The session hosted by the Parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights (PCHR), which was attended by parliamentarians, members of the civil society and the media sought suggestions for revamping the committee on government assurances.
PCHR Chairperson Riaz Fatyana opened the session and said deliberations on the matter have been going on for some time.
He said despite not being very well known, the committee and its work were very important because it was the only committee which covered all the government departments.
The main aim of the government assurances committee is to make a record of all the assurances that members of parliament make in the house and then see if the MNAs make good on their promises.
Whatever is discussed in the house is recorded in the minutes and members of the committee have to go through the record to look for the assurances. He said some 200 are made in every session of parliament.
The session was then informed of the challenges facing the committee and suggestions were sought from participants.
It was agreed that one of the biggest problems was that of reference. The legislative branch refers businesses to other committees but in the case of the government assurances committee, there is no direct source. The assurances have to be picked out from the minutes of the session.
Former secretary of Senate, Iftikharullah Babar, said the secretary of the committee is left with a lot of work with picking out the assurances and that this committee may be the only one to which business is not referred to. He suggested that the legislative branch should be asked to forward the assurances to the committee and to the concerned minister whether it is in verbatim or in summary.
PTI MNA Siraj Mohammad Khan said the committee’s members should be given qualified staff that can help with the workload. For example, he said, many of the staff did not even know how to write a proper letter. He said the committee was doing important work and proper communication will help with referencing.
Rana Abbasi of the National Youth Assembly said the opposition should also be asked to make note of the assurances made and that a proper point system should be drafted and reports published.
Currently, the role of the committee is confined to assurances made on the house floor. Participants were asked if the committee should also make note of those made by politicians outside parliament.
Siraj Mohammad Khan was of the view that the promises made outside parliament were just political slogans, sometimes unrealistic ones, which should not be recorded by the committee. He recounted some of the recent promises made by politicians and said it was the public’s loss if they believed that the promises were realistic.
Mr Babar agreed and said: “Politicians should be held to account for what they say in parliament because they are making those promises in a sovereign place.”
To make the proceedings of the committee more transparent and to raise awareness about its work, participants agreed that the media should be made part of the committee’s meetings Mr Babar said the meetings of all committees were by default open to the media.
“Media is not allowed inside if the meetings are held in camera which is announced at the beginning of the event,” he said.
Rana Abbasi added that the media should also be given reports on the promises made. Standing Committee on Inter-Provincial Coordination Chairman Abdul Qahar Wadan stressed the importance of the committee and said its work will help hold politicians to account.
“The legislation calls for free education and yet there million of children who are yet to get into schools. If the committee becomes active again, promises like these will not be taken lightly,” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2015
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