MNAs call for enhancing Parliamentary oversight of govt’s COVID-19 response

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Key members of the Parliamentary Task Force on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) called for enhancing parliamentary oversight of the government’s response to COVID-19 in various sectors and asked the government to convene a session of the National Assembly which has not met during the last two months.

These views were expressed by Members of the Taskforce on SDGs at a Consultative Session on Improving Parliamentary Oversight of government’s COVID-19 response with the MNA and Convenor of the Taskforce on SDGs Riaz Fatyana, organized by the SDGs Secretariat in collaboration with the Democracy Reporting International (DRI) in Islamabad on Thursday.

The session was attended by 12 MNAs and the DRI’s Policy Experts.

Speaking on the occasion, Riaz Fatyana said that there is a strong link between economic growth, rule of law and democracy. He added that the second wave of the pandemic is more dangerous and has affected parliamentary business as the National Assembly has not met since the end of October while committees work also remained disrupted for a while due to the pandemic.

Riaz Fatyana underlined the need for using technical solutions to cope with the challenge including considering holding virtual sessions of the Assembly and its committees.

The MNA also highlighted the significance of financial and digital inclusion for rural populations and to develop a comprehensive strategy to sustain the industrial opportunities created by the pandemic.

The MNA and Chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Ms. Shandana Gulzar Khan said that violence against women and children has increased during the pandemic but unfortunately no accurate data is available on this important subject.

Ms. Shandana Gulzar demanded that a session of the National Assembly should be convened to discuss these and other pertinent issues.

Ms. Mehnaz Akber Aziz expressed her concerned that the COVID-19 related issues were not properly discussed in the Parliament. She said that the pandemic has affected education and learning and more so of the students from lower-income groups. The government has not given any budget to schools for following SOPs such as buying hand sanitisers and soaps.

Ms. Mehnaz Akber Aziz said that low-income private schools are badly affected by the pandemic as parents job losses resulted in students’ dropout. She said that a stimulus package for such schools is needed to sustain the financial losses due to the pandemic. She also called for a coordinated mechanism of COVID-19 testing in school to timely and effectively contain the spread of the Coronavirus.

The Parliamentary Secretary for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Dr Nausheen Hamid highlighted key steps the government has taken so far to respond to the pandemic including the formation of a Parliamentary Committee on COVID-19, the establishment of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC). She said that a Centre for Disease Control and a National Data Centre on Health were missing which will now work under the National Institute of Health.

Dr Nausheen Hamid said that initially Pakistan was importing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but now we are producing and exporting PPE and steps towards manufacturing ventilators and testing kits are taken. She also added that the government is working on a vaccine distribution policy and priority will be given to front line health workers, including doctors and paramedical staff.

Others who spoke on the occasion included MNAs Ms. Nafeesa Khattak, Ms. Syma Nadeem, Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha and Ms. Sajida Zulfiqar Khan, the DRI’s Country Director Mr. Javed Ahmed Malik, the DRI’s Policy and Governance Consultant Ms. Nadia Tariq Ali, Dr Nadia Farooq, and Mr. Ali Salman.