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ISLAMABAD: Political parties having representation in the upper house of parliament are eyeing the chairmanship of key committees after the election of chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, though there seems to be an understanding between the ruling and opposition parties over the share of each side.

Background interviews with leaders of the house and opposition parties on Sunday revealed that there was an understanding between them over the number of standing and functional committees and the distribution of chairmanship responsibilities among them but the allocation of committees was yet to be sorted out.

Sources said it had been decided at a recent meeting between the Leader of House Raja Zafarul Haq and Leader of Opposition Sherry Rehman that of the total 39 standing and functional committees, the opposition parties would have chairmanship of 20 committees whereas the ruling alliance would get chairmanship of 16 committees. Of the remaining three committees, the sources said, the chairmanship of the two would be given to the recently formed eight-member group comprising senators of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and a few independent senators from Balochistan, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), Awami National Party (ANP) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) — each having one member — will contest for the chairmanship of one committee.

Chairmanship of 16 bodies will go to ruling alliance

When contacted, Mr Haq said they would have no problem as far as the distribution of standing committees between the government and the opposition was concerned. He expressed the hope that the parties would not bicker over the distribution of the committees and the matter would be amicably settled.

The leader of the house contended that the Senate chairman absolutely had no role in the formation of the committees and in the elections of their chairpersons. The committees were formed by the Senate secretariat in consultation with leaders of the house and the opposition, he said, adding that the senators had already been asked to provide their choices of the committees with preferences.

The leader of the opposition explained that the chairmanship of committees was given to the parties in accordance with their strength in the 104-member upper house. Given the total number of standing and functional committees of the house, she said, for every three senators each party would have the chairmanship of one committee.

Ms Rehman expressed the hope that they would soon complete the process of the formation of the committees and elections of their chairpersons. However, she refused to divulge further details, citing that the matter was still on the negotiating table.

Under the rules, after the formation of the committees, the house would give a formal approval to them. The members of each committee would then elect their chairmen.

As the Senate committees on interior, finance, defence, foreign affairs, water and power, information and broadcasting, cabinet secretariat, law and justice, inter-provincial coordination and petroleum are usually considered important, political parties always desire to head these forums.

Parties may retain key committees

The sources told Dawn that both the government and the opposition had reached an understanding that the chairmanship of the key committees would remain with those parties which had been holding them since 2015. Previously, the opposition members were heading committees on interior, finance, defence, information and broadcasting, human rights and petroleum, whereas the heads of the committees on law and justice, foreign affairs, water and power, inter-provincial coordination and cabinet secretariat belonged to the ruling party alliance.

The sources said the chairmanship of 20 committees would be distributed among the four opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Jamaat-i-Islami. Besides, independent senators from Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) would also get their share from the opposition quota.

Similarly, they added, the chairmanship of 16 other committees was likely to be distributed among the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and National Party (NP).

The chairperson of each committee is entitled to have an office, a personal secretary, an official vehicle and extra allowance besides salary as a member of the parliament.

After the Senate election in 2015, the opposition alliance headed by the PPP had agreed to surrender the chairmanship of four key standing committees of the Senate as per their understanding with the government. The PPP had previously agreed to give the chairmanship of four important committees —foreign affairs, water and power, law and justice and rules and privileges — to the PML-N though the panels were headed by opposition members.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2018