PILDAT Score Card on Performance of the National Assembly: Performance declines in 3rd Parliamentary Year by 5 Percentage Points

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PILDAT Score Card on Performance of the National Assembly: Performance declines in 3rd Parliamentary Year by 5 Percentage Points

May 31; A PILDAT Score Card on the Performance of the 14th National Assembly’s 3rd Parliamentary year shows the overall performance of the National Assembly has declined by 5 percentage points at 43% from 48% in the second Parliamentary year. The performance, when compared with five years average of the 13th (previous) National Assembly, which stood at 49%, has also declined.

Figure 1: Area-wise Scores of the National Assembly of Pakistan (2015-2016)

Accountability has consistently been the weakest area of the National Assembly in 2015-2016 (at 32%) as well as in previous years. While the Senate of Pakistan is making crucial reforms through the creation of a Committee on Ethics and development of a Code of Conduct, no such initiative has been undertaken in the National Assembly. As per the Rules of Procedure, the sole authority to oversee conduct of Members of National Assembly (MNA) in the House lies with the Speaker of the National Assembly, who can, at his/her discretion, suspend an MNA or adjourn a sitting. PILDAT strongly recommends that the National Assembly develops and enforces a Code of Conduct for Members, which has long been overdue.  

While MNAs file Statements of Assets and Liabilities with the ECP, recent events such as the leaks of the Panama Papers make it clear that this is insufficient to make MNAs accountable to citizens. PILDAT advocates increasing the power of the Parliament itself to hold MNAs accountable. This would be done through the introduction of Conflict of Interest provisions. MNAs are likely to have occupations beside politics that result in them holding interests outside of their roles as legislators. PILDAT recommends that MNAs declare all financial interests that may potentially create a Conflict of Interest between their duties as legislators and their personal interests in a Register of Members’ Financial Interests. This is compiled in both Indian and British Parliaments and may be emulated in Pakistan to facilitate MNAs to vote and deliberate in the interests of the public. A register would diminish accusations of Conflict of Interest, and also uphold the legitimacy and integrity of the work of MNAs.

The Oversight of the Executive in 2015-2016 received a score of 44%. The Public Accounts Committee along with its sub-committees led by the Leader of the Opposition, Syed Khursheed Shah, MNA (NA-199, Sindh, PPPP) met 118 times this year: 30% more than the previous year when it met 91 times. Meanwhile, Standing Committees met on average for 13 sittings each. The Standing Committee on the Cabinet Secretariat was most active in 2015-2016 with 38 meetings of the Committee and its sub-committees under its belt. The least active Committee was the Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, led by Mian Abdul Manan, MNA (NA-83, Punjab, PML-N) that met only 5 times.

While MNAs may have been actively monitoring the Executive, PILDAT notes with concern the fact that the Honourable Speaker, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, did not accept a single adjournment motion in 2015-2016. This is a worrying trend as adjournment motions are important tools used by MNAs to raise matters of urgent concern in the House.

No significant strides were made in the financial oversight either. On June 03, 2016, Senator Ishaq Dar, Finance Minister, is due to address the House through the customary budget speech. As is the norm, within 2-3 weeks the budget session will be wrapped up and the Federal Budget 2015-2016 will be passed with the usual lack of scrutiny. In June 2015 the National Assembly discussed the budget for only 15 sittings. In comparison, the Indian Lok Sabha discussed its 2016 budget for 31 sittings over 87 working days. The days that the Lok Sabha did not meet were utilised by specialized committees examining departmental budgets.  The National Assembly’s rules specifically bar the Finance Bill from being referred to the Standing Committees, the single biggest reform required in the Budget Process in the National Assembly. The budget documents spread over 2,000 pages contain technical details that lay out the strategies for the coming fiscal year. Without an in-depth scrutiny of departmental budget in Standing Committees, MNAs are given only 2 days to go through the motions of studying the budget documents and 2 weeks to pass the budget.

No substantive work in Parliament can be done without the active participation of MNAs: the representatives of the will of the people. The attendance of MNAs in 2015-2016 was recorded at 61% of the membership: with 206 of 340 members being present on average per sitting. However, over the 103 sittings this year, quorum was lacking 17 times indicating that while MNAs may have attended the House but many only have stayed long enough to mark their attendance and not actually join the complete proceedings.

Most disappointing perhaps was the attendance of the Honourable Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, MNA, who attended 10% of the sittings in 2015-16. His attendance is worse in comparison with the previous year when he attended 36% of sittings. Fortunately he did manage to attend more sittings in the National Assembly than the Senate of Pakistan where he made his presence known only once.

In the wake of the Panama Leaks scandal that engulfed the country and dominated the final session of the National Assembly, the Opposition resorted to boycotting proceedings till the Prime Minister arrived to answer their questions. One of Parliamentary leaders heading the protest against the PM was none other than Mr. Imran Khan, MNA, (NA-56, Punjab, PTI), who had an even more abysmal attendance record than the PM with 5% attendance for the year. Through his poor attendance the PTI Chief failed to represent both his constituency and his party in the House. The remaining Parliamentary leaders had better records: Mr. Iftikhar ud Din, MNA (NA-32, KP, APML), had the highest attendance at 85%. Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah impressed with 73% attendance. For adequately representing the citizens of Pakistan, the National Assembly received a score of 50%.

The National Assembly received its highest score of 51% for its legislative capacity in 2015-2016. The legislature saw an active membership that laid 42 Private Members’ Bills: up from a significant 62% in the previous year when 26 bills had been laid. Despite this important achievement of the legislators, a worrying trend of the passage of hasty legislation was witnessed. The 22nd Constitutional Amendment that redefined the selection process of the Chief Election Commissioner and members of the ECP was tabled and passed on the same day on May 19. This was not a stand-alone incident: often laws tabled by the Government do not go through the required legislative procedure. For instance, the 21st Constitutional Amendment that sanctioned military courts for speedy trials skipped stages of the legislative procedure (such as scrutiny by Committees) mandated in the Rules of Procedure.

The Parliament was periodically bypassed in 2015-2016, for instance, through the usage of ordinances to bulldoze laws. The PIA ordinance was promulgated on December 07, just 48 hours before the National Assembly session was set to begin. Ordinances are a provision given in the Constitution of Pakistan to enact laws in emergency situations when the Assembly is not in session. There was no national crisis that warranted the promulgation of the PIA ordinance. The Government had earlier bypassed Parliament by introducing a mini-budget in November 2015 that increased indirect taxation.

MNAs themselves become party to undermining Parliament by deliberating matters of public concern in All-Parties Conferences (APC) than the floor of the House. In the period under consideration, the Prime Minister himself called an APC on January 15, 2016 to discuss the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) instead of the Government requisitioning a session of Parliament to discuss the matter. The Parliament is a representative forum of all elected parties and national policies must be debated and reviewed inside and not outside it. It is quite unsurprising that the Public Approval Rating for trust in the National Assembly has declined from 60% in 2014 to 49% in 2015.1

For Transparency the National Assembly received a score of 46% as it began uploading the attendance of MNAs online. It did so with resistance having initially declined PILDAT’s request in 2013. The National Assembly had filed an appeal to the President of Pakistan to resist uploading the attendance. This was rejected in July 2015 and the National Assembly was asked to comply with the Federal Ombudsman’s directives and share this information publicly.

The National Assembly witnessed a decline in Involvement in Foreign Policy to 34% from 41% in 2013-2014. The sudden decision by the National Assembly to cancel its hosting of the 61st Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC), less than two months before it was scheduled to take place as the National Assembly refused to extend an invitation to the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly appeared to be both embarrassing and irresponsible. If Pakistan’s agreement to host the Conference was contingent upon not inviting the representative of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, this should have been clearer when the Speaker agreed to hold the CPC in the first place. Furthermore, the Government is still not obliged to get National Assembly’s ratification of international treaties and agreements.

The Score Card is based on an international framework developed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union to assist Parliaments and their members in assessing how their Parliament performs against widely accepted criteria for democratic Parliaments. The PILDAT Team assigned detailed scores to National Assembly across 47 key performance indicators. The detailed Score Card with the scores on each individual sub-parameter can be found in
Table 1: Comparative Score Card on the Performance of the National Assembly: 3rd Parliamentary Year [PDF]
| [Urdu Version].

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