IN what appears to be a continuation of the unsavoury wheeling and dealing that is characteristic of Senate elections, both PTI and the opposition parties have ‘rewarded’ their allies for their support by appointing them as committee heads in the upper house. As a report in this paper says, the PPP has given the chairperson’s position to five of the six senators who supported Yousuf Raza Gilani at the last minute, while the PTI gave the slot to the PML-F and PML-Q that have one representative each in the Senate, even though a party is entitled to one chairperson slot for every three senators. Similarly, the PML-N rewarded two JUI-F senators and one from the Jamiat Ahle Hadith. Four independent senators from former Fata now hold key positions, including the post of deputy Senate chairperson. Unsurprisingly, differences between the PPP and PML-N continue as both parties blame each other for throwing away the opportunity to chair key committees including human rights, law and justice, and interior.
Senate committee chairpersons enjoy several perks and privileges, but they also have a key responsibility to control committee business which is essential to the legislative process. Why then, are these chairperson positions being handed out as though they were personal thank you tokens, and not based on merit? Are the senators on whom these positions have been bestowed the correct choice? Senate committees are the forum where legislative details are ironed out and where issues of national significance and public interest are discussed. The Senate’s responsibilities are divided amongst these committees, which fulfil the critical role of reviewing amendments or challenging executive bodies on key issues. The selection of chairpersons, therefore, should be based on merit. Unfortunately, this business of rewarding allies with chairperson appointments has become as common a practice as that of horse-trading and vote-buying in the Senate. This political bartering is an exercise all political parties are only too happy to indulge in. As the opposition parties scuffle, the PTI has managed to secure the chairperson position of the human rights committee for itself — a post that should have been held by an opposition member as governments can deviate from impartiality in addressing human rights violations often perpetrated by their own agencies. Lawmakers should end this unscrupulous trend. But, instead of doing the right thing by the public and making appointments on merit, the lawmakers have dealt a blow to the spirit of democracy.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2021