EDITORIAL: With budget sessions in the National and provincial assemblies almost over it is time to reflect how those went about. Were those debate-oriented and rich in discussion or merely a reminiscent of amphitheaters for gladiatorial contests in ancient Rome? Did they deliver anything worthwhile in public interest or were they merely wrestling matches? Such accountability is now called for because these assemblies cost the people rather heavily - they collectively cost many billions. And one should not forget that democratic system is an outcome of what the people pay to rulers to govern them and not the vice versa. Isn't then a travesty of democratic ambience that annual budgets were passed by provincial assemblies as the opposition was either on the street or in police custody? And see how the otherwise defiant and rowdy opposition in the National Assembly let sail through 49 demands for grants worth Rs 3 trillion and got rejected its 967 cut motions with a majority vote. The opposition did little or nothing to constitute a challenge even a single ruling of the chair on demands for grants. On the other hand, the opposition remained hyperactive in condemning the government outside the assemblies and on talk shows. The taxpayers are disheartened and ask themselves: 'Is it the democracy they bankrolled?' It is the deepening political polarization that has rendered the elected houses almost dysfunctional. In a working democracy the opposition - after having agreed to sit in the house in spite of its loudly voiced rejection of electoral impartiality - acts as government-in-waiting and has its shadow cabinet, which remains alert to what the treasury proposes to enact and offers alternatives.
But this sad tale how our elected houses have failed the people is not exclusive to elected opposition; the government too shares this blame and in a bigger way. Three years on the government has yet to read out full its agenda for implementation. Every day a 'yet-another' programme is launched - with outcome of the previous still to see light of the day. The federal cabinet meets every third day with such agendas that are not matched by finances and required manpower. Then there is an inbuilt urge to pass laws as quickly as possible and if warranted without proper legislation by parliament. So we have this flurry of Ordinances. According to a Pildat assessment, the present government has issued more Ordinances - some of these only a day before or after the National Assembly session - than two of its predecessor governments. Governance by Ordinances is essentially antithetical to democratic process. And, the man on the street also wants to know why Prime Minister Imran Khan is shy of attending the proceedings in the parliament, although he owes his prime ministership to the National Assembly that elected him as Leader of the House following the 2018 general elections. He should take heart and face the opposition on the floor of the house. That is not the case at the Westminster, the mother of elected houses the world over. Perhaps, the prime minister may like to blunt the opposition carver by sending some of his spokespersons on furlough. These gentlemen and ladies tend to muddy the waters - to full advantage of opposition - and invite incisive provocation. In working democracies while the opposition speaks the government acts. And, in the absence of viable, vibrant opposition in elected houses the governments tend to acquire dictatorial mindset.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021