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Parliament’s Diminished Role in Legislation Raises Concerns

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Mubashir Nadeem

The role of legislatures in the governance system is of paramount importance, as they are responsible for the enactment of laws that reflect the will and interests of the public. The legislative process serves as a cornerstone of democratic governance, and the failure of legislatures to effectively legislate can have profound implications for the entire system.

Legislatures are designed to be the representative bodies of the people, entrusted with the task of deliberating, debating, and ultimately passing laws that govern the country. When legislatures are unable to fulfil this essential function, it undermines the fundamental principles of democratic governance. The legislative process is intended to ensure that laws are thoroughly scrutinized, debated, and amended to reflect the diverse perspectives and interests of the population. Without effective legislative action, the voice of the people in the legislative process is significantly diminished, eroding the democratic foundation of the governance system.

Furthermore, when legislatures are sidelined, and governments resort to legislating through executive decree, it disrupts the balance of power within the government. This concentration of power in the executive branch undermines the system of checks and balances, potentially leading to arbitrary decision-making, reduced transparency, and diminished accountability. By bypassing the necessary checks and balances inherent in the legislative process, legislating through executive decree limits the opportunity for public input and scrutiny, weakening the governance system as a whole.

In addition, sidelining legislatures in the legislative process can result in the passage of laws that may not genuinely represent the interests of the public. The absence of necessary scrutiny and debate may lead to the enactment of laws that are not in the best interest of the public, potentially causing challenges in governance, public dissatisfaction, and erosion of public trust in the government and the governance system.

Therefore, the significance of legislatures in the legislative process cannot be overstated. Upholding the role of legislatures in enacting laws is essential to preserving the democratic nature of the governance system and ensuring that laws truly reflect the will and interests of the public. When legislatures are unable to fulfil their legislative responsibilities, it can lead to a concentration of power, lack of transparency, and potential passage of laws that do not adequately represent the interests of the public, posing significant challenges to the overall governance system.

The primary role of Parliament is to legislate, yet in this country, governments have increasingly relied on legislation by executive decree. This trend has raised serious concerns about the erosion of parliamentary authority and democratic processes. During a recent hearing of the federal government’s intra-court appeal against an earlier verdict that declared illegal the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa expressed dismay over the prevalent practice of legislating via ordinances, suggesting that if this trend continues, the Parliament might as well be suspended.

While legislation by executive decree is permitted in some functioning democracies, the number of such countries is very small. In the case of Pakistan, Article 89 of the Constitution allows for ordinances in exceptional situations when the National Assembly is not in session and immediate action is necessary. However, the intent of this provision is to spread the use of ordinances for a limited period of 120 days in case of an emergency.

Unfortunately, governments have frequently promulgated ordinances just before the start of a parliamentary session and renewed them repeatedly upon expiry without valid justification. It has been observed that legislation through ordinance has been resorted to nearly 2000 times, indicating a significant deviation from the intended purpose of this constitutional provision.

This practice has been adopted to bypass scrutiny and challenges from opposition members and to circumvent the need for majority support in the National Assembly or the Senate. By doing so, governments have undermined the essence of a democratic order, which relies on debate and discussion in Parliament to ensure laws are in the greater public interest.

Despite constitutional restrictions on the frequency of ordinances, governments have retained the ability to bypass Parliament when it suits their purposes. This trend is concerning as it diminishes the role of Parliament and deprives the public of the opportunity for their representatives to scrutinize and modify proposed laws. It is indeed unfortunate that vital legislation is being made without the necessary scrutiny by those responsible for legislating.

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