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Strengthening of Parliament by capacity building of research and training facilities

The first and foremost thing that I would like to emphasize is this- remember that you are now a Sovereign legislative body and you have got all the powers. It therefore places on you the gravest responsibility as to how you should take your decisions.

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's maiden address to the First Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11th 1947.

These were the words of the Father of the Nation as he addressed the First Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Fifty eight years down the line, political observers and analysts are not convinced if the Legislature is as sovereign as the Quaid envisioned. While it is tempting to carry on this negative strain of argument, it is perhaps useful to note that while a great deal of responsibility has been placed over the years on the legislature, it has not been facilitated in executing that responsibility. A cursory analysis of the fifty eight years would lead us to enumerate the following challenges before the legislature:

> No formal training imparted to legislators whereas institutions like the judiciary have extensive national and international training opportunities available to them. The need for training become a glaring need for the October 2002 elected legislators as a majority of them graced the House for the first time.
> Legislators do not have adequate administrative back up which is imperative for framing questions, introducing motion etc.

The lack of formal training and administrative back up leads legislators to use the House as more of a photo opportunity rather than use it as an opportunity to legislate on issues that would facilitate the development of the country and its citizens. Consequently, the citizens have a rather negative perception of the legislations and in fact the House itself. These state of affairs are not helped when the citizens are informed through the media that the House business could not be taken up due to lack of quorum.

It is important to mention here that some civil society organizations have tried to address some of these gaps and have come up with training manuals for legislators as well as training workshops etc. Leading names in such attempts are Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), Liberal Forum Pakistan (LFP) and Aurat Foundation to name a few. However, efforts of these civil society organizations are at best sporadic and by no means any replacement for institutionalized training facilities. The National Defense College has also been entasked with imparting training to legislators but that scope is also limited.

It is encouraging that the Prime Minister's Secretariat has asked for suggestions for capacity building of the research and performance of the Parliament. Some suggestions for these are:

> Establishment of a Parliamentary Training Institute which should be administered by the staff of the Parliament itself.
> Training courses on legislative procedures and parliamentary etiquettes should be organized at the Parliamentary Training Institute.
> The research wing of the Parliament should be strengthened by investing in better human resource. This wing should be entasked with not only researching for the parliamentarians as is done presently but also putting out briefing papers on pressing issues and making presentations to parliamentarians on it.
> Live telecast of parliamentary proceedings should be allowed which will not only serve as an important incentive for better performance by the legislators but also serve to invoke greater public interest in the House proceedings. C-SPAN in America is a case in point.
> Review the necessity of having a quorum. There are parliaments in the world that do not have the quorum condition.

While on the subject of suggestions for the capacity building of the research and training facilities of the legislature, one is also tempted to put forth another idea. While elections can be termed as a means of evaluating the performance of each legislator, it might be useful to also develop some mechanism of parliamentary evaluation as a whole. There can be a number of ways of doing it. One way could be to draw up some bench marks like:

> Did the parliament meet the requisite number of days?
> How much legislation was enacted by the Parliament in
1. The first year
2. The second year.
3. Third year
> Was there a lack of quorum during the parliamentary sessions?
> How many questions were raised on the floor of the House?
> Were written answers supplied by the concerned ministers?
> Were the ministers present on the floor of the House during the parliamentary year?

In other parts of the world, like Cambodia the World Bank in conjunction with the local government and non profit organizations has also developed a Parliamentary Report Card. This report card serves as providing a useful baseline in establishing benchmarks of progress and is also useful in making comparisons.

The Parliamentary Report Card is as follows:

The report card tests parliamentary performance in four areas of activity that are almost universally regarded as being core lines of parliamentary service, namely:

Oversight and

The report card evaluates these four lines of service against five performance tests, namely:
level and range of activity
openness and transparency
policy and program impact

The first and last of these tests represent the traditional concerns about how busy and how influential parliament is while the other three tests judge the contribution of parliament to core values of good governance. Specific performance indicators can be developed for each.

These were some of the suggestions that can serve to be useful in any discussion of parliamentary strengthening.
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