Legislative priorities: A comparison of incumbent PML-N and previous PPP governments

National Assembly of Pakistan. CIRP photo

By Azaz Syed and Basit Ali Khan

 

ISLAMABAD: The performance of two governments, the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), vis-à-vis legislative business reveals that economic reforms remained the challenge No.1 for both the governments.

However, PPP paid more attention towards the institutional reforms, human rights, education and energy whereas judiciary, security, institutional reforms and election remained the PML-N legislative priorities. Environment could not get attention of both the parties for legislation in the first spells of rule in National Assembly during their tenures in power.

The above mentioned assessment has been made through a recent report of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) which analyzed and compared the first 36 sessions of each PPP government from 2008 to 2011 and the incumbent PML-N government from 2013 to 2016.

Priorities

The PPP and PML-N governments in their first 36 sessions of National Assembly paid much attention towards the legislation of economic reforms. They introduced bills focusing on trade, commerce, taxation and foreign exchange etc. The data shows that PPP introduced 17 legislations on economy whereas PML-N introduced 34 legislations doubled than PPP during their rule in the National Assembly.

 

PPP government while in power during first 36 National Assembly sessions introduced highest 15 legislations on institutional reforms whereas incumbent PML-N government choose to pay much focus on judiciary by introducing highest 14 legislations on the topic.

According to the independent observers like South Asian Terrorism Portal, almost 26,000 people lost their lives in different terrorist attacks from 2008 to 2010 in Pakistan. PPP government assumed power in 2008 but did not introduce any bill on security rather choose to bring 12 legislations on human rights. On the contrary when PML-N came in power in 2013 the numbers of fatalities were already on decline but they choose to introduce 10 legislations on security and introduced only a single bill for human rights.

 

“At that point in time, we stood behind the forces and took the ownership of war against militancy,” says Qamar Zaman Kaira while exclusively speaking to Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan (CIRP). Our forces were sacrificing their lives and some people were saying as if they were fighting the war of America. So we paid attention to that side. He recalled that their government within 90 days short time cleared Swat and Malakand areas which were in practical control of the extremists.

“The Swat operation was only a success story when we stood behind our forces,” said Kaira. He also added that during their tenure their legislation priorities were in accordance with their election campaign.

Education remained high on the priority list of PPP with compare to PML-N. The Pakistan People Party during first 36 sessions introduced 10 bills on education whereas PML-N introduced only 2 bills on the subject. Health was given less attention by both the governments. PPP introduced 1 bill on the subject whereas PML-N did not find any interest for even introducing any legislation on this important public sector.

Maiza Hameed, a parliamentary secretary on Capital Administrative Division defends her government’s legislative priorities saying PML-N gave priority to the needs of the people.

“We had announced that we would give more importance to economy and energy, this is reflective in our legislative business,” says Maiza while talking to CIRP. When asked why their government did not pay much attention to education and health she opined that after the 18th constitutional amendment both the subjects have gone to the provinces so these matters have gone to the provinces directly. However, she added that PM education program was at Federal level, on which government not only brought legislation but spent huge money as well in education sector.

Independent observers

Although the number of legislation during incumbent tenure of PML-N remained higher than PPP tenure in power but independent observers like Shehzad Anwer who is manager research and reforms on parliamentary affairs at FAFEN says “PPP focused more on public interest legislation than PM-.N, although PML-N passed more bills but most of them were focused on economy, judiciary and security,” says Shehzad while talking to CIRP.

He believes devolution of powers remained an achievement of PPP government and PML-N government remained successful in bringing the economic reforms in the country. He added the PML-N manifesto and election campaign was focused on energy crisis but they could only bring 4 pieces of legislation on the said topic until first 36 sessions of the parliament.

Ministers’ Attendance Record

Attendance is considered one of the most important factors in measuring performance of members of the National Assembly, individually or broadly as party and the parliament itself.

In the parliament, government or the ruling party is responsible for not only maintaining the quorum—minimum number of the parliamentarians attending the session—but it is also responsible for the overall performance of the government which is led by the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers. Thus attendance of national assembly or parliament is a key measure in evaluating the performance of the government which is driven by the cabinet.

The FAFEN data of 43 sessions (414 sittings) of incumbent National Assembly reveals that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not give much importance to the parliament as he remained absent 85% of the sittings which means that he attended only 63 out of total 414 sittings which include the regular sessions of National Assembly and joint sessions of parliament. He only gave one appearance to Senate during his entire tenure in the office of prime minister.

Shehzad Anwer, manager research & reforms on parliamentary affairs at FAFEN in conversation with CIRP correspondent Basit Ali Khan.
Shehzad Anwer, manager research & reforms on parliamentary affairs at FAFEN in conversation with CIRP correspondent Basit Ali Khan.

“The former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani gave due respect to the parliament as he attended 80% of sessions during his tenure as Prime Minister. In this regard Nawaz Sharif has no comparison with him (Mr Gillani) as Prime Minister,” says ShehzadAnwer of FAFEN in his interview.

Likewise the cabinet ministers also did not take national assembly serious with regard to their attendance in the house.

“One third of the cabinet ministers attended less than 50% of total sittings held between 1st session to 43rd session which clearly reflect their less interest for the parliament. Unfortunately these also include key ministers like Defense, Interior, Planning and Railway Minister etc,” says Shehzad.

The performance of the cabinet ministers as with regard to their attendance record collected by FAFEN reveals that an average attendance of a cabinet member in the national assembly during 414 days of 43 sessions remained 251 which is 61 percent of the sittings. The ministers did not bother to attend the sessions in 39 percent of the national assembly sittings.

The data shows that 9 cabinet minister have not even crossed the 50% of their attendance. Two Minister of Nawaz Sharif cabinet, Ahsan Iqbal and Pir Syed Saddaruddin Shah Rashdi have the poorest attendance record in the National Assembly with compare to their fellow cabinet members.

Saddaruddin Shah a member of the Nawaz Sharif cabinet carries the worst attendance record. Out of total 414 sittings he only attended 107 sitting sittings which means minister remained absent 74% sittings of the national assembly sittings.

Ahsan Iqbal a key minister, who now holds the office of Interior Ministry, has the second worst attendance record of National Assembly. His percentage of absence remained 65.

Out of 414 sittings in 43 sessions of the parliament Shahid Khaqan Abbasi the newly elected Prime Minister, being the former Minister of Petroleum and National Resource (under Nawaz Sharif’s latest term as PM) participated in 183 sittings out of total 414 days. He did not attend 231 sittings remained unattended which is below than 50% of their attendance.

Main image: National Assembly of Pakistan. Photo by CIRP.