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ISLAMABAD: Fed up with frequent warnings of privilege motions by the legislators, the top bureaucracy has decided to devise some mechanism to improve interaction with the legislators, as no rules are available for civil servants to clarify/ defend themselves, well informed sources told Business Recorder.

This decision was taken at a recent meeting of Secretaries’ Committee under the chairmanship of Secretary Cabinet Division, Sardar Ahmad Nawaz Sukhera.

According to sources, Secretary Establishment apprised the members regarding concerns of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges that government servants did not show due respect to members of Parliament.

The Standing Committee had decided that it would be considered a breach of privilege of the members of the National Assembly if government servants failed to attend these meetings or attend their telephone calls and take immediate action on matters communicated to them by legislators. All Federal Secretaries, Attached Departments, all Chief Secretaries, all Inspector Generals of Police and Chief Commissioner, Islamabad were informed regarding the decision.

Sukhera pointed out that the government servants should be able to perform their duties without undue political influence, while maintaining respect for members of Parliament.

The question of privilege often related to the unattended telephone calls by public servants. It was difficult to hold anyone responsible without documentary evidence, which is obviously not possible in telephonic conversations. If the members of the National Assembly would opt for written communication instead of verbal communication, it would be a lot easier to fix responsibility based on documentary evidence for breach of privilege of the members of the National Assembly.

One of the members suggested that there was a need for capacity building of civil servants to astutely handle their interaction with Parliamentarians.

The Secretary Cabinet seconded the idea as a practical one, which would be done at the national management course (NMC) level, where the members of Parliament may also be invited to discuss and debate such issues with civil servants with a view to finding ways and means to improve mutual interaction and working.

Another member emphasized that there were rules which constituted breach of privilege of members of Parliament, but no rule position was available for civil servants to clarify/ defend themselves on question of privilege. He suggested that a committee should be constituted to decide whether an act constituted breach of privilege or not.

Another member pointed out that privileges must be defined clearly for understanding by both members of the Parliament, as well as, civil servants. Moreover, if a Secretary could not attend the Standing Committee meeting, he/ she should prepare an officer representing him on the matter.

One of the members mentioned that the proceedings of the Standing Committees were not conducted in a structured manner. Whenever a question of privilege was raised, the concerned officer and Establishment Division must be informed well ahead of the meeting rather than be called on short notice. Furthermore, no additional issue should be raised during the meeting. Moreover, respective Parliamentary Secretary must be involved in the proceedings in case of question of privilege against the Secretary of any Ministry/ Division.

Wrapping up the discussion, the Secretary Cabinet highlighted that there was a need for capacity building of officers, and moreover, the privileges and terms of engagement for civil servants must be clearly defined to avoid any ambiguity.

He suggested that Secretaries’ Committee, as a recommending body, could give proposals for improving the interaction with the legislators in light of relevant laws/ rules. The Secretary Establishment could then consider these while drafting his response to Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges.

After detailed discussion, the Secretaries Committee decided that Secretary Cabinet and Secretary Law and Justice will firm up proposals for improving the interaction of bureaucracy with Parliamentarians in the light of relevant laws/ rules, which would be communicated to the Secretary Establishment for drafting response to the Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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