M Murtaza Noor
THE Senate of Pakistan, the Upper House of Parliament, completed its Parliamentary Year 2016-17 this month. The Senate of Pakistan is a constitutional institution which represents all federating units i.e. provinces/territories of the country and promotes a feeling of equality, peace and harmony, which is essential for the growth and prosperity of a nation. Thus, the Senate in Pakistan, over the years, has emerged as an essential organ and a stabilizing factor of the federation. It is also acting as permanent legislative body which symbolizes a process of the continuity of the national affairs.
The Senate of Pakistan came into existence in 1973, with the promulgation of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan as a symbol of federation and continuity which is not amendable to dissolution. The main objectives for the creation of the Senate of Pakistan was to give equal representation to all the federating units since the membership of the National Assembly is based on the population of each Province.
Realizing the importance of the vital role of the Senate for strengthening the federation, within the last Parliamentary year special initiatives were undertaken for real empowerment of the Senate and its parliamentary outreach. These steps included the representation of Senate in the Public Accounts Committee (six senators nominated by Senate will represent in PAC), ruling by the Chairman Senate regarding placement of regulatory authorities under the line ministries without the approval of Council of Common Interests, which has been termed unconstitutional, assuming its role of providing policy guidelines to the Government for adopting a robust strategy in the situation developing between India and Pakistan, streamlining parliamentary business through allocation of time for issues of public importance and effective linkages between two houses of Parliament, ensuring transparency, openness and accountability through laying of Senate budget before the house and creation of Gali-e-Dastoor in the Parliament house to pay humble tribute to the political workers for their sacrifices.
The major development during this Parliamentary year was unanimous resolution for enhancement of role and powers of Senate. The Senate of Pakistan on 13th February 2017 through a resolution resolved to enhance its role and powers to protect rights of the federating units and ensure meaningful participation of the provinces in the affairs of the federation. The resolution sought amendments to 11 Articles of the Constitution dealing with the relationship between the centre and the provinces in the light of the spirit of the 18th Amendment, introduced in 2010 to provide more autonomy to the provinces.
The resolution has called for an amendment to Article 160 of the Constitution under which the government will have to seek approval of the Senate before extending the National Finance Commission (NFC) award only for one year. Moreover, the Senate will also have the powers to increase the provinces’ share by one per cent. The Senate will have the power to increase the provinces’ share by one per cent each time the government would seek one-year extension. Through another amendment, the senators have devised a formula for granting equal rights of vote to them on any legislation during a joint sitting of parliament.
The resolution has also suggested an amendment to Article 159(4), under which the Senate will have the powers to resolve any dispute between the federal government and a province on the issue of imposition of any federal law on the provinces. Presently, an arbitrator to be appointed by the chief justice of Pakistan has the power to decide such matters. Similarly, the senators suggested that besides the National Assembly speaker, the Senate chairman should also be able to preside over a joint session of parliament. The Senate of Pakistan further resolved to continue its struggle for enhancement of the role and powers of the Senate in order to make Pakistan a true federation as envisaged by the Constitution, 1973, protection and representation of interests and rights of the federating units and the people of Pakistan, undertaking legislation that translates policies for the welfare and betterment of the Federation, the Federating Units and its citizenry and ensuring that devolution of subjects and powers takes place and remains within the constitutional parameters. There is a dire need to implement the resolution and take practical steps for enhancing the role of Senate as symbol of federation.
At the same time, the Senate being the custodian of the federation of Pakistan needs to pay attention towards pending critical issues related to implementation 18th Constitutional Amendment immediately as it is a matter of great concern that even historic 18th Constitutional Amendment unanimously passed in April 2010, is going to complete its 7 years, but its effective implementation is still in limbo. In spite of unanimous decisions of multi-party Constitutional Implementation Commission headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani constituted under Article 270 AA of the Constitution of the Pakistan, some of the critical issues still remain unresolved including joint ownership of natural resources; establishment of Commission on Standards in Higher Education and Research; and policy regulation and supervisory control of Council of Common Interests (CCI) over the subjects enlisted in the Federal Legislative List Part II, such as railways, standards in higher education, federal regulatory bodies, census, electricity, railway, legal, medical and professions.
The annual allocations for these subjects, which are under the domain of the CCI, are being made without review and approval of the CCI. The legislative and financial matters related to 18 subjects mentioned in Federal Legislative List Part II also need to be discussed at Senate as the Electoral College for the members of Senate is the respective provincial assemblies. A vibrant and powerful Senate is vital in strengthening Pakistan as a federal country.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.