Legislation business at a standstill

Published: December 5, 2018

Parliament is in a deadlock and the legislation business at a standstill — for the simple reason that the PTI and its allies have failed to form the House committees despite being in government for more than 100 days. Chairmanship of the all-powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is the main sticking point which is also delaying the formation of as many as 45 standing committees of the National Assembly whose job is to consider a parliamentary bill before a seal of approval from the House is sought.

Initially, the government was adamant that the PAC chairmanship should go to one of its own men. In a softening of the stance later, it agreed to accept an opposition member other than Shehbaz Sharif or any of his ‘hawkish’ party men on the powerful position. However, the PML-N is not ready to accept anybody else than Shehbaz Sharif and has even threatened a boycott of all parliamentary committees. Hence the stalemate persists. To make matters worse, Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced going ahead with the formation of the committees without the opposition members.

Not a constitutional requirement though, parliamentary tradition demands that the PAC chairmanship go to the opposition. Moreover, it does make sense when the opposition says that since the apex parliamentary watchdog is mandated to oversee the audit of revenue and expenditure by the government, a treasury member at the helm cannot satisfy the principle of transparency and justice. The government, on the other hand, has a point as it seeks to break away from the parliamentary tradition of the opposition heading the public accounts watchdog. It argues that deputing the PML-N to audit the projects undertaken during its own tenure is like entrusting the sheep to the wolf.

There may be varying judgments as to the performance of the Imran Khan-led government on the various fronts — economy, governance, foreign policy, etc — in its first 100 days, but the government is definitely a non-starter when it comes to the parliament’s principal business of legislation. A host of legislative bills wait for the tug of war between the government and the opposition to stop.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2018.

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