In this Issue:
- National Assembly: Six Months In
- Ordinance Passed to Privatize PIA 48 Hours before NA Session
- Naat Recitation now Mandatory in National Assembly
The first half of the third Parliamentary year of the 14th National Assembly concluded with the 27th session in December 2015. During the six months, the Assembly met for 49 sittings, with a record long gap of 83 days between the 24th and the 25th sessions. The Assembly is required to meet annually for a minimum 122 working days as per the Constitution. The Assembly will have to make up for lost time in the second half.
Table 1: Performance Statistics of Six
Months of the National Assembly
In June 2015, the President’s of Pakistan had issued an order in favor of a PILDAT and directed the National Assembly to upload the Attendance Records of MNAs. Apparently, this has not made MNAs anymore responsible in the third year as low attendance figures persist at an average of 60% attendance per session. Figure 1 shows the attendance trends of select Parliamentary leaders. Two leaders remain consistently below the average attendance: Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Mr. Farooq Sattar, MNA, (NA-248, Sindh, MQM).
Figure 1: Attendance of Key Parliamentary
Leaders (Percentage of Sittings for that Session)
Source: Calculated from Attendance Uploaded on National Assembly Website
The National Assembly Secretariat staff is required to mark biometric attendance upon entry and exit.1 Why are MNAs exempt from this obligation? For the calendar year 2015 it was recorded that the peak average attendance of MNAs at any one point was of 41% of the membership.2 Uploading attendance is not very effective as MNAs attend for a few minutes and leave without participating in the proceedings. The Leader of the Opposition, Syed Khursheed Shah rightly expressed his discontent stating, " I will not deliver my speech on the presidential address unless the Leader of the House comes to the proceedings to listen to my views …."” 3
Key legislation was once again neither tabled nor discussed in the Lower House, for instance, the critical Right to Information law has not been introduced in Parliament despite having been prepared by the Government for a full year. Barrister Zafarullah Khan, on November 19, 2015, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs, had announced that the Federal Government intended to introduce the RTI Bill in Parliament since its finalization during a Cabinet Committee meeting on January 02, 2015. However it was neither introduced in Senate nor the National Assembly despite a series of sessions of each taking place after this announcement.
48 hours before the commencement of the 27th session of the National Assembly, the President of Pakistan promulgated the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (Conversion) Ordinance, 2015, which would convert the Pakistan International Airlines into a private corporation and repeal the Pakistan International Airlines Act of 1956. The Constitution of Pakistan explicitly states that the “president may, except when the Senate or National Assembly is in session, if satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, make and promulgate an ordinance.”4 It is unfortunate that successive Governments have taken unscrupulous advantage of the time between sessions to force legislation of its own choosing rather than putting it through Parliamentary scrutiny. It makes it a mockery of the Parliament to promulgate an ordinance two days before a session is set to begin. Thankfully, the Parliament did not tolerate this as uproar ensued in both the lower and upper houses. The situation culminated into the Members of Senate passing a resolution on December 31, 2015 that effectively repealed the contentious ordinance.
On December 15, 2015, the National Assembly of Pakistan amended its Rules of Procedure to recite Naat after the recitation of the Holy Quran in the House. Over 100 MNAs signed this amendment, which was moved by Captain Muhammad Safdar, MNA, (NA-21, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PML-N).5 Lawmakers also call for daily recitation of Hadith. More than half of the agenda for the day was incomplete by the conclusion of the same sitting in which these amendments to the rules were made.6
The incumbent Chairman of Senate, the Honourable Raza Rabbani took important steps towards institution building of the Senate upon taking over its leadership. The Chairman took note of the poor attendance of Senators and ordered the uploading of attendance records on the website, not just for sessions, but also for committee meetings. Under Senator Rabbani’s Chairmanship, a Public Petitions Portal has been introduced and the Senate Website has been reformed.
A theme that resonated in the Senate for the past six months was of civil-military relations. During a debate on Public Participation and Democracy that ensued on September 15, 2015 (International Democracy Day), Senator Farhatullah Babar observed that ‘the civil and the military are not on the same page and there is a serious disconnect between the Civilian Government and the Security Establishment.’ In the same vein, the Honourable Members of Senate called for an independent judicial commission to affix responsibility for security and intelligence on the one-year anniversary of the Peshawar Attack.
Table 2: Performance Statistics of last
Six Months of the Senate
On November 30, 2015 the Federal Government approved a mini-budget with additional tax measures that amounted to over Rs. 40 billion. The new taxes increased indirect taxation as a resort towards increasing revenue from tax. This approval was made without deliberations in Parliament. Legislators were predictably incensed that the Parliament had been bypassed to approve a reform that would likely burden lower income brackets of the populace, not to mention fuel inflation. The Senate Standing Committee on Finance criticised the Government for taking executive decisions on such crucial matters.
The budget document and subsequent fiscal decisions are often made in Pakistan at the discretion of the Executive without sufficient oversight by the Parliament. Such tax measures must be deliberated in Parliament and by relevant Standing Committees. The Senate’s role in particular, must be expanded so that its oversight over the budget is not a mere formality; rather it must have the provision to scrutinise and pass the budget after the Lower House.
The Senate of Pakistan took a great leap forward by launching a new website in September 2015 that gives all the promises of transparency and accessibility. Unfortunately several glaring shortcomings persist. While information on bills received from the National Assembly is current, very basic information on bills passed by the Senate is not updated. The ‘Legislation at a Glance’ section of the website where a lay person would scroll to get a snapshot of the over all legislative work of the Senate is shown in the image below:
The Senate Secretariat must not let its great initiative fall through the cracks and ought to continue updating the website with the most current information.
24 sittings of the Balochistan Assembly have taken place so far out of a requirement of 100 working days required by the Constitution. However these would include the days between sittings of a session. Six months into its third Parliamentary year, the Provincial Assembly of Balochistan continues also to remain the only legislature in Pakistan that has still not managed to formally elect all the Chairpersons for its Standing Committees. 3 out of the 14 Standing Committees were without Chairpersons by December 2015. PILDAT recommends that the Rules of Procedure be amended so that it is mandatory to elect all Chairpersons within a set period of three months from the oath taking.
Table 3: Performance Statistics of Six
Months of the Balochistan Assembly
After the resignation of Mir Jan Jamali, MPA from the post of Speaker on May 01, 2015, the post has finally been filled with the election of Ms. Rahila Hamid Khan Durrani, MPA on December 24, 2015 by a delay of 7 months.
Table 4: Performance Statistics of Six
Months of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly
A number of laws were repeatedly amended and rapidly passed during the first six months of the third Parliamentary year. The Local Government Bill has been amended 5 times and more amendments are being introduced, and meanwhile the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission Act, 2014 has been amended 4 times so far. Sardar Hussain Babak, MPA, (PK-77, KP, ANP) told DAWN “The bills are passed without the required debate inside the house and consultations on draft bills outside the house.”7
Mushtaq Ahmed Ghani, MPA, (PK-44, KP, PTI) defended the turnover of legislation by saying “Sometime flaws in a law surface when it goes for implementation in the field.”8 It appears that some laws have repeatedly made appearances on the agenda while others have been outstanding for over a year. The Conflict of Interest Bill was introduced in June 2014 and reintroduced in October 2015. The bill just did not make it from the agenda to the House for a year and a half. A decision on this important bill was made a year and half after its introduction while apparently the Local Government and Ehtesaab Commission laws are almost treated as drafts by being passed and taken for test-drives and returned to Government for further corrections.
Punjab Assembly does not seem to have significantly benefitted from the attendance of legislators being made available online. Besides the budget session, the attendance has remained below the 50% mark thus far in the third Parliamentary year.
Table 5: Performance Statistics of Six
Months of the Punjab Assembly
The Punjab Assembly website, which has b