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ISLAMABAD: Under outgoing Chairman Raza Rabbani, the Senate contributed towards consolidating democracy in Pakistan by allowing debate and discussion on sensitive matters such as the balance of power among organs of the state, civil-military ties and the role of intelligence agencies, a think-tank report released on Sunday said.

In its report released on the last day of the parliamentary year, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) said the year witnessed increasing judicial scrutiny of democratic and political processes, and the Senate played a stabilising role through its efforts to open intra-institutional dialogues and repeated assertions for the need for negotiations among powerful political actors and institutions to develop a unanimity of views on the direction the state must take.

The unprecedented briefing to the Senate Committee of the Whole by the chief of army staff was perhaps part of the same effort, the report said.

Think-tank releases report on last day of parliamentary year

“The Senate or the House of Federation also set efficiency standards for its sister legislatures by addressing an unprecedented 98pc of its scheduled business and optimally using the proceedings for its core duties of legislation, executive oversight and public representation.

“In 15 sessions comprising 105 sittings, the House approved 50 bills, including two constitutional amendments that provided for extension of military courts for two more years and reallocation of the National Assembly seats among federating units on the basis of provisional census results. The Elections Act, 2017, which reformed and consolidated eight separate election laws, was also passed during the year,” it stated.

The house also legislated on the right to information, transgender rights, whistleblower protection, climate change and institutional reforms.

According to the report, lawmakers raised 1,538 questions, 452 matters of public importance, 112 calling attention notices and 117 adjournment motions.

Various standing, functional, select and special committees of the house also deliberated on issues referred to them, including legislative proposals, and presented 234 reports to the house.

There were two instances of quorum identification and six instances of walkout or protect in the house all year.

The report said that the end of the parliamentary year also marked the completion of Senator Rabbani’s term as Senate chairman.

During his tenure, it said, Senate enacted overarching regulatory reforms to improve its productivity and quality of work.

The house introduced meaningful changes in its Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business, reforming the legislative procedure, mechanisms to hold government accountable to elected representatives and devising new processes enabling citizens to connect to parliament.

Reforms in Senate rules allowed citizens to file public petitions to the house on matters of public importance.

Senate committees were also empowered to scrutinise development budgets of their relevant ministries, and the Senate was also represented in the Public Accounts Committee.

Between 2015 and 2018, the house held 296 sittings – 27pc more than the number of sittings held in the preceding three years, the report added.

Agenda transaction also tripled over the last three years.

The report claimed that Senator Rabbani ensured that house sittings started at the scheduled time.

The average delay in the commencement of proceedings was reduced from 46 minutes to four minutes per sitting. The house did not take any recess month during the last three years; between 2012 and 2015, the Senate took four no-session months.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2018