A mere debating club?
Senate proceedings in Pakistan are a mere debating club; since March 2009, it has passed only eight bills and 12 acts.
It’s 11.30am. I’m still anxiously waiting for Senate’s proceedings to kick off. An hour has gone by since the Senate chairman had announced that the session would begin at 10.30 am. The unending wait has jaded me, along with many other reporters present with me to cover the proceedings of the upper chamber of parliament.
In this, I recall the words of a senator, who had said that the Senate was nothing more than a debating club. And given what I was presently doing, I tended to agree with him, though at that point in time, the debate had not yet even begun.
I have been covering the Senate since March 2009. Since then, it has had 27 sessions but never has attendance been more than even 50 per cent. In the last four sessions, I didn’t see more than 30 senators in attendance, for a house of 100. And since March 2009, it has passed only eight bills and 12 acts.
While covering the sessions I have often listened to the Senate chairman advising his colleagues to read the rules of business when participating in points of order. A senior journalist who also covers the Senate is of the view that many members of the upper house constantly misuse the points of order. He explains this by saying that members are not aware of the rules of business of the very institution they have been elected to. Either this, or they have no inclination to follow the rules. Whatever the reality, it is bad and reflects poorly on the members of the house.
Let’s take a glance at the budget debate during the last session. A grand total of seven senators delivered budget speeches and most of them did not even speak on the budget, choosing instead to hold forth on the then controversial nomination of the leader of opposition. Even though 28 out of 100 senators are foreign graduates, they only found time to present 12 private member bills in the Senate since March 2009 and passed two constitutional amendments. This house has not amended the Anti Terrorism Act despite repeated requests by the minister concerned. Perhaps the one positive development vis-à-vis the upper house is that it will now get four senators from the minorities.