Pressure and parliament

January 19,2019

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Prime Minister Imran Khan is not happy with the opposition parties for staging walkouts, disturbing parliamentary proceedings with protests, and wasting taxpayers’ money. In one of his recent tweets, the PM said “these are pressure tactics to seek an NRO [and] evade accountability for corruption in NAB cases not initiated by the PTI”.

Imran Khan’s tweet is a manifestation of the growing frustration within the government. The PTI government has so far failed to introduce any legislation or policy reforms in parliament and doesn’t seem prepared to deal with a noisy opposition. The formation of an opposition alliance in parliament has added more pressure on the government.

Another problem is that an inexperienced government is facing an experienced opposition. The presence of a large number of opposition members in the National Assembly has made it very difficult for the government to dictate its own terms in parliament.

His tweets give the impression that PM Imran Khan personally accords considerable importance to parliamentary proceedings. But the facts contradict this view. During the Islamabad sit-ins in 2014, the PTI didn’t attend a single parliamentary session parliament for many months. One wonders why it didn’t occur to the PTI chief at the time that his party was “wasting the taxpayers’ money” by not attending the NA sessions. During the sit-ins, Imran Khan also repeatedly disrespected parliament and parliamentarians from atop his container.

According to the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), the PTI chief attended 20 out of 465 house sittings from 2013 to 2018 while his party was in the opposition. He seems to have continued this tradition after assuming public office by only attending six NA sessions. His attendance record perhaps reflects a lack of interest in parliamentary proceedings.

It seems that PM Imran Khan and his cabinet ministers have forgotten what they used to do when they were sitting on the opposition benches and current opposition leaders have adopted more or less the same tactics that the PTI pursued while it was in the opposition. The opposition is merely performing its duty by exercising its right to give a tough time to the treasury benches. It is the PTI government that hasn’t done its homework properly and needs to realise its responsibility to set a clear agenda for parliament.

In his first address to the nation, Prime Minister Imran Khan made a pledge to make all important decisions in parliament. But the PTI government has so far failed to introduce any major legislation and hold serious debates and discussions on vital national and international issues. No proper discussions and briefings have taken place in parliament on the agreements struck with Saudi Arabia and China. The government hasn’t taken parliament into confidence on the ongoing negotiations with the IMF to seek new loans. As in the past, all key policy decisions are taking place outside parliament.

The PTI government seems to be ignoring parliament. Prime Minister Imran Khan had vowed to start a fortnightly PM’s Question Hour to answer the opposition’s questions in parliament. However, this promise has failed to materialise. All key administrative, political, foreign policy, national security and economic decisions continue to be made outside parliament.

For the first time in our parliamentary history, the government took more than 100 days to form parliamentary committees. The government and opposition blamed each other for these unnecessary delays. But these taskforces and committees are of little use as policymaking and deliberations on a whole range of issues have been done outside parliamentary committees. This has deprived parliamentarians on both the treasury and opposition benches of the opportunity to benefit from discussions and debates with technocrats and experts. The entire exercise of setting up taskforces and committees should have been carried out through parliamentary committees by involving experts and technocrats from various fields.

Parliament is among the key state institutions in a democracy that plays an important role in terms of enforcing legislation, maintaining oversight and guaranteeing representation. Parliament’s role of representation includes ensuring that citizens and other stakeholders have a voice at the national level and remain involved in national governance issues. Regrettably, our parliament is ineffective, and has been marginalised.

In the classical sense, parliament must make new laws and change or improve old laws. However, its legislative function requires both capacity and cooperation to alter outdated laws from the colonial era.

Both the treasury and opposition benches have failed parliament by wasting time instead of introducing pro-people legislation and economic policies. At this stage, the PTI government doesn’t appear to be serious about strengthening the role of parliament.

Parliament is not debating the real issues faced by the people. Instead, it is being used to settle personal and political scores. The legislative body shouldn’t be seen as a debating club for the political elite. It must focus on representing the aspirations of the people.

The writer is a freelance journalist.


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