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Records in sitting, legislation amid oppn boycott

Abdullah Juberee

The ninth parliament, which had a record number of sittings and passed a record number of legislation, failed to be the centre of all activities in running the state because of insincerity on part of both the treasury and the opposition bench, analysts say.
They accused the treasury bench of acting irresponsibly because of its brute majority and the opposition of ignoring the mandate of its electorates giving lame excuse of no congenial atmosphere in the house to attend sittings.
The opposition members in the ninth parliament also set a record by abstaining from parliamentary proceedings despite taking all their benefits and privileges.
The parliament had 418 sittings in 19 sessions and passed 217 bills, including the 15th amendment to the constitution, which according to the opposition had triggered the ongoing political impasse as it had done away with the provision for an election-time caretaker government.
The smallest-ever opposition had attended the house in only 76 sittings and was absent from 342 sittings in the entire five years of the parliament which would served out its tenure on January 24.
Nizamuddin Ahmed, a teacher of public administration in Chittagong University, said, ‘I cannot say that this parliament has failed but it has done nothing to strengthen and consolidate parliamentary democracy as both the treasury and the opposition bench remained little tolerant of each other. I am happy that this parliament could only proved that there is something called representation of people. If things remained otherwise, it might be catastrophic for us.’
He said that he had been disappointed at the opposition’s continued
boycott of the house on lame excuses. ‘No matter how meagre its presence in the house was, its little voice could do a lot to hold the treasury bench back from doing whatever it likes.’
Nizamuddin referred to a High Court ruling of 1993 banning continued boycott of the house by lawmakers which was later stayed by the Appellate Division. ‘I think something needs to be done about the court ruling and some jurist should volunteer.’
He said that many people find Article 70 of the constitution to be a hindrance to a functioning parliament but he felt that the fear was not correct. ‘Rather, the role of the opposition is much effective to ensure checks and balances in state activities.’
Nizamuddin said that none of the major deals Bangladesh had signed with other countries had been placed in the parliament and it was very unfortunate. ‘If the opposition played its role, it could raise the issue and have discussions,’ he said.
Shantanu Majumder, a teacher of political science in Dhaka University, said that parliamentary democracy needed institution, values and practice but in Bangladesh, only institutional aspect dominated the parliamentary practice that made things quite disturbing.
‘I think there should be more intellectual inputs rather than legal and constitutional inputs in parliamentary proceedings. As a student of political science, I do not subscribe the notion of the caretaker government. But the way the Awami League dropped the provision using institutional hegemony and the court ruling ignoring the prevailing situation in the country was not acceptable,’ he said. Shantanu said that parliamentarians had not bothered about and failed to set any tradition of practice as it should be in a bourgeois democracy.
He said that being in the opposition did not give them the right to say only ‘no’ to everything. He criticised the opposition for continued boycott of the house giving the excuse of a congenial environment.
‘They [opposition members] just claim that they were not allowed to speak but how much sincere were they about taking up their issues in the house? They did not forget to take benefits and privileges,’ he said.
A Transparency International, Bangladesh study found that less than 10 per cent of the session-time had been spent on enacting laws and only 27 per cent of the time had been spent on arguments and discussions on various bills and related amendments.
On part of the lawmakers on the treasury bench, the discussion on bills were limited to restructuring sentences, or to adding or striking out a few words. Anyone, from the treasury or the opposition bench, raising objection to the content of the bills remained absent.
The most significant event of the ninth parliament was the passage of the 15th amendment to the constitution on June 30, 2011 bringing sweeping changes, including a bold step against military takeover of the state power and the suspension or cancellation of any provision of the constitution by such usurpers. It also included a new clause banning the amendment to certain articles.
As per the oversight role of the parliament, 51 standing committees had 2,016 meetings and 182 sub-committees of these committees had 182 meetings. The public accounts committee held the highest of 131 meetings followed by the public undertakings committee with 90 meetings and the committee on foreign affairs ministry held the lowest of 21 meetings.
Not a single meeting of the privileges committee, the rules of procedure committee and the petition committee, all headed by the speaker, was held.
According to a report of the public assurance committee, only 32 per cent of the assurances made by ministers in the house were implemented.
Two hundred and eight assurances out of 646 were implemented. Forty-five assurances made by the prime minister out of 70 were implemented.

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