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EDITORIAL: In the ongoing power tussle between elected representatives and bureaucrats the latter suffered a decisive defeat on Tuesday. The Punjab Assembly unanimously passed the Provincial Assembly (Privileges) (Amendment) Bill 2021, overriding the objections raised by the governor to this piece of legislation that was earlier also passed unanimously. No bureaucrat should now dare breach privilege of the House as the bill now stands enacted as law automatically, remarked Speaker Pervaiz Ilahi. Governor Muhammad Sarwar had sent back to the assembly the earlier bill, claiming it was in contravention of Article 66(3) and Article 10-A of the Constitution. The amendment to the bill had prescribed punishment to a bureaucrat for breach of privilege of the House, its committees and members. And that didn't sit well with the federal government and Punjab government. The two governments of late have realized that there is growing lack of trust between them and bureaucracy and by opposing this bill they will be whittling down that lack of confidence. And the governor is said to have acted on the advice of the prime minister and Punjab chief minister. Under the enacted bill the Judicial Committee of the House would have powers to try offenders and award punishments for offences that are punishable under it. Also, an elated Speaker Pervez Elahi has warned the bureaucrats that "don't dare breach privilege of the House". Tape the phone call if any deputy commissioner makes a call, he told the members. In a way the unanimous passage of the bill is also his personal victory. Hence it is important to note that for full one week the bureaucracy had defied his order for production of PTI MPA Nazir Chauhan. "The bureaucracy will fall in line once a couple of precedents are set," he argued.

There is, however, a gratifying aspect to the final enactment. In its original form it had proposed similar penalties for the media persons, but later on, the clauses pertaining to journalists were removed through a notification because the community had furiously protested against them.

But why don't bureaucrats turn up when called by the full house or one of its committees? There are also frequent instances when the concerned government officials fail to be present in the House during the 'Question Hour'. In fact that was not the routine case in the past. It is an emerging reality and there is some basis to it. Given the pressures - courtesy the National Accountability Bureau and their top bosses' tainted perceptions and personal considerations - the government officials find themselves inadequate to tell the whole truth. Take the case of non-production in the Punjab Assembly of MPA Chauhan in defiance of the Speaker's repeated orders. Would you believe that the concerned official who did not bring him to the House could have acted on his own? MPA Chauhan had run afoul of commenting about the religious affiliation of a person whose power clout presently is all-embracing. Governor Muhammad Sarwar had acted under the advice of PM and CM, who have found of late that bureaucrats are no longer acting independently. Given that yesterday's decisions are today's crimes no senior official would like to own any important decision. Will it not be appropriate that bureaucrats too are empowered to question the elected representatives' performance?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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