Role of Senate in Strengthening Federation
The Senate of Pakistan, upper house of Parliament is commemorating its Foundation Day today. 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 so 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 role of the Senate is promotion of national interconnection and integrity, harmony and confidence building of the smaller federating units so that their rights are protected in effective way. 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.
In contrast with India, which opted for a bicameral parliament on 28 July 1947 and established a Senate known as Council of States or Raja Sabah, Pakistan was having unicameral parliamentary system. The 1970 Assembly framed the 1973 Constitution which was promulgated on 14th August 1973. The 1973 Constitution provided for a parliamentary form of Government with a bicameral legislature, comprising of the National Assembly and the Senate. The membership of the Senate, which was originally 45, was raised to 63 in 1977 and to 87 in 1985. The membership of the Senate was again raised from 87 to 100 in 2002.
Ethnic diversity, cultures, languages, and geographical make up of Pakistan necessitated for institutional structure reflecting pluralism. The way, in which the 1973 Constitution was conceived, it was envisioned by the framers that with diverging interests of different ethnic groups, Pakistan requires a system of federal bicameralism instead of unicameral legislature unlike 1956 and 1962 constitutions. Bicameralism is also considered easiest way to accommodate the dualist structure of the state, because it is a method of representing popular national interests and state and regional interests at the same time.
Realizing the importance of vital role of Senate for strengthening federation, within last one year, special initiatives were undertaken for real empowerment of the Senate and parliamentary outreach. These steps include formation of mechanism for implementation of Senate directives, more vibrant & effective business advisory committee, discussion on the annual reports of Council of Common Interests( CCI) , allocation of time for discussion over special issues of national & public importance, processing public petitions submitted by ordinary citizens, publication and launching books on constitutionalism, interaction with academia, university students, live webcasting of senate proceedings and research support to the house through attachment of Young Parliamentary Associates. These initiatives need to be continued with more additional innovative steps.
It is high time to pay attention towards real empowerment of Senate as the chamber of federation. Parliamentary Committees have vital role in the Parliamentary System and act as vibrant link between the Parliament, the Executive and the general public. These committees need to play more proactive active for executive accountability, effective implementation of constitutional provisions especially relating to protection of fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of Pakistan from articles 8 to 28 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Even after a lapse of 6 years since historic 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, its effective implementation is still in limbo. The real fruits of decentralization, devolution of power and empowerment of people at grass root level still could not be availed by Pakistani citizens. In spite of unanimous decisions of multi-party Constitutional Implementation Commission headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, some of the critical issues still remained unresolved i.e joint ownership of natural resources, establishment of Commission on Standards in Higher Education and Research, policy regulation and supervisory control of Council of Common Interests 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 etc. About 48 identified federal laws have not still been amended in line with the Constitution of Pakistan.
The senate being custodian of federation of Pakistan need to pay attention towards these pending critical issues immediately. The formation of Special Committee on devolved subjects is an appreciable decision but the committee needs to deliberate and meet on regular basis to resolve these outstanding issues on immediate basis. As a vast majority of senators are elected by the respective provincial assemblies which act as Electoral College, they also need to review the progress of the provincial governments in terms of effective of implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment and transfer of powers at grass root level through local bodies. It has been generally observed that the provincial governments are quite slow in implementation of 18th Constitutional Amendment which resolved the issues pertaining to the provincial autonomy to a great extent.
Recent decision of inclusion of six members from Senate in Public Accounts Committee is also laudable and would be greatly helpful in strengthening federation of Pakistan as parliamentarians from smaller provinces would get more representation for oversight over financial matters of government. The reforms undertaken by Senate itself for its empowerment and parliamentary outreach within last one year are also encouraging.
The Senate of Pakistan should also play its role towards implementation of article 38(g) of the constitution of Pakistan which ensures the shares of the provinces in all federal services including federal autonomous bodies and corporations. It can also assist in addressing the grievances of smaller provinces regarding CPEC and other projects. The Senate should also continue regular engagements and interaction with the academia for effective input and healthy debates on various national and regional issues. The topics related to working and role of Senate should also be incorporated across all tiers of education.
A vibrant Senate is vital in strengthening Pakistan as federal country.
Muhammad Murtaza Noor is associated with the development and education sector for more than 15 years. He is currently working as National Coordinator with Inter University Consortium for Promotion of Social Sciences Pakistan, an autonomous largest alliance of Pakistani universities.
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