44% female, 31% male MNAs participate in 38-hour general budget debate

ISLAMABAD, July 6, 2010: Only about one-third of the Members of the National Assembly (114 out of 340) took part in discussion and debate on the Federal Budget during the 23rd Session of the National Assembly, held June 3-30, 2010, according to a new report by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), and many MNAs who did take part in the budget debate focused on extraneous political and other issues, including general comments about terrorism and power shortages.

MNAs also introduced 660 “cut motions” aiming to decrease 41 of the government’s 183 proposed budgetary allocations, or “demands for grants”. Not one of these cut motions was successful, raising the question whether the process for debating the budget is an effective use of time or a useful method for building true political consensus on the federal budget. “Responsiveness of elected representatives to citizens is measured in part through parliamentary oversight of government,” according to FAFEN, including through meaningful, well-informed debate on important government proposals, such as the national budget.

According to FAFEN, the business of Parliament also can only be meaningful “with the active and responsible participation of its Members.” Indicators of effective participation include, for example, attendance and active involvement of parliamentary leadership and other Members in parliamentary discussion and activities.  However, while 33 out of 76 female parliamentarians (44%) spoke on the budgetary proposals, less than one-third (30.6%) of male parliamentarians took part in the general debate on budget (81 out of 264).

The absence of parliamentary leaders from the National Assembly during the budget process was particularly notable, based on FAFEN’s unique direct observation of parliamentary proceedings.  The Leader of the Opposition was present during about two-thirds of the budget session (14 of 21 sittings, or 66.7%), while the Parliamentary Leader of PML attended less than half of the session (9 sittings, or 42.9%). The MQM Parliamentary Leader was present during less than one-third of the session (6 sittings, or 28.6%), and the attendance rate of the ANP Parliamentary Leader was less than one-quarter (3 sittings, or 14.3%).

In addition to the Finance Bill, 2010, two Government Bills out of 16 bills on the regular agenda were passed by the National Assembly during the 23rd Session, namely the Benazir Income Support Program Bill, 2010, and the Islamabad High Court Bill, 2010.  None of the legislation proposed by opposition Members, so-called “Private Members’ Bills,” were debated or passed.

FAFEN’s Parliament Watch Project (PWP) is designed to measure the performance of the legislature and of elected representatives in the National Assembly through a comprehensive direct observation methodology in order to foster more informed dialogue between citizens and their elected representatives.   FAFEN’s standardized checklists for monitoring parliamentary functions are based on the Parliament’s Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business, and include details related to parliamentary transparency, participation, representation and responsiveness, output, order and institutionalization.