In the past it was often alleged that Pakistan’s Parliament has rarely shaped a trend of reforms and initiatives. The 14th National Assembly, with a string of initiatives, has defied that perception. When policy makers and think-tanks from around the world scrambled for ‘leaving no one behind’ in a bid to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pakistan’s National Assembly became first in the world to establish a dedicated secretariat for (SDGs) on its premises to steer its implementation as integral part of our national development agenda. In the face of severe energy shortages, Pakistan’s Parliament became first in the world to shift on Solar Power. “Net Metering” featured licence has enabled this solar project to deliver surplus energy to the national grid. Such trend setting initiatives have bolstered the resolve of the National Assembly Secretariat in undertaking reforms for enhanced parliamentary performance.
In a fast changing world, and considerable strain on representative institutions, the vitality of institutions is contingent upon consistent reforms and pro-active leadership. The capacity of the secretariat is often reflected in the performance of the people’s representatives. The incumbent leadership of the National Assembly Secretariat has demonstrated a profound commitment to transform the secretariat into a robust, dynamic, modern workplace and a learning organisation that serves as foundation for proactive support to the parliamentarians and reach out to the general public. In a quest to build institutional capacity of the secretariat, and foster an environment of continuous learning, the senior officers of the National Assembly Secretariat utilise first hour of the day as training sessions. The secretariat staff receives comprehensive training in understanding the Constitution, rules and procedures, working of the committees and inter-parliamentary relations. Being a highly job-specific training programme, with no mobility and financial cost, this initiative merits replication in other institutions.
In coordination with Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS), the National Assembly of Pakistan has introduced a ‘Parliamentary Studies Programme’ in several universities of Pakistan. The Speaker, as against the past traditions, did away with his discretionary powers in hiring and streamlined all recruitments for the assembly through public service commission. This has resulted in greater meritocracy within the institution.
Public access to the information of the House serves as bedrock for participatory democracy. It is also central to research as well as evaluation of the performance of the people’s representatives. Previously the debates of the National Assembly starting from first Constituent National Assembly 1947 were accessible only in Library of the National Assembly. Now, all the debates have been scanned, digitised and uploaded on the National Assembly website for information to general public. The library now contains more than 85,000 books and journals. These landmark achievements in the third parliamentary year bode well for enhancing parliamentary performance.
In a genuine democracy, role of parliament is central in foreign policy initiatives. During the tenure of the 14th National Assembly, parliamentary diplomacy has received a new fillip in promoting Pakistan’s interest. When majority of the Muslim world tested each other’s muscles on geo-sectarian surface or descended into anarchy and civil wars, Parliamentary Union of Islamic Countries (PUIC) demonstrated trust in Pakistan’s Parliament and subsequently elected Sardar Ayaz Sadiq as Vice President of PUIC of in its 11th General Assembly held at Baghdad. It is expected that his election as Vice Chairman of 53 members Parliamentary Union of the Islamic Countries will inject a new vitality and vigour in a forum that has the potential to foster greater coordination and conciliation among the Muslim states.
Similarly in October 2014 Sardar Ayaz Sadiq was elected as President of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). His endeavours translated into a choice of 200 parliamentarians from 53 countries of the Commonwealth to choose Pakistan as the venue for 2015 Commonwealth Parliamentary Assembly (CPA) session. At the eleventh hour of the CPA Conference, the Indian government vehemently made a hue and cry to deliver a diplomatic blow to Pakistan over not inviting Assembly of the Indian occupied Kashmir. However, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq responded on his own that Pakistan’s principled stance on Kashmir and Parliament’s solidarity with the Kashmiri people is more important than the presidency of CPA and its conference. Pakistan’s parliamentary diplomacy may be nascent but offers immense scope for projecting Pakistan’s soft power and furthering its interests in multilateral forums.
During this third parliamentary year, apart from the diplomatic corps the foreign dignitaries continued visiting Parliament of Pakistan on the special invitation of Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Speaker of the Assembly of Representatives of Tajikistan, Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga of Afghanistan and Speaker National Assembly of Kuwait visited Pakistan and thoroughly enjoyed the rich culture, landscapes and architectures of the country negating the misperception about Pakistan being an unsafe place for foreigners.
Through a pro-active engagement abroad and reforms oriented initiatives at home, the National Assembly is a steering a reform oriented change in delivering to the hopes of the people.
The writer is Director Media in National Assembly of Pakistan