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Thursday July 25, 2024

Fafen report shines light on 100-day NA performance

Another hallmark feature of incumbent Assembly was its enhanced focus on parliamentary transparency and gender responsiveness

By Asim Yasin
June 12, 2024
A view of National Assembly in session. — APP/File
A view of National Assembly in session. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The 16th National Assembly of Pakistan demonstrated a performance similar to its predecessors, characterised by a slow pace of legislation despite high attendance.

The FAFEN in its report on 100 days of National Assembly stated amid heightened polarisation and unresolved electoral controversies, the House encouraged bipartisanship by allocating nearly 54pc of the time used for points of order to the Opposition.

Another hallmark feature of incumbent Assembly was its enhanced focus on parliamentary transparency and gender responsiveness. However, delay in forming standing committees and restrictions on citizens' access to proceedings marred its overall performance.

Following February 8, 2024 elections, no political parties secured a simple majority. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) formed federal government with support from eight parties including Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), Pakistan Muslim League Zia (PMLZ), Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) and National Party (NP).

The Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) emerged as largest parliamentary party after a majority of independent lawmakers (84) supported by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) joined it. However, they opted to sit on opposition benches.

The House still remains short of 26 members, as Supreme Court is yet to decide legal dispute over SIC’s eligibility for representation on the seats reserved for women and non-Muslims.

The Senate and Presidential elections followed shortly after general elections, in contrast to previous assemblies where treasury parties in National and Provincial Assemblies had to wait for several months for their mandate to be reflected in the Senate composition.

Plenary Proceedings: The 16th National Assembly had a slow legislative start with only a money bill approved during first 100 days. Around half of legislative business presented before the House pertained to outgoing caretaker government. Cumulatively, the House held 23 sittings spanned over 66 hours and 33 minutes.

The Speaker and Deputy Speaker chaired 84pc of proceedings, while Points of Order consumed 30pc of the plenary time. Five percent was lost to breaks.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif attended only two sittings (10pc) after his election as Leader of the House. He attended first two sittings of Assembly before his election.

Comparatively, former Prime Ministers Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif had attended 29pc and 26pc sittings during first 100 days of their respective terms.

The Assembly elected its standing committees and authorised the Speaker to nominate members on May 17. The formation of committees was delayed by more than a month from the time mentioned in Rule 200(1) of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in National Assembly 2007. According to the Rule, standing committees should have been formed within 30 days from the election of Leader of the House—by April 2, 2024.

Participation and Business: Out of 310 members, 159 (51pc) actively participated by sponsoring agenda items or participating in discussions on the floor of the House. Female lawmakers had a higher participation rate (61pc) compared to male lawmakers (49pc).

The House addressed 76pc of its business, including 20 legislative bills, 93 questions, 28 Calling Attention Notices (CANs) and 11 resolutions. The plenary attendance averaged 230 members per sitting, with a maximum attendance of 302 and a minimum of 176.

First Speech by Leader of the House: In his maiden speech, Prime Minister outlined his government’s plans for foreign relations, agriculture, economic affairs, tax reforms, energy, human development and law and order. Specific commitments included providing high-quality seeds to farmers, creating export zones, broad tax reforms, renewable energy projects, scholarships for students and addressing terrorism and issue of missing persons in Balochistan.

Transparency and Accessibility: The details of the House proceedings and records are largely available on the National Assembly's website. However, the availability of livestreams and video recordings of proceedings remains limited and selective.

Additionally, citizens' access to Common Man’s gallery has been restricted on the pretext of security concerns.

Gender Sensitivity: Notwithstanding isolated display of gender-insensitivity by individual lawmakers, the Assembly in general kept a gender-sensitive and responsive outlook towards women’s issues.

The House constituted a Parliamentary Committee on Gender Mainstreaming to solicit recommendations on women’s empowerment. In a welcome departure from culture of impunity towards gender-insensitive remarks, the House censured use of inappropriate language against women lawmakers by adopting a treasury-sponsored resolution.

The maiden addresses by Prime Minister and President also featured commitments and support to promoting gender equality.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle highlighted various issues facing women and sought treasury’s intervention to address them.

Some 60 MNAs, including 40 men and 20 women, collaborated to raise 28 Calling Attention Notices (CANs) highlighting governance issues, particularly related to energy and power.

SIC lawmakers sponsored 29pc CANs, PPPP 25pc, each PMLN and JUIP lawmakers sponsored 18pc, and independents raised 4pc. The government ministers responded to 18 CANs.

However, only five CANs received a response from the minister concerned, while remaining 13 were responded by a cabinet colleague of the minister. Rule 88 of Assembly’s Rules of Procedure requires the minister whose attention has been called to make a statement on the issue by himself or herself.

The House held Question Hours during three out of 23 sittings listing a total of 93 questions asked by 42 lawmakers. Some 31 (33pc) of these questions did not receive a reply from government. These questions were addressed to 20 government ministries, divisions or departments. The Ministry of Power received maximum number of queries.

The House adopted ten resolutions during its first 100 days. Four of these were government-sponsored, including four constitutional resolutions to extend life of nine presidential ordinances, and a resolution taking notice of inappropriate remarks against female lawmakers by some of their male colleagues.

Two were jointly sponsored by the government and private members to mark international day against Islamophobia and World Earth Day.

Remaining three resolutions were initiated by private lawmakers to mark International Women’s Day; recommend federal government to recognise founder of Pakistan People’s Party Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as a martyr and confer civilian award for his services to democracy; and sought implementation of officially notified minimum wages.

A private member’s resolution, recommending government to establish Protectorate of Emigrants Office in Mansehra, was withdrawn upon government assurance to address the issue.