AS the federal government races to compile a list of achievements ahead of its first 100 days in office, there remains a glaring omission: legislation.
There has been one legislative achievement of the government so far: the Finance (Supplementary) Act, 2018, which was arguably more of an economic necessity than a legislative success. There are several likely reasons for the PTI’s failure to introduce new legislation, but the primary reason remains a procedural impediment: a dispute between the government and the opposition over the chairmanship of the Public Affairs Committee has prevented Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaiser from notifying the parliamentary committees that form the basis of legislative work.
With the PTI governing coalition a minority in the upper house of parliament, the only plausible route for legislation introduced by the government remains the lower house. However, without committees and their chairs being notified in the National Assembly, the core legislative duty of parliament is effectively suspended.
At least two points need to be made here. First, the PTI’s refusal to nominate the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif as chair of the PAC is an unnecessary crisis. The PTI’s rejection of a parliamentary tradition is ostensibly rooted in a concern that as PAC chairman, Mr Sharif would first examine the accounts of the previous PML-N government. However, it is possible for Mr Sharif to recuse himself from scrutiny of the previous PML-N government’s accounts and, in the eventuality that he does not do so, it is highly unlikely that the PAC will be allowed to rubber-stamp clear examples of misuse of federal funds by the PML-N government. How realistic is it that in the presence of PTI members a Sharif-led PAC will be able to bury allegations of financial malfeasance by the PML-N?
Second, the PTI needs to adjust to the realities of parliamentary democracy. Effectively blocking the formation of parliamentary committees because of an unresolved dispute over the chairmanship of the PAC ultimately prevents the government from creating and advancing a legislative agenda. It is self-defeating. The PTI and its allies are well short of a majority in the Senate, so the governing coalition will inevitably have to reach across the aisle to legislate. The PTI’s 100-day milestone is almost certain to pass without any legislative success in the two houses because of a flawed approach to parliament and the institutions of democracy. Without legislation, executive action is likely to yield only minimal governance reforms. The PTI must do better.
Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018