Reforming the Provincial Assembly of Punjab’s rules of procedure

(Photo: Usman)

“My dream has come true,” says Ayesha Javed, a Member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP). “I started the process of reforming the rules alone in 2013 but continuous pushing and immense support from WFD has enabled me to get the Reforms Bill passed in 2016.”

Pakistan’s decentralisation process is of critical importance to strengthening democracy in the country. To make this work, each of the Regional Assemblies needs to be able to operate in a professional way and build the confidence of their citizens.

That is why transforming the rules of procedure for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP) – the members of which represent 100 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ms Javed.

She participated in many sessions organised by WFD on rules of procedure, effective committee system and best UK parliamentary practices which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar for the first time, which will allow MPAs to better prepare for debates and a balance between their parliamentary and constituency commitments – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

The need to review the rules of procedure had first been identified during WFD’s 2012-15 programme, but it was recognised that this was a matter for the PAP itself to determine. So WFD instead supported the newly-elected MPAs and provided orientation workshops on the rules of procedure, which galvanised MPAs to review the rules.

Ms Javed had already identified the need to review the rules as she had been frustrated by them in her first term during 2008-13. They didn’t equip her with the powers she needed to fulfil her duties. So she submitted a Private Member’s Bill to amend them and secured a petition with her colleagues, signed by 188 members.

As a member of the ruling party, this caused significant controversy. But MPAs were eventually persuaded that increasing the effectiveness of the legislature is not a hostile action against the executive.

The main changes resulting from the reforms point to a system which enables the MPAs and Secretariat staff to be more professional in undertaking their duties. It includes participatory legislative and accountability processes; the inclusion of the concept of ‘zero hour’ for matters of urgent importance; and the introduction of a parliamentary calendar, before which MPs were unable to prepare for debates effectively.

The results of this reform will benefit the Secretariat as well as MPs. Hafiz Shafiq Adil, a Special Secretary in the PAP, had played an important role. “I was not a formal member of the committee and was only coordinating – but when discussions were taking place, I dared to present a recommendation about combining various clauses if there is no amendment,” he remembers. The Chair and Law Minister responded by asking Mr Adil further about the idea. He responded: “I learned about it while observing Northern Ireland Assembly proceedings during a study visit organised by WFD.” Mr Adil is delighted that his proposal was ultimately included in the reforms. “I am happy with the achievement that my suggestion was approved by the committee – I contributed through what I learned,” he later added.

The reforms are helping the PAP conduct better oversight and engage civil society more, helping encourage democratic participation and inclusivity. Although these changes may seem an academic exercise with little relevance to the population, they are in fact key for a democratic institution. For example, if there is no parliamentary calendar, how can you expect your elected representative to prepare on issues that concern you and need to be raised? The changes allow Ms Javed and her colleagues to do their jobs more effectively. No wonder she is so happy that her “dream has come true”.

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