PAC membership for Senators


WEB DESK: The Senate of Pakistan is no House of Lords; nor is it America’s Senate. It is in fact the House of Federation, as it would like to call itself, and acts as a saucer to a cup (National Assembly). It doesn’t generate or emit heat but defuses it by lending cool-minded deliberations to issues of the federation.

Before the enactment of the present Constitution, in 1973, Pakistan was not a bicameral democracy, and there was no Senate of Pakistan. Most likely, the secession of East Pakistan – for ‘not being heard’ – must be on the minds of the framers of the Constitution who opted for bicameralism. But then they also stuck to the Westminster pattern and decided that the Money Bill shall only originate from the National Assembly and its copy would be sent to the Senate to invite recommendations which may or may not be incorporated.

But how that money is spent, or misspent, remains a concern of the Senate, and hence acceptance of the Senators’ demand to be part of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly. Under the agreed arrangement six Senators – three each from the Opposition and Treasury Benches – will be added to the 24-member Public Accounts Committee of the Lower House. In fact, the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the Upper House were so excited over this development that within minutes of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s disclosure of government’s acceptance they adopted an amendment to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of Senate to set in motion the process of selection as to who would be joining the PAC.

The move is being widely billed as a ‘landmark development in the parliamentary history of country’. But little do they realize that in actuality it’s only much ado about nothing. What the NA’s Public Accounts Committee has done in the past and what it can possibly do is an open book. It scrutinises the audit reports to see if the budgeted allocations were spent as committed. And if not it summons the concerned officials and asks why not. The reports on the erring officials – if at all they show before the PAC – are sent to the government for necessary actions.

Recently, the Senate Secretary declined to appear before the PAC, with Senate Chairman reportedly arguing the Upper House is not accountable to the Lower House. No doubt the PAC findings make for rich media grist, but what action is taken on them as follow-up that’s not in the public knowledge. These reports then rest in the library of the parliament House. Probably being signatories to the Charter of Democracy the PML (N) and the PPP, who take turns at the federal government in Islamabad, would not like to embarrass each other.

One is therefore a bit reluctant to heap praise on this ‘landmark development’. Looking incisively one would think such a move would tend to undermine the cause of democracy in Pakistan. The National Assembly is all-powerful because it is directly elected by the people on the basis of one-man one-vote. The Senate on the other hand comprises the indirectly elected members (Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani of PPP is one such member), and hence under the Constitution has no powers to tinker with financial matters.

By trying to get into the domain of the National Assembly it is trying to flex its muscle and steal the march over a directly elected House. But given the presently tense situation the Nawaz Sharif government is beset with, being specialist of reconciliatory politics Ishaq Dar was perhaps tasked to sweeten the mood of an Opposition-dominated Senate. And he seems to have succeeded.

However one should look beyond these make-do and patch-up political moves. The word and spirit of the Constitution must prevail, and it doesn’t envisage any role for the Senate in the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.

Source: Business Recorder