WEB DESK: Thursday’s proceedings of the Senate presented an unsavoury picture of the government’s attitude towards Parliament. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif was scheduled to be present in the house to brief the senators on Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s December 31 visit to Kabul and lead discussion on vital security matters. But he chose to stay away because, according to junior minister for Water and Power, he had some other engagement. In other words, he had better things to do than to fulfil his responsibility towards the Senate. The Chair gave his cabinet colleagues time to contact him and see if he could come, still he remained unavailable.
As per usual practice in such a situation, Senate Chairman Mian Raza Rabbani would have bound the minister to come the next day. But since the absence was part of a pattern rather than a one-off occurrence, Rabbani vented his frustration by barring the Defence Minister from coming to the house during its current session.
This is not the first time that Rabbani had to deal with the problem. Several times in the past, he issued warnings to ministers but to no avail. Neither Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nor his cabinet colleagues thought it necessary to attend. At one point, the Senate even passed a resolution demanding the PM’s presence in its sessions at least once a week. That too proved to be like water off a duck’s back.
Nawaz Sharif made a token appearance just once to placate the house. A Pildat report released a few months ago pointed out that the PM had attended only two percent of the National Assembly’s sittings. Following his lead, his ministers, too, stay away as far as possible; and since the ministers are not there, others on the treasury benches too lack the incentive to attend; with the result that achieving and maintaining quorum in the house is a persistent problem.
There have been occasions when the Opposition staged protest walkouts because the ministers were not there to respond to the members’ questions. Yet, as the present instance shows, nothing has helped.
The PM obviously pays no heed to the fact that Parliament is the highest forum representing the will of the people, from which he derives the right to govern. Unfortunately, however, he likes to run this parliamentary democracy in a presidential style. Instead of putting important policy matters before the legislators it is common practice for his government to bypass them and get urgent business done through ordinances, to be later steamrollered through Parliament without necessary debate and discussion. Indeed, the executive has the prerogative to formulate policies and make decisions on important matters.
But the best democratic traditions require that as the Leader of the House the PM as well as his ministers regularly attend parliamentary sessions to lead debate on important issues, and to answer members’ questions. The present attitude betrays a blatant lack of respect for Parliament. It is only in times of trouble that the PM and his colleagues start the refrain that Parliament is supreme, seeking its support to ‘save’ their government in the name of democracy. They need to make Parliament look supreme too by according it due respect through regular participation in its proceedings.
Source: Business Recorder