The Parliament Watch 2019, an analytical research report by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) reveals that Members of Parliament (MPs) in the 10th national parliament contributed less time for legislative business which is about 12% of the time in 23 sessions ranging from January 2014 to October 2018. “Out of 193 passed bills including 51 amendments during the tenure, most (71%) of the enactment of legislation in the 10th parliament took only 1-31 minutes in average to get ratified. It shows an obvious example of lack of interest of the lawmakers to get engaged in the process of legislation, one of the main objective of the parliamentary system” said Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB.
The latest Parliament Watch (PW), fifth of its kind on the 10th Parliament and the 15th of the Parliament Watch (PW) series since 2001 by TIB, also pointed out that the house wasted around 194 hours and 30 minutes (12% of the total actual time spent in all 23 sessions) in total for quorum crisis during the tenure and the monetary value for the total time of quorum crisis was estimated to be around Tk 163 crore.
To unveil the study, TIB organized a Press Conference on 28 August 2019 at its Dhaka office to release the study titled `Parliament Watch: 10th Parliament (1st to 23rd sessions)’. At the press conference, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman was accompanied by TIB Chairperson Advocate Sultana Kamal, Adviser Executive Management Professor Dr. Sumaiya Khair and Director-Research & Policy Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan with the team of researchers designated for the study.
Coordinated by the Senior Programme Manager Shahzada M Akram and Program Manager Juliet Rossette of the TIB Research & Policy division, Deputy Programme Managers Morsheda Aktar, Nihar Ranjan Roy, Fatema Afroz and Assistant Program Manager Amit Sarker were involved in conducting the study and preparation of the report.
PW observed that the expected role of the 10th national parliament was extensively constrained by shortfalls like absence of real opposition party and ineffective role of opposition being both in the government and the opposition at the same time. Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said, “10th parliament came out of the established culture of boycotting parliament, however at high cost. The party which was designated as the opposition party suffered from a crisis of identity due to its dual role which failed it to play due role in parliament. The absence of real opposition caused two overwhelming and different experiences in the parliament- absolute majority and sole dominance of the ruling party in one hand and a parliament without an effective opposition on the other”.
The study also observed that the statistical progress in some areas of the 10th parliament i.e. increase of MPs attendance, average time of legislation, increased independence of MPS in raising concern were clouded with challenges like continued quorum crisis, less participation of MPs in discussions, lack of expected efficiency of parliamentary committees and parliamentary openness with failure of Speakers effective role. Therefore, the 10th parliament failed to meet public expectations, especially in terms of its mandate to ensure accountability of the government.
PW analyzed the roles and proceedings of all the 23 sessions of the 10th parliament examining activities of the parliamentary standing committee including various sessions, roles of MPs in ensuring people’s representation, enact laws and making the government accountable, assessing the role of Speaker and MPs in the management of parliament, parliamentary openness, gender perspective etc.
According to the study, people’s participation in enactment of laws could not be ensured adequately as all requests for seeking public opinion on proposed bills were rejected by voice vote as practiced earlier. According to the ratio of time spent in various sessions of the Parliament, most of the time was spent on activities related to establishing public representativeness and accountability (60%). The study also pointed higher presence of female lawmakers in Parliament compared to their male colleagues although their participation in formulating laws was lower.
The study found that members mostly discussed the achievements and activities of the Prime Minister instead of asking questions. Moreover, no international agreement was discussed or brought in the floor of the parliament for discussion except those that are sensitive for national security during the tenure. Besides, PW pointed that out of all the recommendations made by 48 parliamentary standing committees in 1,566 meetings during the period, only 45 percent was implemented by the government. With regards to openness and access to information on parliamentary activities and committees, the study acknowledged live broadcast through television during the sessions. However, the prevailing method of involving people to extract opinion on the draft law taken to present in the parliament is still limited. The study also observed that in different cases, the Rules of Procedure (Rule 270, sub-section 6) was violated by criticising political rivals and civil society members, using offensive, abusive and vulgar expressions where the MPs spent 16 percent of the 69 hours of unscheduled discussions. Also, the MPs spent 10 percent of the allocated time for unscheduled discussions in praising the government and the head of the government.
The study identified some challenges including the absolute monopoly power of treasury bench, less participation of the MPs in law making process, deficits in the effectiveness of parliamentary committees, gaps in the parliamentary openness, deficits in playing strong role by the opposition party and the Speaker, etc.
To tackle the challenges and strengthen the Parliament with more efficiency in promoting accountable and transparent governance in Bangladesh, Parliament Watch put forward 11-point recommendations which included among others, amending Article 70 of the Constitution to allow all lawmakers to vote according to their conscience except against their own party and budget, preparing a code of conduct for the lawmakers, and ensuring effective participation of the opposition in Parliament, ensuring active role of Speaker in management of parliamentary affairs, place all international agreements except matters of state security before Parliament through the President, and release all bills placed in Parliament to gather public opinion.
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