Wednesday February 21, 2024

Senate: House of Federation — I

February 26, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The 274th session (from March 3 to March 9) of the Senate will mark the end of its one of the most productive three years, if not the most productive term of the legislature with so many milestones to its credit under the illustrious leadership of outgoing Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani.

So much has been achieved in this short period, ranging from legislation on key issues of public importance, security issues and human rights to making the Parliament House lively and attractive with innovative ideas.

Setting a precedent, the Senate of Pakistan constituted a Committee of the Whole, took an initiative to bring forward legislation for the provision of inexpensive and speedy justice to the people of Pakistan. The panel held a series of consultations with the stakeholders, inviting them to its meetings, including the then chief justice of Pakistan. The bills drafted are: Anti-Terrorism Act (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Arbitration and Conciliation Bill, 2015, Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015, Law Reform (Amendment) Bill, 2015, the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, 2015 and Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Bill, 2016.

Needless to say since March 2015, crucial progressive reforms have been witnessed in the governance as well as performance of the Senate of Pakistan, having thus undergone massive transformation through many initiatives under Rabbani, who fearlessly advocated the cause of House of the Federation.

He conceived and initiated a project called Restoration of the Majesty and Transparency in the Parliament after assumption of the coveted office. The initiatives, launched covered a wide range of areas, including the Senate, its committees and parliamentary outreach.

Most importantly, the centralised role of Senate chairman, in the decision-making was devolved to the House Business Advisory Committee (HBAC), consisting of Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Whips and parliamentary party leaders of all the political parties and independent groups, by giving it power and mandate to decide on issues pertaining to not only the business to be transacted during a session but all the major initiatives, plans and strategies related to overall working and functioning of the Senate.

Transparency and openness have remained a hallmark while public has been given access to the decisions of HBAC by providing the minutes at the vibrant Senate website; access has been given to the Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Leader of the House, Leader of the Opposition and members’ salaries, allowances and privileges under the concept of self-accountability.

Moreover, members’ attendance can be viewed on the website and establishment of Public Petition Table has given the public direct access to the House, its committees and chairman. Most importantly, the House has approved a code of conduct for the members and constitution of the Committee on Ethics hence providing a transparent mechanism for self-accountability - the first-ever attempt of self-accountability in the parliamentary history of Pakistan.

Under the tag of parliamentary outreach, a number of initiatives have been taken for developing an interface with public at large; civil society, youth, journalists and of course international parliamentary institutions.

Barring just a few sittings due to unavoidable reasons, the House has been holding its proceedings on time after the chairman opted for self-imposed discipline and in a letter to members, he `asked them to follow the rules, when asking supplementary questions and to stop use/misuse of point of orders for raising issues of public importance. The Senate of Pakistan gives equal representation to all federating units and promotes a feeling of equality, peace and harmony. A tagline, namely; House of the Federation has been added to the Senate emblem in order to reflect the constitutional scheme of creation of the Senate of Pakistan in the emblem.

One of the key achievements of the Senate is securing representation in the Public Accounts Committee; for the first time, on February 21, 2017, senators from different political parties nominated by the Senate, participated in the Public Accounts Committee meetings and took active part in the discussions on diverse matters. The move has been a long trail struggle for implementation of the constitutional scheme, wherein the auditor general of Pakistan is under obligation to lay the annual report relating to the accounts of the federation to both houses of Parliament. Six senators are part of the committee. The Senate passed a rare resolution on February 13, 2017, to enhance its role and powers to protect rights of the federating units and ensure meaningful participation of the provinces in the affairs of the federation. The resolution gave voice to the longstanding and rising demand by the provinces, members and other stakeholders that there is a need to revisit the legislative competence, parliamentary oversight and other functions of the Senate of Pakistan, in particular its relations with the provinces.

The resolution seeks amendments to Article 11 of the Constitution between the Centre and the provinces in the light of the spirit of the 18th Amendment to provide more autonomy to the provinces.

Arguably, the most important parliamentary tool, reflecting the authority, sanctity and wisdom of the custodian of the House i.e. the rulings of the chair, are being effectively used to interpret the constitutional scheme, the laws, the rules and to transmit the legal position to other organs of the state. So far, 71 ruling have been given by the outgoing chairman on points of law, fact, primarily focusing upon upholding the constitutional provisions, the rule of law and safeguarding the majesty of the Parliament.

To be continued