PAC impasse

Updated December 11, 2018

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THE deadlock appears closer to being broken, but it will need common sense and goodwill from both sides.

The paralysis at the heart of the new parliament is a dispute between the PTI and the opposition over the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly.

Quite sensibly, a parliamentary norm in this latest era of elected governments is for the PAC chairmanship to be given to the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

However, the PTI regards virtually all decisions taken and norms established by the PPP and PML-N to be suspicious or corrupt, and so it does not consider itself bound by parliamentary norms set by its predecessors.

In the current instance, the PTI has objected to the handing over of the chairmanship to Shahbaz Sharif because he is, firstly, under investigation by NAB, and secondly, Mr Sharif would initially chair a PAC that would be examining spending by the previous PML-N government.

But the PTI’s intransigence has had predictable consequences, with the opposition threatening to boycott all parliamentary committees, which has effectively prevented the speaker from notifying committees in the new Assembly.

That in turn has frozen all legislative work as bills cannot be debated in the relevant committees before being sent to the full house for a vote.

There is a possibility that the PML-N and PTI may compromise by nominating a senior leader of the PML-N other than Shahbaz Sharif as PAC chairman.

While that would break the recent parliamentary norm, it would also break the impasse between the government and opposition.

If acceptable to the PML-N, and if the PTI is able to rise above its unfortunate habit of quarrelling with the opposition at every turn, parliament would have an opportunity to resume its core legislative duties.

Indeed, the strong opposition reaction to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that the PTI seek to legislate by presidential ordinance ought to have made clear to the federal government that a quick resolution of the parliamentary committee impasse is in the government’s own interest.

If handled with political maturity, the PTI’s reforms and legislative agenda could find opposition support inside parliament.

Sensible legislation that promotes the public interest and helps introduce structural reforms is unlikely to be rejected by the opposition merely because it is PTI’s legislation.

The PTI must seek to advance its legislative agenda soon.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018