FORMER Senate chairman Raza Rabbani has sought an amendment to the law dealing with the power of the president to promulgate ordinances. The PPP senator has, through a private member’s bill submitted to the Senate secretariat, sought to add two provisos to Article 89 of the Constitution which allow the president to promulgate ordinances when parliament is not in session or where circumstances emerge that a law becomes imperative. The opposition has been severely criticising the government for its excessive use of ordinances but the rulers have not relented so far. The argument that the government is peddling is that the opposition is not interested in reaching across the aisle in order to legislate on important issues. The opposition, however, maintains that the government has, through its hostile and non-serious attitude, made parliament dysfunctional and therefore resorts to issuing ordinances to cover up for its own inadequacies.
The arguments may carry weight to some extent, but what is undeniable is that the government’s excessive dependency on ordinances is going against the spirit of parliamentary legislation. The law very clearly explains this spirit by stating that presidential ordinances should only be issued when there is an urgent requirement and the normal route of legislation cannot be followed for a genuine reason. The issuance of an ordinance deprives the members of parliament of the opportunity to thoroughly debate the issue at hand, bring in suggestions and recommendations and improve upon the legislation if possible. This also enables a wider public debate and discourse so that the issue can be weighed on the scale of wider public interest. This is how a transparent democratic system is supposed to work. However, while we are all enjoying the trappings of such a system, the substantive part remains weak. This is why the premise of Senator Rabbani’s amendment is correct. The excessive and undue use of ordinances needs to be curtailed, and if this can be done through certain amendments in the existing law then that possibility should be explored with seriousness. The government should take this in the spirit that the amendment is proposed and be ready and willing to debate it with utmost earnestness. Ordinances may be a convenient tool for the government of the day but parliamentarians are expected to think beyond their electoral terms and prioritise the improvement of the democratic system as a whole.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020