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The Parliament and the Process of Ministerial Appointments

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The Pakistani Senate, in a proactive and transparent move, has provided the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) with an update on the country’s legislative assembly’s forthcoming power to appoint ministers and cabinet members. This update underscores the Senate’s commitment to strengthen its role in budget matters and align Pakistan’s domestic legal framework with international human rights standards.

Furthermore, the Senate, in a resolute commitment to transparency and accountability, has pledged to introduce a constitutional or legal provision related to conflicts of interest. This provision would require lawmakers to declare sponsored travel and accommodation, ensuring a more transparent legislative process. Additionally, the Senate has committed to regulate lobbying practices by individuals or groups with varying and specific interests that influence decisions taken at the legislative level. The report was submitted to the IPU after the Senate identified at least 14 opportunities to strengthen parliament.

Currently, the National Assembly’s website states that members of the cabinet are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The majority (75%) goes to the National Assembly, while the rest (25%) is taken from the Senate. However, both houses work together to carry out the basic work of the parliament, i.e., law-making, except for money bills.

The Senate has outlined several goals, including establishing a parliamentary budget office, creating a bureau as the collective governing body of parliament with representation from both houses, and establishing legal provisions related to equal physical and online access to the parliamentary building, its processes, and proceedings for all citizens, regardless of disability or other special needs. It also aims to develop an impact assessment manual, guide, or similar document that establishes procedures and criteria for assessing the impacts that a proposal for a law, a program, or a policy might have on different groups and potentially entrusting such assessments to a dedicated body.

The Senate, in a commendable effort to promote gender equality and inclusivity, is actively devising policies and/or plans on gender mainstreaming. It is also planning to hold workshops or dialogue sessions for senators and secretariat staff on gender-responsive budgeting, demonstrating its commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment. The Senate’s plan to introduce childcare facilities for Senators and Secretariat staff further underscores its efforts towards gender equality.

The IPU and its partners produced the Indicators for Democratic Parliaments, and several parliaments, including Pakistan’s upper house, the Senate, tested out this self-assessment toolkit. The Senate put together a steering committee of three senators, who worked closely with the Senate’s Secretary General and with support from the Senate secretariat, including its parliamentary digital development unit (PDU). The self-assessment toolkit is based on 25 indicators, each one with several criteria, and the indicators are grouped into seven targets, matching the language used in targets 16.6 and 16.7 of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Undertaking a complex and challenging self-assessment process, the Senate completed it in a commendable three months, with the final report submitted to the Senate Chairman for approval. This process allowed the Senate to thoroughly review its administrative capacities, accessibility standards, working environment, openness, inclusivity, and transparency of parliamentary operations. The Senate’s ability to call upon its own parliamentary staff and take ownership of the assessment underscores its strategic approach to self-improvement.

The IPU does not dictate matters of democracy and parliamentary strengthening but facilitates the process so that parliaments drive it, fostering a sense of ownership and legitimacy. Pakistan’s Senate is a shining example, as it proactively generated 14 recommendations for itself to become more effective by assessing its own strengths and weaknesses.

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