ISLAMABAD: The veil of secrecy over the National Assembly’s private records will soon be lifted in the wake of a recent presidential ruling.
Matters related to the attendance of parliamentarians – a touchy subject at least for the National Assembly Secretariat – will now be open for public scrutiny. For years, attendance records were kept far from the prying eyes of the media and from the public.
But all that is about to change now: In his July 6 verdict on ‘Ahmed Bilal Mehboob versus National Assembly Secretariat’, President Mamnoon Hussain rejected the NA’s appeal against the October 2013 order of the federal ombudsman and issued directives for making public such records within 15 days of the conclusion of a session.
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Full accounts of house proceedings will also be published online.
In March 2013, the non-governmental Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) had sought from the NA the 2008-13 attendance records of every member.
The NA Secretariat denied access to the records, stating that “the attendance records of the MNAs do not constitute a public record under Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002”.
The Pildat chief then approached the federal ombudsman, who issued an order in the organisation’s favour.
However, the NA Secretariat submitted an appeal against the ombudsman’s decision to the president of Pakistan, who is the supreme authority on decisions taken by the ombudsman.
And the president has not only told the NA Secretariat to make public the attendance records but he has also ordered posting all the records of the house proceedings on its website.
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Pildat has shared with the media the July 6 presidential order, wherein President Mamnoon maintains that the NA’s contentions are misconceived.
The verdict states: “Article 66 [of the constitution] primarily gives immunity and privileges to a parliamentarian for speeches on the floor of the house, and Article 67 pertains to framing the rules of procedure with regard to the proceedings in the house.... Article 19-A significantly supplements the information law.”
As for the other reason for rejecting the NA’s appeal, the president said: “It is a matter of record that NA’s proceedings are televised.... Even under Rule 282 of the Assembly Rules 2007, the NA Secretariat is required to prepare a full report on the proceedings and publish the same.”
This means that all the information available and the records maintained at the NA Secretariat are “not confidential and secret”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2015.