Changing culture in the House of Federation-The Senate of Pakistan

House of the Federation

Since March 2015, one hundred and four wise-men politically known as ‘the Senators’ start their every session on time ignoring the formalities of the quorum and adjourn their sitting only after completing the entire agenda for the given day. Logic is to do maximum possible justice with the bestowed ‘right to represent’ the federating units and the federal areas and complete the assigned work for which the taxpayers foot the bill. It is a new culture of democratic responsibility and self-accountability by the mandate bearers.

Forty two years old territorial chamber-the Senate of Pakistan is the creation of the Constitution of 1973 when bicameralism was acknowledged as an essential element for the health of our conflicts ridden federal polity. During the regimes of General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf this envisaged house of democratic continuation also had to suffer disruptions for eleven years from 1977-1985 and 1999-2002 respectively.

For the changing Senate of Pakistan one can’t ignore the creativity, commitment and democratic dedication of the incumbent Chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani, who has been in the Upper House for 19 years (61 percent) since 1993, representing Sindh on the platform of Pakistan Peoples’ Party out of the total functional life of the Senate of Pakistan i.e.  31 years.  But as a team leaders Senator Rabbani makes sure that the Parliamentary leaders of thirteen political parties and independents having representation in the Senate of Pakistan-the House of the Federation decide about full operationalization of the Rules of Procedure and creative innovations in the House Business Committee.

In a country that has many democratic deficits the Senate of Pakistan during 2015 for the first time celebrated the Day of Constitution-1973 and the foundation day of the Senate besides discussing and debating the periodic constitutional reports of the Council of Common Interests, the National Economic Council, the Principles of Policy and the National Finance Commission for first time in the parliamentary history of the country. To connect the Parliament with the people the Senate has opened up a window of public petitions. Yet another innovation via the Committee of the Whole has outlined recipes for judicial and other vital reforms. The Senate of Pakistan webcast live its day to day proceedings and very often Pakistani youth-students come as the visitor in the galleries to see their representatives at work.

Nevertheless one of the best moment was the evolving culture of communication within the trichotomy of power, when for the first time the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Anwar Zaheer  Jamali addressed the Committee of the Whole on Judicial Reforms in the Senate. Earlier during 2015 the Senate Chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani delivered first Jinnah Lecture arranged by the Law and Justice Commission at the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The then Chief justice of Pakistan Jawaad S. Khawaja chaired it.

Pakistan’s political pluralities are quite well represented in the Senate of Pakistan. From Balochistan nine political parties have the representation in the House. Out of these, Senator, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, President National Party heads a newly created Functional Committee on Devolution to make sure that the 18th Constitutional Amendment is implemented in latter and spirit and there is a communicative link between the federation and the provinces. Another Senator of National Party, Mir Kabir Ahmed heads the Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination. Young and dynamic Senator, Usman Khan Kakar of Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party heads a Senate-specific committee on Less Developed Areas. The intensity of these three democratic voices is important for the federalist future of Pakistan. Another vocal voice for provincial rights is Senator Dr. Jehanzeb Jamaldini of Balochistan National Party-Mengal.

From Punjab the House of the Federation has senators only from two parties, namely the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians.  The Leader of the House Senator Raja Zafarul Haq and the leader of the opposition, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan also hail from the Punjab. Quite surprisingly two senators from Punjab Senator Nehal Hashmi and Senator Saleem Zia are the office bearers of the ruling party PML-N in Sindh. Out of the 23 Senators from Punjab 8 are from Lahore and five from the twin cities Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The much ignored Seriaki belt has only four senators out of the 23 from the Punjab.

From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the chief of Jama’at-i-Islami Senator Sirajul Haq and first-ever representation of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf bring political diversities along with the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami National Party (ANP).  The ANP has accommodated its president of Sindh chapter Senatpr Shahi Syed in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.  The Sindh is a unique example in the House of the Federation as it has sent two women senator, Sherry Rehman and Senator Khushbakht Shujat along with a representative from religious minorities Senator Gian Chand on General Seats, making the representation of women 15 instead of overall reserved 13 reserved seats and religious minorities 5 instead of the 4 reserved seats. Sindh too accommodated at least three outsiders namely Senator Rehman Malik (Punjab), Senator Ateeq Shiekh (Punjab) and Senator Barrister Saif (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). The Federal Capital Islamabad represents the worst situation as none of all the four senators is a native. Two senators Iqbal zafar Jhagra and Osman Saifullah are from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Senator Rahila Magsi is from Sindh. There are many demands of electoral reforms, as a beginning why can’t we decide about the authentic representation of territories in the House of the Federation-the Senate otherwise there will be distortions that will kill the very essence of the Senate.

In terms of the performance the Senate of Pakistan has picked up many issues that concern the people of the country. The opposition dominated House disapproved an ordinance to convert the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in to a company. The Senate also ruled against the schedule of Local Government Elections in the Federal Capital before the relevant law is finalized. One can say with a degree of confidence that the culture of parliamentary vigilance and oversight is emerging in the country.

However the landmark step taken by the Senate of Pakistan was constitution of a permanent Committee on Delegated Legislation on December 28, 2015 to scrutinize and report to the House that whether the powers to make rules, regulation, bye-laws, schemes or other statutory instruments conferred by the Constitution or the Parliament have been timely and properly exercised by the mighty executive?  If this committee works well the people of Pakistan will finally realize that the much maligned legislators have always done their work quite well and the stigma lies somewhere else. Besides the Senate of Pakistan the National Assembly of Pakistan-the people’s chamber is also going through historic transformation to protect the rights of the 200 million Pakistanis. What Pakistan needs today is the futuristic political wisdom articulated in the representative democratic institutions for democratic future and much more stringent culture of ‘parliamentary oversight’ over what so ever is happening in the country.  (Zafarullah Khan for News on Sunday)

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