FAFEN Issues Direct-Observation Report on NA’s Eighth Session

Islamabad, December 17, 2008:  The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) issued a revealing report today about its direct observation of the proceedings of the National Assembly during the Eighth Session from November 10-21, 2008.  Among the most interesting observations are the following:

  1. A total of about 22 hours of parliamentary business were conducted during the entire 10-day National Assembly session.
  2. More than 60% of agenda items on the Orders of the Day were not addressed during the Eighth Session.
  3. Fewer than 1/3 of MNAs took part in parliamentary discussions.
  4. Out of 13 bills up for consideration in the Assembly, 2 were passed, 7 were not considered at all, and the status of 4 is not clearly available to the public.
  5. 7 resolutions were put forward, but none were considered during the session.
  6. Less than ¼ (about 23%) of questions requiring oral answers from Government Ministers were answered during the session.
  7. About 40% of Questions Hour submissions were made by female legislators, who represent only 22% of the Assembly. This means that the average female MNA put forward twice as many questions as the average male MNA.
  8. Of 62 Points of Order made by MNAs, only 2 were appropriate for this parliamentary procedure.

FAFEN launched its Parliament Watch Project (PWP) in September 2008. The pilot project involves direct observation of the proceedings of the National and Provincial Assemblies in order to assess their transparency, adherence to and non-partisan implementation of parliamentary business procedures, and other factors.

Data gathered so far is preliminary, and FAFEN’s innovative methodology is being piloted in this early phase. Therefore, FAFEN does not intend to reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of parliamentary function at this stage. Instead, FAFEN presented its preliminary data in order to foster dialogue.

However, some of FAFEN’s ten recommendations highlighted in the report are as follows:

  • Efforts should be made to understand and address why approximately two-thirds of Members of the National Assembly did not participate actively in the Assembly’s Eighth Session and to track whether this problem continues in future sessions.
  • Assemblies’ Speakers should be responsible for ensuring that business planned in the ‘Orders of the Day’ is accomplished during each sitting or at least during a full session, particularly with regard to consideration of legislation, resolutions, and Call Attention Notices.  These policy matters are among the primary methods for elected legislators to represent constituents’ needs and concerns.
  • Additional orientation and training for Assembly Members are needed regarding the fundamental responsibilities of Members (especially to their constituents) as well as basic parliamentary procedures, especially those that are commonly misused, such as Points of Order.
  • Complete information (and relevant documents) about all Assemblies’ business should be available to all Members, especially regarding the progress of legislation, Calling Attention Notices (CANs), and other key policy decision-making processes.  Such information should also be available to the public on the Assemblies’ websites and/or at the Assemblies’ Secretariats.

An essential component of democracy is publicly accessible information about the political decision-making processes, such as parliamentary deliberations among elected representatives. Citizens must have information about whether and how their representatives are performing their duties in Parliament in order to hold those elected leaders accountable for their job performance both by voting in elections and during their terms in office.

FAFEN’s Parliament Watch Project aims to collect and publish information about the job performance of Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies in order to foster more informed engagement between constituents and elected representatives in Pakistan by providing objective and statistically-sound information on parliamentary processes and decisions.

The methodology of the PWP is to deploy trained observers to the National and Provincial Assemblies in order to monitor their performance using a detailed, standardized checklist and reporting forms covering all types of parliamentary business. The information gathered is measured against the neutral and objective framework of the normal rules of parliamentary procedure.

FAFEN’s PWP is not the first effort in Pakistan to monitor the Parliament, but it is unique in that it focuses on directly-observed parliamentary procedure in addition to parliamentary output. In other words, FAFEN’s criteria for assessing parliamentary effectiveness are primarily process-oriented and secondarily results-oriented.

Comments and recommendations about FAFEN’s methodology and data are welcomed from all interested stakeholders and may be used to improve the process over time.

About FAFEN:

FAFEN is a network of 30 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.