The business of legislation has been experiencing hiccups ever since the formation of the assemblies on the basis of the 2018 general election results. Parliament remained deadlocked for first hundred days of the new government for the simple reason that the PTI and its allies could not form the House committees. The legislation business thus remained at a standstill. Chairmanship of the all-powerful House committee, the Public Accounts Committee, was the bone of a months-long contention between the government and the opposition, with both staking claim to the coveted slot. As both sides stuck to their positions, there was no agreement either on 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. With the government finally conceding to the opposition’s demand, offering the PAC chairmanship to Shehbaz Sharif, the House committees came into being — albeit after nearly six months of the formation of the government.
Now nearly five months from then, the business of legislation again faces hurdles. National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser has ordered cancellation of all standing committee meetings, stating that they should only be summoned while the lower house is in session. The Speaker’s order is stated to have come in line with the government’s austerity drive, but the opposition calls the order ‘illegal’ and an ‘attack on parliament’. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto insists the Speaker seems totally ignorant of the importance of the standing committees which are ‘the brain of parliament’.
That parliament is incomplete without the standing committees is hardly debatable. It is these committees that set groundwork for the House’s future session. As the opposition sees an element of politics behind the Speaker’s order, it is unlikely to accept it as it is. The opposition may even boycott the committee meetings altogether. This threatens to leave the House dysfunctional — yet again.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2019.