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Wednesday February 21, 2024

Positive U-turn to make dysfunctional parliament get going

The opposition parties kept threatening not to become part of the House bodies if Shahbaz Sharif was not named as PAC chairman. At one point, the PTI warned that it will constitute these committees comprising only its and its allies’ MPs and will not be bothered by the opposition’s boycott.

December 14, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan’s positive U-turn, concurring to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif becoming chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), will make the dysfunctional National Assembly operational after 115 days.

The present U-turn that may hopefully help lower the ante after a long time may prove that reversal of all publicly-pronounced decisions is not always unwholesome and some volte-faces compelled by pragmatism and political expediency may infuse calm in a country which has often been marred by political instability due to unending sound and fury.

The prime minister and his spokesmen publicly declared ad nauseam that come what may, they would not consent to have the leader of the opposition as PAC head because they can’t reconcile to allowing him to carry out the scrutiny of the audit paras on the affairs of the government of his brother--Nawaz Sharif.

Not only the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) but its allied opposition parties took a firm stance that they would not budge from their position, and Shahbaz Sharif will have to be nominated as the PAC chairman. They cited the parliamentary tradition, which was set over the last 10 years by the PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) governments.

Mainly because of the lingering standoff on the selection of the PAC chairman, the Lower House of Parliament has been regularly echoing with angry outbursts from both sides. For nearly four months, the legislature has been debating every issue except the ones for which it is created. Senior leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and PML-N fought an intense war of words during this interlude.

The National Assembly has not been able to transact any legislative business. The PTI and its coalition partners and the PML-N and its allies have not introduced any bill while the ruling sides’ agenda shows that it has a heavy legislative business to transact in the parliament.

Due to the indecision on the PAC chairmanship, the two sides had also not been able to form at least 33 House committees. The bills tabled by any side are referred to the concerned House bodies, which do their fine-tuning to subsequently present them in the National Assembly for approval. The real work is done in the committees.

The opposition parties kept threatening not to become part of the House bodies if Shahbaz Sharif was not named as PAC chairman. At one point, the PTI warned that it will constitute these committees comprising only its and its allies’ MPs and will not be bothered by the opposition’s boycott. The instant decision on the PAC chairman has paved the way for construction of the House bodies, which will bolster the committee system, considered the backbone of the parliamentary form of government.

Saner elements like Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, Speaker Asad Qaisar and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Khan pressed the point before their boss that the opposition parties’ demand should be accepted so that the National Assembly starts its normal business. They stressed that the government’s nod to Shahbaz Sharif becoming the PAC chairman will send a goodwill message to the opposition and lower the temperature on the floor of the House.

It dawned upon the government, though belatedly, that it is its primary duty and not a compulsion or obligation of the PML-N and its partners to ensure smooth functioning of the National Assembly, and that the opposition parties would not hesitate in disrupting the House proceedings in case of non-acceptance of its demands.

What those opposing Shahbaz Sharif as PAC head did not realise was that this important committee is not the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police, and it just settles audit paras raised by the Auditor General of Pakistan in its reports on the use of finances by the government. The maximum the PAC can do is to refer a matter to NAB or FIA for probe and it is up to these organizations whether to give weightage to its reference or simply trash it.

There are expectations that after the constitution of the House committees in the next few days, the government will bring its legislative business before the National Assembly and will try to take the opposition along so that its bills are also passed in the Senate where it doesn’t have majority.

Only the nomination of the PAC chairman was facing the sticking point. Following the present decision, all other House committees will be quickly constituted as their compositions have already been decided by the two sides. They will get representation as per their respective numerical strength in the National Assembly. The opposition nominees will also become chairman of some committees.