Standing Committees: Race on for Senate panel chairpersons

Published: May 20, 2012

Committee on finance needs to be made functional before the budget.

ISLAMABAD: 

Despite the passage of over two months since the elections, the Senate’s standing committees – key instruments of the upper house – are still not up and running.

At the last session, Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari constituted 33 committees, but chairpersons for each committee are yet to be elected before the committees can start functioning.

The reason for the delay remains unclear.With the budget around the corner, the race for leadership of each committee is starting to heat up, according to informed officials.

The concern has risen. At the last session on May 11, senators across the political spectrum demanded special committees.

Under the Constitution, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance is supposed to send recommendations to the National Assembly for the budget – but no such committee exists.

The first committee likely to be constituted on an urgent basis, therefore, is the finance committee, which should happen before the end of the month or the first week of June, before the budget is presented.

“We are all set to elect chairpersons of the committees as the house proceeds its second session,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief whip Senator Islamuddin Sheikh.

He, however, neither denied nor confirmed that the ruling party had developed differences with its allies over chairmanship of some key committees.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment, 33 committees have been formed of which 30 are standing committees while three are functional committees, according to Special Secretary for Senate (committees) Amjad Pervez Malik.

The tentative proportional representation of different parties suggests that PPP, which has the highest representation in the upper house with 41 senators, will hold chairmanship of 13 to 14 committees.

Awami National Party (ANP) with 12 senators is expected to win four to five, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with seven senators  three to four, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q)  with five senators one to two, and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 14 senators is eligible to hold sway over four to five standing committees.

Informed officials say, however, that PML-N is the only party which appears uninterested in the race. Opposition Leader in the Senate Ishaq Dar made it clear that his party will not take up chairpersonship for any committee.

The competition

The most sought-after committees as far as chairmanship is concerned include the interior committee, foreign affairs committee, defence and defence production, and commerce and finance. Government ally ANP is vying for the interior committee against Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F)’s Senator Talha Mehmood while there is tough competition between PML-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed and MQM Senator Mustafa Kamal over the foreign affairs committee.

Senator Tahir Mashhadi of MQM is interested in heading the Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production, while MQM lawmaker Nasreen Jalil is hopeful that she’ll be elected for the finance committee. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) Senator Munir Orakzai is demanding leadership of the State and Frontier Region committee.

According to Senator Mashhadi, the tentative date for the Senate’s next session is May 25. Hopefully, the elections for committees will be held by the end of this month, he added. Referring to the race for chairpersonship, Mashhadi said: “The right man should be given the right job to run the affairs of important committees.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.

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