Tuesday, 02 Mar, 2010
A painful legacy of dictatorships in Pakistan is the political apathy they create in lawmakers, even if the latter have been democratically elected. Having become accustomed to acting as members of a rubberstamp body, many parliamentarians forget how to serve as representatives of the people who voted them into power.
The National Assembly has to make serious efforts to improve its record on this score. Fortunately, some changes for the better have been discerned of late. In its second parliamentary year, the Assembly adopted 30 bills as compared to only four in the first year. Nevertheless, the Assembly has other functions as well, apart from passing legislation. The MNAs must act as watchdogs, and, as representatives of the public interest and spokespersons of their respective constituencies, are expected to keep a close watch on the government’s performance. In order to enable parliamentarians to play this role they have been granted privileges by the constitution.
It is a pity that our representatives have failed to live up to expectations. Thus in its second year, the Assembly held fewer sessions than in the previous one, and absenteeism, especially among ministers, was a major problem. Absenteeism is indicative of the defaulting members’ non-serious attitude towards their responsibilities — and a lack of respect for the lawmaking institution. Although the prime minister himself set a good example by being regular in the last session, he will have to ensure regular attendance by his ministers as the latter’s absence affects the working of the Assembly. Discussion on items on the agenda has to be put off at times because the relevant minister is not there.
Now that Pakistan has a democratic government it is a positive development that the working of its democratic institutions is being monitored and the media is free to report what is happening in parliament. This should be encouraged and the Assembly should facilitate the working of organisations such as Fair and Free Elections Network that keep an eye on parliamentary proceedings. There is also a need to improve the standard of debate which after all has an educative and informational dimension.