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Why are we still continuing with a 'viceregal' political system? - Rounaq Jahan

Eroding democratic values and Constitution - Dr. M Zahir

Democracy: An unfinished agenda - Dr Kamal Hossain

A case for proportional representation - Rashed Khan Menon

Is majority rule same as democratic rule? - Kazi Anwarul Masud

Responsibilities of majority rule - Muhammad Zamir

The issue is democratic culture - Emajuddin Ahamed

Leaders and politicians - Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Black money in electioneering - Inam Ahmed

Party nomination on sale - Rezaul Karim

The tale of limping parliament - Reaz Ahmed

Politicians hindering progress - AH Jaffor Ullah

Whither parliamentary standing committees - Shakhawat Liton

Politicians must take blame for failures - Syed Ashfaqul Haque


Antagonism takes precedence over understanding Shakhawat Liton

Thirteen years of democratic experience: Strengths and weaknesses Reaz Ahmad

Distorted political culture Shameem Mahmud

Party constitutions: Rarely followed Rezaul Karim



Whither parliamentary standing committees?

Shakhawat Liton

If the parliament is the nucleus of a democratic state, then the committee system within the parliament is the heart of the nucleus. The role of the parliamentary bodies dictates the fate of the parliament, so the committee system must be strengthened in building a democratic state.

It is also true that the committee system is the effective way of ensuring the executive accountability to the legislature. The committees have the in-built advantage of being the smaller bodies with greater time available to them to examine an issue in detail. It is indeed remarkable that while consensus often eludes the House, the committees are, by and large, able to produce unanimous reports. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the real work of parliament nowadays is performed in the committees.

In our country the committee system has started to function for seven years. The achievement by this time could have been more than the visible if the process was not hampered because of negative culture of politics.

After reintroduction of the democracy in the country through the mass movement of 1990, we have already lost another seven years. Five years during the BNP government, 1991 to 1996, for appointment of ministers as the chairmen of the parliamentary standing committees on various ministries. Being dominated by the ministers the committees did not discharge their over seeing duties, as the ministers were reluctant to discuss about alleged irregularities and corruption in their respective ministries.

Though the Awami League government wasted about one and a half years to form the standing committees in seventh parliament after its inception, the government took step to break the tradition. The ministers were dropped from the posts of chairmen through amendment of the rules of procedure of the Jatiya Sangsad.

The positive role of the committees was very much visible though the then main opposition BNP had not nominated its deputies to different standing committees on the ministries at commencement of the bodies. After a few months of the formation of the bodies though the party nominated its deputies to the committees but it started to boycott the House.

And the current parliament is still in limbo, the main opposition Awami League has not nominated its lawmakers to all parliamentary standing committees, including 39 committees on the same number of ministries. About 21 months after inception of the eighth parliament, most of the vital bodies are functioning very poorly -- often following the positions of the respective ministries than having their own voice.

Of the 51 parliamentary bodies, 39 represent various ministries, the Awami League (AL) has participation in only five committees that were formed immediately after the eighth parliament was formed. These committees deal with the preliminary functioning of the parliament -- and do not represent any ministries.

Two and a quarter of year has already passed, but it is still uncertain that whether the AL will nominate its lawmakers or not.

Besides, neglect of the government and parliament is also responsible to keep the vital bodies inactive. Four financial standing committees of the Jatiya Sangsad have recently raised the allegation.

Both the ruling and the main opposition party are blaming each other for the ineffectiveness of the bodies as well as they are blaming each other from the very beginning over the formation of the bodies. The AL refrained from nominating its deputies to rest of the bodies afterwards on the ground that the ruling party was ignoring them in forming these committees.

The ruling party went ahead without Opposition participation and held over 200 meetings of standing committees upon forming the remaining 46 committees within the last three months.

But it is not the ruling BNP that alone practices unilateral decisions on standing committees.

In the last parliament, the-then ruling party AL formed standing committees after one and a half years keeping slots vacant for the then main opposition BNP.

Many vital issues are not being raised on discussion table. The opposition could have availed the scope to discuss vital issues like law and order, price hike of essentials and thus serve the nation playing a positive role. But AL shrugs off playing such roles saying that the ruling party doesn't permit such discussions, as 'it does not let us discuss in the House'.

Allegation has also been raised that some committees are dominated by the ministers concerned, as chairmen of these bodies are junior to the ministers politically and also inside party's chain of command.

Question has been raised over the effectiveness of some committees as these echo the same voice of the government. Ruling party Lawmakers do not raise their voice against any ministry's activities in the House fearing loss of membership, although they are allowed to do so at the committees.

Earlier, at least 50 bills have been passed without scrutiny by the committees, as these committees were not formed. Question of legality was raised at the process of passing bills.

Besides, none of the 39 parliamentary standing committees on the same number of the ministries holds its meeting in due time as per the rules of procedure. The speaker Jamir Uddin Sircar has not taken initiative as per the rules of procedure to resolve the stalemate.

Owing to lack of understanding between the ruling and opposition parties the committee system cannot ensure government's accountability and transparency. It has also been difficult to balance power between the executive and the legislative. As a result the question has been raised that how is it then possible to strengthen parliamentary democracy without balancing executive and legislature.

The scenario could have been different if the AL participated in committee and raised its voice in the current activities of the different ministries.

Following the visible ineffectiveness of the committee system can we say the Jatiya Sangsad is functioning effectively?

In this regard, the rules of procedure of the Jatiya Sangsad should be amended incorporating some provisions like -- the formation of the standing committees at inaugural session of the each new parliament, some vital chairmen posts including public accounts committee should be nominated from opposition lawmakers, the tenure of the chairmen and members of the committee should be elected for a specific time etc.
The author is a staff correspondent of The Daily Star.

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