As monitoring starts, all MPAs to be watched in Sindh Assembly

FAFEN and PPF launch Parliament Watch Programme.


Express November 29, 2011

KARACHI: Parliamentarians beware. From now on, your every move, word and action in the Sindh Assembly will be monitored as a Parliament Watch Programme is being launched in the house.

The project is the brainchild of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) and Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) that unveiled the plans at Avari hotel on Tuesday before parliamentarians, journalists and members of civil society.

Two FAFEN observers will be recording the proceedings every day, noting down who is present, what time the session started, what issues are raised, who is the most active, what resolutions and observations are made.

FAFEN will be focusing on indicators such as responsiveness, order and institution, transparency, participation and parliamentary output. Its national manager Adnan Anjum explained that daily reports on sittings would be made available, as well as a detailed one at the end of every session.

FAFEN is a network of 42 organisations and is already monitoring the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and the Senate, and in the coming days, would monitor standing committees as well.

The message seems to have gone through. Women’s development minister Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto joked that the word “watch” was a dangerous one. She added, however, that checks and balances were needd for every institution.

For her part, culture minister Sassui Palijo stressed that every member should be closely monitored and she wished that the programme had observed the assembly proceedings during the days when General Pervez Musharraf was in power.

Recalling her “harsh” days in the previous assembly, she said, “I was not allowed to speak, even on a point of order. My microphone would be turned off. FAFEN should have also recorded those proceedings and the hurdles we faced.”

In a rare aside, Palijo went on to compliment the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar, for being so regular. On another note, she remarked that just like the Balochistan Assembly, there was not much opposition in the Sindh Assembly these days.

The only male parliamentarian at the event, MPA Saleem Khursheed Khokhar pointed out that since there is no calendar for the proceedings of the Sindh Assembly, there is low attendance. He also brought up the complaint that the chairmen of standing committees never call meetings except for the budget session.But not every speaker was critical. Owais Aslam Ali of the PPF felt that compared to the previous governments, the current parliament has been quite active. “As compared to the rubber-stamp parliaments of the past, this parliament has taken several stances,” he said. “If we go through successive democratic governments, then parliament would become quite powerful.” He argued that regular monitoring of parliament was required, as people have started taking it for granted.

A disappointing MPA Zareen Majeed did not add much to the conversation and only trotted out a few perfunctory statements about democracy. MPA Farheen Mughal went off on a tangent to attack the secret agencies by saying that they were playing the main game in the country’s politics.

Sadiqa Salahuddin also spoke at the event, focusing primarily on voter education.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2011.

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