Heavy on legislation, third year of NA ignores 25% public interest agenda

The 14th National Assembly during its third parliamentary year registered some improvement on a number of indicators, including participation of members, punctuality in timings and its output in terms of legislation and resolutions as compared to the second parliamentary year. Overall, issues of political instability, terrorism, natural calamities, civil-military relations, corruption and accountability featured more in assembly’s business interventions. However, issues of public interest, including electricity tariffs, missing health facilities and governance problems were not adequately addressed by the House.

Female lawmakers more assertive than male counterparts

The third parliamentary year was heavy on legislation as the lower house of the parliament passed 59 pieces of legislations, including two constitutional amendments as compared to only 16 legislations passed during the second parliamentary year. The third-year legislation focused on issues like elections, economy and security.

In the earlier part of the parliamentary year, the report of the Judicial Commission on General Election 2013 relieved pressure from the ruling PML-N as well as the Lower House by validating the election results. However, the House had to address new challenges soon in shape of motion to de-seat PTI lawmakers, resignations by MQM members from the Parliament, incidents of child abuse in Kasur and de-seating of the Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. In later months of the year, the natural disasters, energy crisis, incidents of terrorism, privatization of Pakistan International Airlines, corruption cases against politicians and Panama Leaks about offshore businesses of Pakistanis, including the family of Prime Minister defined the agenda of the House.

The National Assembly offered timely responses to some of the above situations while ignored several others. The legislation gained pace during the year but the discussions on the motions under Rule 259 subsided. The members were deprived of the opportunity to bring Adjournment Motions on the burning issues of public importance due to continued appearance of Motion of Thanks on the Presidential Address for more than six months. The assembly cannot entertain, legally speaking, any adjournment motion when motion of thanks is on the agenda.

Nearly 25% of the agenda mostly concerning the issues of public importance like electricity tariffs, missing health facilities and poor governance went unaddressed. A total of 647 agenda items appeared on the Orders of the Day during 99 sittings of the third year. The National Assembly attended to 70% of these parliamentary interventions while three percent agenda had to be dropped due to the absence of relevant members and two percent was pending either in the House or in the committees.

A gender-wise analysis of the agenda reveals that 70 women lawmakers who constitute 20% of the House accounted for 47% agenda alone while they also co-sponsored two percent additional agenda with their male counterparts. The male lawmakers who make up 80% of the National Assembly moved 51% agenda only.

The participation of lawmakers in the House business registered an upward trend from last year but is still below the benchmark set in the first year. Eighty-eight percent members participated in the proceedings during first year, the number fell to 76% in second year while 86% lawmakers remained active during this year.

Besides legislation, the Lower House showed marked improvement in terms of punctuality as well. The long delay in the start of proceeding was a norm previously. However, the average delay was reduced from 35 minutes in the previous year to 14 minutes in third year. The improvement might be a result of a similar change in the Senate which had seen a number of reforms since Mian Raza Rabbani became its Chairman. Inspired by the recent amendments in the Senate Rules, the lawmakers in the Lower House tried to replicate the same in the National Assembly also. A motion was brought to make provisions for the Prime Minister’s Question Hour, Public Petitions and other such reforms in the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure. However, it was struck down due to treasury’s rejection. .

The matters of public importance and human rights drew little attention of the treasury which was more focused on economy and political issues. However, the Private Members’ tried to bring these issues under the spotlight of legislature using different parliamentary interventions. They moved 25 bills on issues related to the rights of minorities and special persons, empowerment of women, labor reforms, speedy provision of justice and transparency in public offices. In response of the child abuse cases in Kasur, the government also moved a bill criminalizing child pornography and abuse. The House also adopted three resolutions to condemn the violence against women, highlight minorities’ rights and declare Holi, Dewali and Easter as public holidays. The lawmakers also submitted motions under Rule 259 to discuss the employment opportunities for women, provision of expeditious justice and social welfare programs but these were not taken up by the House. Through CANs, the Members highlighted the concerns on increasing mother and child mortality rates, closure of BISP for Women Office in Upper Dir, discrimination against women in provision of development funds and mechanisms for welfare of orphan children.

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