EDITORIAL: According to the Cambridge English Corpus, “Not only are legislators more powerful than electors, while in office, but they are also answerable to the latter for how they have used their powers.”

Be that as it may, the warlike ambience that pervades the electoral trail takes no time to dissipate as soon as the elected reach the elected houses. ‘Don’t-bother-me’ kind of ease now welcomes the elected members. So is the case with our National Assembly that concluded its 46th session, lasting 41 days.

The number of sittings during this session was 15. The question how productive this high-cost adventure was has been answered by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) in an effective and meaningful manner. Leader of the house, prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, did not attend a single sitting during the session while leader of the opposition attended only three out of 15 sittings.

Think of the dilemma that the person who is country’s chief executive curtsey his election by the National Assembly doesn’t want to be in the house as he finds his other errands more important than to be in the country’s ultimate repository of people’s will and aspirations. That’s unlike the universal practice as it is parliament’s floor that the elected chief executives stand on and express themselves on legislation the country needs and if something has gone wrong he or she explains why so.

The leader of opposition, too, is required to explain whether he has played his role as the principal fault-finder of the treasury’s thinking and bulldozing enactment, which is sine quo none for a functional democracy, by attending only three out of 15 sittings. And even when attendance was an airy-fairy stipulation and would not last many hours, unlike the case in other functioning democracies, the lack of quorum was pointed out three times out of those sittings.

On average 103 or 31.14 percent MNAs marked their attendance during the 46th session. The speeches, when made, were short – the longest being by Abdul Akbar Chitrali that lasted 1 hour and 36 minutes. Since the forum for discussion on public issues has shifted to electronic and social media none of the cabinet members thought it worthwhile to speak his or her mind on the floor of the National Assembly.

The nation spends something like a million rupees on every sitting of parliament, but what is the output in terms of nation-building the PILDAT presents a highly depressing picture. The think-tank says during the 41-day session of the National Assembly only one-and-a-half hours were spent on discussing policy issues while the law-makers consumed 18 hours and 40 minutes on discussion of non-policy issues, including criticism of PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) leadership for ‘long march’ and roadblocks.

With an average time of 1 hour and 48 hours per sitting the question how justly 342 people’s representatives’ electoral commitments were met needs an answer.

And if sittings were short these also started late by 51 minutes, leaving un-discussed on average 69.41 percent agenda items. During the entire session the National Assembly passed eight bills, including two private members’ bills. Given location of the President’s House on the other side of national political divide, no ordinance was laid during the 46th session.

This lackluster performance of the National Assembly tends to suggest that politicians want to be elected but not for legislating laws the people need to stay in rhyme with time. There seems to be no realization that Pakistan needs extensive overhaul of its legal system, both in terms of updating the colonial vintage criminal law, including evidence act, but the entire legislature is needed to be in step with demands posed by the emerging challenges of technology.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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