Empowering the Senate

Published: March 13, 2018

As the upper legislative house voted in a new chairman on Monday, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the role of the outgoing chairperson, Raza Rabbani. This would prove useful if we have to chart a course for the new custodian of the Senate. The outgoing chief has earned a good review from the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) for his determined pursuit of democratic ideals and rightly so. His adept steering of the ship will be missed by all.

By stoking as well as encouraging debate on issues that perhaps a lesser man would think twice about, Rabbani plunged headlong and fearlessly into the ocean depths, if necessary, to explore politically-sensitive subjects. His decision to look critically at all legislative matters must be lauded. The Senate, as Fafen observed in its report, saw increased judicial scrutiny of democratic and political processes through the course of 15 sessions. But where the upper house really impressed under Rabbani was as a stabilising force by bringing in greater opportunities for intra-institutional dialogue.  Senator Rabbani ensured that the upper house enacted overarching regulatory reforms to improve its own productivity and quality of work. This is evident through the sheer number of reports — 234 — unveiled in the house, prepared and deliberated by different standing, functional, select and special committees of the house.

Senator Rabbani will be remembered most, however, for putting together the meeting of the Committee of the Whole — the single step that transformed the entire bicameral legislature into a committee to focus on important national issues. With the functioning of the Committee of Whole, both the chief justice and chief of army staff could brief senators about the performance of their institutions and the challenges faced by them. Senators are also now part of the Public Accounts Committee. It is steps like these that have raised the stature of parliament in the eyes of the public.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2018.

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