Of lazy MNAs, lucky forex kings and lousy legislation-By Mohammad Malick

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Maybe legislation is too serious a business for our legislators and maybe its time we lowered our expectations, or even better, dropped them altogether. How else do you rationalise the behaviour of our elected reps when on a private members day in the National Assembly (of all the days) the movers of their bills don’t even bother turning up to table them in the house. Maybe Riaz Fatiana was too busy playing up to Salim Saifullah and Hamid Nasir Chattha to really care about his bill, or was it his bull. Even those members who did drag themselves to the house appeared more interested in huddling into little chat groups and grudgingly dispersed after a stern sounding admonishment from a visibly irritated Speaker Fehmida Mirza. But trust this forced semblance of orderly conduct to go to the dogs the moment the speaker leaves the house putting the young deputy speaker in the chair. It’s time the young Mr Kundi got a hook on things or his reputation may go the canine way as well.

It is also criminal for the legislators of a nearly bankrupt country to get together for a two-three-hour long parliamentary huddle and cost the nation a whole day’s expense in terms of pays, allowances and benefits. And that is exactly what the National Assembly did on Tuesday by lumbering off to a sluggish start at around 11.30 am and calling it a day around 1.30 pm. Simply put, a pure shame.

Ok, now that I have taken care of my frustration lets get back to the day’s business. On a second thought, let me first share the thoughts of some very important people on a couple of developments, one from within parliament and the other outside. We all know about yesterday’s resolution submitted in the Senate by three senators from Balochistan who want former president Musharraf burnt at the Constitutional stake for abrogating the Constitution and killing Nawab Akbar Bugti. Apparently, the government is a bit confused about its response to the submitted resolution even though it is highly unlikely that the resolution would even come on the agenda as the Senate session is set to be prorogued by Friday.

One camp is of the view that it should be allowed to simply lapse or disposed of on technical grounds while the other is keen to bring it on the agenda and as the argument went, “let the resolution be voted down by the majority senators (read: PML-Q) and let them face the wrath of the general public.” According to someone privy to the discourse, the prime minister seems inclined towards letting the resolution be tabled and having some fun at the PML-Q and MQM’s cost. So let’s see what happens.

The other thoughts pertain to the ongoing prime time drama of the arrest of forex giants Kalia and Khanani. Someone way up the governance food chain wanted me to believe that the entire episode is nothing more than a classic shakedown. He even went to the trouble of beckoning me out of my comfortable seat in the press gallery and after first treating me to a cup of steaming hot coffee in his office located inside the National Assembly, then fed me his argument. According to our friend-in-the-know, the exit clauses had been built in right at the beginning when the two biggies were arrested under the 1947 Foreign Exchange Act (carrying a maximum 2-year prison term sentence) and not booked under Section-6 of the Anti-Terrorist Act of 1977 (carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and even death). According to his logic, the duo was guilty of spreading a “sense of insecurity and fear.”

Admittedly, it does appear a rather stretched logic because a layman like me would read it to mean insecurity of the normal physical kind and not really a referral to ‘financial insecurity’, as was being argued. But then, this gentleman is someone I would expect to know what he is talking about. Elaborating further upon his I-smell-a-rat theory, he pointed out that all crimes carrying a maximum sentence of up to three years imprisonment term are bailable and therefore, he sighed, “You watch and see, the moment the 14-day remand of the forex kings is over, they will immediately be out on bail and that will be the end of everything. They will be a few hundred million dollars poorer at the best.” It would be unfair for us to follow the despised Pakistani habit of ‘presumed guilty until proven innocent’ and tar the arrested duo but all said and done I would welcome any comment by our security czar Rehman Malik.

But one person I wouldn’t want to hear any more from is the young MNA from Mianwali, Umair Hayat Rokhri. Out of my immense respect for his the late grandfather Amir Abdullah Khan Rokhri, I shall try to be as polite as possible in my dissection of his legislative tendencies. Can you believe it? He actually wants a five-year discretional service extension option built in for bureaucrats retiring upon superannuation. While tabling a bill, he argued that it would reduce the burden of pensions and do away with the need of reappointing “exceptionally talented bureaucrats.” For heavens sake Mr Rokhri give us a break. We all know what our super bureaucrats have done to this country for the last sixty years. Who drafted this bill for you may I ask, some about to retire super bureaucrat? Let there be a constant infusion of fresh blood, new thinking, as only that will invigorate our stagnating and decaying bureaucracy. What we need is new wine, and not old vinegar Mr Rokhri.

But it wasn’t a total loss day after all, for a very healthy parliamentary tradition was set today and one that resulted in us immediately learning about the gist of proposed legislations. In the past, the movers would simply read the title of the bill and nobody would have the vaguest idea about the content or context of the proposed legislation except the relevant government minister who would stand up and parrot off a customary “I oppose” to whatever was moved by a member. But starting today, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Babar Awan initiated the practice of asking the members to briefly present the salient features and objectives of the proposed legislation. Actually that’s how we immediately learnt about the essence of Rokhri’s proposed bill which otherwise just said “a bill further to amend the Civil Servants Act,1973, The Civil Servants (Amendment) Bill 2008”. If things had been going on as in the past then who would have known what he really wanted done for our worthy bureaucrats.

It’s a welcome development of adopting this practice that is in vogue in almost all established western parliaments. The other good development was of the proposed legislations being referred to the relevant committees for further discussion and not being shot dead on the floor of the house due to political partisanship.

Legislation is a serious business and it’s about time our legislators and ministers started doing it the right way. And today, despite the casualness of the majority of the uninterested parliamentarians, was nevertheless a good step in that direction.

Courtesy: The News



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