National Assembly updates Rules of Business matching new developments
ISLAMABAD: Shortly before it was prorogued on Friday, the National Assembly adopted the new Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business–the fourth one since Independence. Whenever a Parliament frames new Rules, it moves up in achieving greater autonomy and freedom.
This was obvious from the statement of Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi, who spoke of them (the Rules) as an update “in response to new developments and times”.
The number of Rules–292–is the same in the new Book of Procedure. But there are also plus points. In the new Rules, there is provision for a ‘Calendar of Events’ in Rule 46, “after the commencement of each parliamentary year”.
It is learnt that the Calendar had been put in operation since the last session that ended on February 24. From now onwards, the National Assembly would be convened for 15 days each month.
An annual calendar of sessions is in vogue in many parliaments. In the UK, Members of Parliament (MPs) know the exact time and dates of the sessions well in advance so as to manage their constituency affairs during recess.
The question of a fixed calendar has dogged the Assembly since the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif. Efforts were then made with the Prime Minister’s office to come to fixed arrangement for the sessions, but ‘exigencies’ of politics prevailed, and the move failed. Good, that the Assembly has now succeeded in resolving the situation.
The fact is that the Senate has moved ahead. One found the exact dates of session in a ‘desk calendar’ of the Senate, which began the count from March 2006. The calendar stopped at February 2007. Perhaps the parliamentary year in the Senate begins from March. Some plus points in the rules concern the working of the standing committees.
The rules mandate that the standing committees would be constituted within 30 days of the first meeting of the Assembly, and their respective chairmen would also be elected within 30 days, after the House constitutes the committees. Until now, the government would have cold feet in electing chairmen of standing committees. It is difficult to understand from hindsight this delay. In theory, the standing committees are very essential for a strong legislature. All 17 members of each committee are elected in the House, and the members of each committee elect their own chairman. Where does the government come in all this, unless the Assembly looks up to the government for guidance, which is a little less than having effective and strong standing committees for regulating the affairs of ministries. This is certainly an improvement over the Rules of 1992.
The number of panel (presiding officers to conduct proceedings in the absence of Speaker and Deputy Speaker) has been increased to six, two more than in the previous Rules.
Now, under the new Rules, notice about questions and motions would remain alive, if the house is prorogued and recalled to a session within four days. This is another plus point in the new Rules of 2007.
Also, the definition of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ remains unaltered in the new Rules as ‘the Member who, in the opinion of the Speaker, is for the time being leader of the majority of the members of the Opposition’. However, one learns through a briefing requested by one NA Secretariat official that the Speaker would nominate as the Opposition Leader the MNA who obtained signatures of the majority of Opposition Members. Here one would recall the contesting claims between Amin Fahim and Fazlur Rahman, each vying for the position.
Be that as it may, Naveed Qmar of PPP has signed a note of dissent dated February 14, 2007 to the Rules, pointing to two indifferent aspects of the New Rules (2007).
He said, in his note, that Rule 20 gives excessive powers to the Speaker to name a member whose conduct ‘in his opinion is grossly disorderly’ and then ordering him to withdraw from the House as well as to suspend him ‘from the service of the Assembly for the remainder of the session’. ‘Service from the Assembly’, as mentioned in the Rules, probably has implication for the monthly remuneration (Rs 27,000) and daily allowance of the affected member.
The new Rule is entirely silent on the famous Rule 90–production of an arrested member. The Production Order, in favour of an arrested member, used to be issued by Speakers in the past. The order has never been respected by any government, and all that Speakers could do was to refer the matter to the privileges committee. But nothing came out of that. When the old Rule was adopted in 1992, parliamentary delegations visiting Pakistan would speak in appreciation for the provision that the standing committees were enabled to elect their own chairmen, in preference to Ministers, who would override the objections of members as they sought to streamline the working of the respective Ministry.
It may be mentioned here that the Assembly has worked on three sets of Rules of Procedure, until now. The first ‘Rules’ were the same as the Rules of Indian Legislative Assembly, adopted by the Constituent Assembly on August 10, 1947–five days ahead of the central government of Pakistan that began to function on August 15, 1947.
The second ‘Rules’ of procedure were given in 1973, by the President, and remained in operation until the Assembly framed its own ‘Rules’ in 1992. That reflects some progress in the Assembly’s search for its personality and voice.
Source: Business Recorder