival is in complete lockdown and there is nothing called smart lockdown in the law,” he added.
Senate meets today to discuss coronavirus pandemic