Editorial : Playing truant - Saturday, February 05, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

A PROBLEM that has long been plaguing the National Assembly became a point of contention in Thursday’s sitting, with the deputy speaker demanding to know why certain ministers were not present. Three government bills could not be introduced because of their absence.But as is well known, this is hardly an unusual occurrence. In the current session, for example, on average only 19 per cent of members were present at the outset of sittings and only 21 per cent at the end. Even during the budget session in June last year, on average fewer than 30 per cent were present by the end of sittings at a time when the economy is a matter of grave concern. Despite this, lawmakers had the audacity to complain on Wednesday that their compensation and perks are too meagre; higher salaries, cheaper membership of the Islamabad Club and a continuation of medical benefits for parents were among the privileges demanded. Legislative work by elected lawmakers is the lifeblood of democracy, and indifference on their part prevents electoral mandates from translating into real action. The fact that members of the government and other MNAs cannot be bothered to show up for this crucial activity speaks volumes for their concern for their constituents and the value they place on Pakistan’s hard-won democracy.

But Thursday’s furore also occurred remarkably close to an impending reshuffling of the cabinet or an announcement that it would be dissolved to be reconstituted on a smaller scale. According to yesterday’s report in this paper, complaints within the assembly about ministerial absenteeism have increased since it became known that changes are to be made to the cabinet. If so, this is shamefully opportunistic behaviour on the part of lawmakers who should long have been concerned about making democracy work rather than using their sudden concern to settle personal scores or gain political points. Besides, statistics make clear that ministers are not the only MNAs dropping the ball and that lawmakers from both opposition and ruling-coalition parties have poor attendance and participation records. It would be telling if the concerns raised in recent days disappear once the cabinet has taken its new shape.

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