ISLAMABAD: Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, who introduced a number of reforms to improve the working and image of the upper house of parliament, issued 78 rulings, mostly on substantive matters of national importance, during his three-year tenure in the office.
The record of issuing the highest number of rulings is currently held by Habibullah Khan, the first chairman of the Senate after its creation after the passage of the 1973 Constitution, but his rulings though important in nature were mostly related to the business of the house as the members raised a number of questions seeking explanation of the rules that had been prepared for the first time to run the upper house.
A “ruling” by the chair is always considered the most important parliamentary tool, which reflects the authority, sanctity and wisdom of the custodian of the House. The rulings are being effectively used to interpret the Constitutional scheme, laws and rules and to transmit the legal position to the other organs of the state.
The official record of the Senate Secretariat shows that Habibullah Khan, who also belonged to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), issued 279 rulings during his four years’ stay in the office from August 1973 to July 1977.
Another former chairman Wasim Sajjad issued 193 rulings, but in 11 years time as he possessed the record of remaining in the office of the Senate chairman for longest duration. Similarly, Ghulam Ishaq Khan during his almost four-year stay in the office of the Senate chairman from March 1985 to December 1988 issued some 139 rulings.
The worst performance of the Senate by all means remained during the military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf who had nominated Mohammadmian Soomro of the PML-Q for the office of the Senate chairman.
Mr Soomro, who remained under severe criticism of the opposition parties for his act of killing excessive number of questions and motions in his chamber, issued only 22 rulings in his six-year term from 2003 to 2009.
After Mr Soomro, the Senate chairman office remained with two PPP men — Farooq Naek and Nayyar Bokhari — for three years each. Mr Naek issued 10 and Mr Bokhari 33 rulings between 2009 and 2015.
Most of the rulings issued by the chairmen related to the house business such as admissibility of adjournment and privilege motions, questions, resolutions and points of order.
However, a careful analysis of the 78 rulings issued by Mr Rabbani shows that most of his rulings were on issues of national importance such as provincial autonomy, non-implementation of job quotas, non-functioning of the Council of Common Interests (CII), holding of the local government elections and protection of the rights of minorities.
Through his rulings, Mr Rabbani also issued warnings to the ministers and bureaucrats for being absent or for “breaching the privilege of the house” through controversial communications. A register has been placed outside the official gallery for the purpose of marking attendance of the officials of the ministries and divisions during the proceedings of the house.
Besides crucial rulings, Mr Rabbani had introduced a number of reforms in the Senate under “Restoration of the Majesty and Transparency in the Parliament Project”.
Introduction of the public petition system is considered to be a landmark initiative of Mr Rabbani as through it, general public has been given a direct access to the Senate, committees and the chairman and now any one can raise any issue through the system.
The House approved for the first time the code of conduct for members and constitution of Committee on Ethics hence providing a transparent mechanism for self-accountability.
The Senate rules were amended to provide for conversion of the House into Committee of Whole on issues of national importance.
For the first time in the country’s parliamentary history, the Senate got representation in the all powerful Public Accounts Committee of parliament.
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2018