Senate proves its worth


AT a time when there was growing impression that Parliament, which is supposed to be supreme under the scheme of things envisaged in the Constitution, had been rendered almost irrelevant mainly due to lack of maturity and insight among politicians and parliamentarians, the Senate of Pakistan is celebrating its golden jubilee, affording an opportunity to different stakeholders to join their heads to mull over the challenges facing the country and build a consensus for the way forward. Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani, on Wednesday, inaugurated a special commemorative session at the Parliament House where a variety of speakers highlighted the achievements of the upper house during the last fifty years, the need to strengthen its role and powers, challenges that confront the country in different spheres of life and constitutionalism.

There is no denying the fact that despite heavy odds and constraints, the Senate played a crucial role in promoting national unity and harmony by focusing on the rights of the federating units in a highly complex environment. No doubt, bicameral legislatures exist in some other countries as well but the Senate of Pakistan is unique in the sense that it has equal representation of all federating units which is a guarantee against hegemony of any one province to the disadvantage of others. It was because of this effective check that on many occasions, the Senate overturned some laws and moves of the lower house, affording the government an opportunity to review its policies and decisions in the overall interest of the federation. Apart from its role in improving and reforming laws, the Senate has contributed immensely in highlighting important issues and providing a guideline to the government in addressing ticklish matters. It has rightly been pointed out by speakers that the Senate has served as a critical check on the power of the executive and has been instrumental in shaping legislative policies that had a profound impact on the life of our citizens. Under the Constitution, the Senate has no voting power on the money bills but the upper house got its importance acknowledged every year by thoroughly debating budgetary proposals and making comprehensive suggestions to improve them. This is also borne out by the fact that scores of such proposals are made part of the Finance Bill.

Similarly, the Standing Committees of the Senate on different subjects are also playing a dominant role in crystallizing issues and how to address them effectively. There is, however, an urgent need to strengthen the powers and role of the Senate by empowering it to have an equal say in the case of money bills as well. Presently, members of the Senate are elected indirectly and there have been consistent complaints of malpractices and corruption in the process.  There was a time when there were towering personalities in the upper house, who had rich political background and expertise in different fields, who played their part in resolving critical problems of the country. However, with the passage of time, like other institutions, we witnessed deterioration in the overall quality and standards of the Senate of Pakistan as well and this was mainly because of the entry of people in the house because of money, influence and connection and not because of their personal traits.

Therefore, there are legitimate demands for direct elections of the Senate along with those of the national and provincial assemblies. Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani, who highlighted the constitutional history of the evolution of Parliament, legitimately expressed his pleasure in witnessing the Senate’s landmark legislation despite regional, local and political chaos over the decades that protected the rights of all. However, we may point out that the Senate has so far not been able to have an effective say in finding a satisfactory solution to the political and economic crises confronting the nation. Its platform should be used to convene a Grand National Dialogue as the country and its people are suffering hugely due to ongoing tug of war among different players. Speaker National Assembly Raja Parvez Ashraf has rightly emphasized that parliamentarians should work across party lines and personal interests for progress, prosperity and peace as it was not time to rest on laurels.