Parliament’s performance can be improved drastically with some basic changes in the Rules of Business, if its leadership so desires. A better performing parliament will bring forth the real fruits of democracy. Parliament’s good governance is hardly ever the subject of discussion, but it should be.
What follows is a five-point plan which, if followed, will help the people of Pakistan. 1) The Government Assurances Committee of parliament is supposed to be in charge of oversight but it is ineffective. In March of 2010, I managed to get 20 MNAs to sign off on an amendment which, we believed, would fix accountability issues. The first change required was that the list of assurances made by the government on the floor of the house needed to be tabulated by the assembly secretariat. Based on this listing, the agenda for this committee’s meetings would be drawn monthly and all promises made by the government would be evaluated to check if they were indeed fulfilled or not. And any failure to implement these promises would mean the committee can taking the government to task. 2) The ‘point of order’ provision was misused and, therefore, a point of public interest had to be added to the Rules of Business which would ensure that members could raise public interest issues of their constituency at the end of the session for a minimum of two hours. During this time, ministers would be required to take notes, respond and give assurance for a solution. The current practice is that members raise public interest issues and get no assurances from government, thus making parliament a mere debating club. The points of public interest should be given on a first-come-first-serve basis versus seniority. 3) The most important change required is to make the proceedings of the house public, through video conferencing. This is an obligation under the access of the information clause of the constitution. The secretary of the National Assembly cannot be the judge of who gets information and who doesn’t. All records need to be made public for the members and for the general public in the form of a written report within 24 hours of the debate. Currently, these are not even public for the members themselves. Such control of proceedings of the house sends an anti-democratic message. 4) There should be a transparent ‘bills-motions-questions tracking system’ from the time the business is submitted in the assembly secretariat to the time it produces results for the public. At every stage of where the bill has reached, there should be a public monitoring of it so that it is clear who is doing what for the public. Currently, what enters the assembly secretariat is one big secret for the rest of the nation as well as for members. 5) The agenda of the house should be run according to rules and voting done on matters of public interest issues through the electronic system. If this system is used, members would utilise their vote judiciously, keeping everyone’s interest in mind.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2011.
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