December 27, 2023
The first day of the 334th Senate session ended in a ruckus as lawmakers raised vocal objections on the caretaker government’s mandate to legislate ahead of the general elections, announced for February 8, 2024.
On Tuesday, December 27, caretaker ministers were supposed to introduce a total of eight bills and ordinances before the house. It was when interim Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi began to table the Motion Pictures (Amendment) Bill that senators from different political parties voiced their objections.
“Caretakers are only supposed to perform day-to-day affairs of the government under Section 230 of the Elections Act, 2017,” said Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmad, adding that amendments to financial and economic laws are not within the caretaker government’s mandate. “The move is aimed at bypassing the parliament, constitution, democracy and masses.”
Endorsing his argument, Leader of the Opposition Dr. Shahzad Waseem also voiced concerns and held that the interim setup should explain the necessity of bringing these ordinances and bills.
Meanwhile, Senator Dr. Hamayun Mohmand wondered what the urgency was to introduce legislative business at a time when parliament is incomplete.
“Not any one of these bills is so important that it can not wait until February 8,” he said.
The Information Minister responded that the promulgation of ordinances is the right of the government under Article 89 of the Constitution. He stressed that it is the job of the house to decide on the matter.
Chair of the Senate Sadiq Sanjrani adjourned the session until Friday, December 29, quoting lack of quorum in the house.
Powers of the caretaker government
As per the Election Act of 2017, the caretaker government is expected to facilitate the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in conducting polls as well as tend to day-to-day matters.
As per section 230 (1) of this Act, ‘a caretaker government shall restrict itself to activities that are of routine, non-controversial and urgent, in the public interest and reversible by the future government elected after the elections’.
Moreover, section 230 (2) of the same Act initially provided that the interim government cannot take major policy decisions except on urgent matters and neither enter into ‘major international negotiation with any foreign country or international agency or sign or ratify any international binding instrument except in an exceptional case’.
Amendments to Election Act 2017
In July this year, a joint session of the Parliament passed amendments to the Election Act 2017, granting the caretaker government powers to take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects.
The approved amendment adds a subclause to section 230(2): “Provided that sub-sections (1) and (2) shall not apply where the caretaker government has to take actions or decisions regarding existing bilateral or multilateral agreements or the projects already initiated under the Public Private Partnership Authority Act, 2017 (VIII of 2017), the Inter-Governmental Commercial Transactions Act, 2022 (XXX of 2022) and the Privatisation Commission Ordinance, 2000 (LII of 2000).”