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Thursday July 18, 2024

For a progressive Punjab

Punjab, with its population of over 120 million, stands at a critical juncture in its history

By Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan
May 08, 2024
Punjab Assembly Speaker Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan presides over an assembly session in this undated image. — Facebook/Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan/File
Punjab Assembly Speaker Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan presides over an assembly session in this undated image. — Facebook/Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan/File

I am humbled by the trust bestowed upon me by the people of our great province by giving me the mantle of leadership in the Punjab Assembly. With this honour comes a profound responsibility – to lead with integrity, inclusivity, and a steadfast commitment to the principles of democracy.

Punjab, with its population of over 120 million, stands at a critical juncture in its history. In recent years, our democratic institutions have faced unprecedented challenges, eroding public trust and undermining the very foundations of our democracy.

The last two years have been particularly tumultuous, marred by acrimony and unpleasantness within our legislative sessions. We saw incidents of physical violence against MPAs, including the brutal beating of former deputy speaker/presiding officer Dost M Mazari by MPAs and non-MPA goons. We saw such goons attack MPAs, and we also saw hurdles placed in the way of legislators trying to enter the Punjab Assembly. The unprecedented entry of police into the Assembly Hall to provide security to the presiding officer further highlighted the breakdown of parliamentary decorum.

Additionally, attempts were made to obstruct crucial sessions, such as the session to elect the chief minister of Punjab and the budget session (2022-23). In a stark departure from tradition, the budget session was forced to be held outside the Assembly Hall at Aiwan-e-Iqbal in the summer of 2022.

As someone who has been present during, and a reluctant participant in, these unfortunate events, I am keenly aware of the scars they have left on our collective conscience and democracy. It is imperative that we recognize this turbulent period and learn from our collective follies.

Political divisions have marred our collective progress, hindering the realization of our shared aspirations. It is time for us to set aside our differences and come together in a spirit of unity and cooperation. We must bridge the divides that have polarized our society, and chart a course towards a brighter future for all.

Central to this endeavour is the need for healing. We must move beyond the rhetoric of confrontation and embrace the ethos of dialogue and reconciliation. It is through reasoned discussion and debate, within the hallowed halls of our Assembly, that we can resolve our differences and disputes in a civilized manner. Street agitation and political brinkmanship have no place in our democracy. We must uphold the true spirit of deliberative democracy, where ideas are debated, not discarded, and decisions are made for the collective good.

At the heart of our democratic system lies the vital role of the opposition and the provincial assembly in holding the government accountable. As the speaker of the Punjab Assembly, I am committed to protecting the legitimate interests of the opposition and ensuring their active participation in the legislative process. I have given ample time to opposition members on the Assembly floor and have issued production orders of MPAs to enable them to participate in proceedings – an indication of my unwavering commitment to upholding democratic principles.

Furthermore, I am resolved to elevate the professionalism and efficiency of the Punjab Assembly, which has been neglected and run in a semi-feudal manner in recent years. This includes initiatives to enhance transparency, accountability, and public engagement within the Assembly.

Looking towards the future, I am proud to announce the establishment of the Parliamentary Development Unit in the Assembly. This unit will serve as a catalyst for advancing democratic principles, strengthening legislative processes, and addressing contemporary challenges. Through strategic initiatives and collaborative partnerships, the unit will seek to elevate the Punjab Assembly’s capacity and responsiveness, fostering a culture of engagement, accountability, and sustainability.

Key initiatives of the unit will include: one, strengthening committee work. Committees are the cornerstone of any legislative body, serving as the backbone of effective governance and oversight. Strengthening committee work is paramount to ensuring the robust functioning of the Punjab Assembly. These committees are not merely administrative entities; they are the essence of our legislature, embodying the principles of accountability, transparency, and democratic representation.

By enhancing their workings and providing adequate resources, we empower our committees to fulfill their crucial role as the primary tool for oversight and accountability. Equipping committee members with the necessary tools and resources enables them to better perform their functions, conducting thorough inquiries, scrutinizing legislation, and holding government agencies to account. Through this commitment to strengthening committee works, we reinforce the foundation of our democracy and uphold the principles of good governance in Punjab.

Two, youth engagement and empowerment: Punjab has more than 31 million youngsters aged (18-29). We need to empower the youth to actively participate in the democratic process and contribute to shaping the future of our province.

To do that, we aim to use some of the following tools and approaches. One, IT and e-governance: leveraging technology to enhance transparency, efficiency, and public participation in the legislative process.

Two, institutional linkages: building partnerships with educational institutions, civil society organizations, and international bodies to harness expertise and resources for the benefit of Punjab.

And, three, environmental concerns: The world is facing an environmental disaster. Pakistan is amongst the countries likely to be disproportionately affected by global-warming. We want to champion initiatives that promote sustainable development and environmental conservation, safeguarding Punjab’s natural resources for future generations.

In conclusion, let us embark on this journey together – a journey of unity, inclusivity, and progress for the people of Punjab. By transcending partisan divides and embracing a culture of cooperation and constructive dialogue, we can realize the full potential of our province as a bastion of democracy and good governance.

The writer is the speaker of the Punjab Assembly.