Of 103 Senate sittings, PM Nawaz attended just one!

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The commitment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif towards the primacy and sovereignty of the parliament can be gauged from ‎the fact that out of 103 sittings of the Upper House of the parliament during the last parliamentary year, the premier attended only one, in a glaring violation of Rule 61(2A) of the Senate.

Rule 61(2A), which was amended by the Senate in 2014 makes it mandatory for the prime minister to attend the Prime Minister’s Zero Hour (last hour of sitting) at least once a week during a session.

An analysis of the Senate attendance, issued by Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) at the end of the parliamentary year, reveals that while the prime minister missed 102 Senate sessions, the leader of the House and the leader of the opposition each had praiseworthy attendance of 76% and 68% respectively.

In its analysis of the performance of the Senate during the year, PILDAT notes that the highlight of the Senate performance has been the attendance of Senators in the sessions, which was higher as compared to any other legislature of Pakistan with an average of 60% Senators being present for every session.

However, in comparison, the attendance of Members in the Indian Rajya Sabha is far superior: it averaged 81% per session in 2015.

There also appears to be more interest in the legislative work by the membership as reflected by increasing number of private members’ bills tabled during the year. As many as 18 bills were introduced in the Senate: 64% more than the previous year. In comparison, Rajya Sabha saw its members introduce 52 private members’ bills in 2015.

The Senate is taking its oversight duties over the Executive seriously; it amended its rules to give powers to the House to constitute itself into a Committee of the Whole and summon Government officials or ask for any official record. This was done through the newly inserted Rule 172(A) in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Senate.

The Senate Standing Committee on Finance, Revenue, Economic Affairs, Statistics and Privatisation also took its oversight duties seriously, meeting 38 times over the year. On the other hand, the Senate Standing Committee on Ports and Shipping led by its Chairman Senator Muhammad Ali Saif of MQM, met only twice: the lowest of any Senate committee.

Legislators accorded significance to matters of public interest by amending its rules so that instead of one Calling Attention Notice, two Calling Attention Notices would be taken up daily during the session.

The House is also taking up suo moto notice of issues that relate larger public interest. On June 11, 2015, the Senate chairman took note of the Indian prime minister’s statement that Pakistan is responsible for promoting terrorism and suspended the discussion on the Finance Bill for 45 minutes in order to enable the House to have a discussion on the matter.

The Senate also made a crucial change by revamping its website, and making it more open, transparent and accessible.

The new additions to the website include live webcast of proceedings, detailed information on business of the Senate, availability of a provisional calendar and details regarding the salaries and allowances of the senators. The attendance of individual senators in the House has also been made available online. The Secretariat has taken one step further and begun to provide information about the attendance in committee meetings, an initiative that has not even been taken by the Indian Rajya Sabha nor any other Pakistani legislature.

 

 

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