The legislation debate

Updated November 19, 2019

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IT was a rare but welcome day in parliament last week when the government and the opposition resolved a major dispute amicably and in the larger interest of the public.

After a productive meeting chaired by the Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaisar, the government agreed to withdraw the 11 ordinances it had rushed through the Assembly on Nov 7 and re-table them in the house or send them to committees for proper debate and scrutiny. In return, the opposition agreed to withdraw the vote of no-confidence that was filed against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri who had allowed the treasury benches to bulldoze the ordinances amid furious protests from the opposition parliamentarians.

Some of these 11 bills will be sent to committees where the parliamentarians will get the time and opportunity to discuss them threadbare, call relevant officials and experts if a need arises to explore the ramifications of these bills in greater detail, propose additions or amendments wherever deemed necessary and only then send them back to the house for a final debate and voting. Those bills that will be re-tabled in the house will be discussed and dissected as per the spirit of a proper parliamentary debate and then legislated through consensus or voting as the case may be. This dispute resolution comes as a breather for parliament that is widely seen as dormant in terms of its legislative performance. Since the government does not have the required numbers in the Senate to enact laws, it has opted for issuing ordinances as a shortcut to barrel ahead with the reforms it wants to enact through such laws. This path to lawmaking has been rightfully criticised for undercutting the spirit of debate that is supposed to enhance the quality of legislation passed by parliament.

The government has calculated that it may get the numbers it needs in the Senate next year so it believes it can keep its reform agenda in motion through enacting ordinances from the presidency till then. This is a bad idea. The opposition has done well to take a firm stance against this proliferation of ordinances and brought the process of legislation back on track. However, the amicable resolution of this dispute between the two sides raises hopes that a working relationship can be built between them as far as legislation is concerned.

The political fight should continue to be fought, as that is what a parliamentary democracy is all about, but there should be a loose consensus that legislation should not get derailed as a result of this fight.

As long as the parliamentarians keep in mind that legislation is the core function of parliament, they can carry on with their verbal duels if in the end they vote on the bills as per requirement and keep the wheels of such legislation moving smoothly.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2019