A parliament’s effectiveness reflects the health of democracy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 02, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:52 AM, October 02, 2020


A parliament’s effectiveness reflects the health of democracy

How are we doing so far?

Transparency International Bangladesh, while unveiling its study report "Parliament Watch", expressed disappointment and concern at the lack of effectiveness of the Jatiya Sangsad. Our parliament at present is bereft of any real opposition. The Jatya Party, which contested the 11th parliamentary elections under the banner of the grand alliance led by the ruling party (AL), has become a showpiece opposition. Thus, in the absence of any meaningful opponent, whose main role is to ensure government accountability, the power monopoly of the ruling party has been further strengthened in parliamentary activities, especially in law-making, budget formulation, and parliamentary standing committees. This ultimately does not bode well for our democracy.

According to the TIB study, only nine percent of parliament's time during five sessions was spent on law-making—compared to 45 percent in the Indian Lok Sabha in 2019. And it took an average of 32 minutes to pass each bill, including the time the ministers concerned took for their statements—compared to an average of 186 minutes to pass each bill in the Lok Sabha.

This clearly demonstrates a lack of serious debate (or any debate for that matter) in parliament about the laws that are passed. Most of the parliamentary committees have not played their role of ensuring accountability of the ministries concerned. When legislations waiting parliamentary approval are barely discussed, the chances of identifying problems with them before being approved are minimised. And that is what we have been seeing. Despite the outcry of citizens and others concerning various legislations (such as the draconian Digital Security Act), the concerns and controversies surrounding such laws have barely been discussed in parliament. And if they are discussed, the discussions are usually self-congratulatory and lop-sided.

The fact that out of the 350 MPs only 14 discussed bills by submitting notices—while the role of the rest of the MPs was restricted to simply voting yes or no—is telling. Moreover, Article 70 of the constitution, which prohibits members of a party from voting against his/her own party in parliament, has handicapped the Jatiya Sangsad, especially given the current circumstances.

A properly functioning parliament is an essential part of a democracy. Can we say that our parliament is functioning properly? Despite the disappointing history of our parliaments over the last two decades—especially due to the boycott culture long established by all main opposition parties—the state of our Jatiya Sangsad has perhaps never been worse.

We urge the government to heed TIB's recommendations to make the parliament effective, including through amendment of Article 70, so that members can freely express their voice and if necessary take a position against the party line except a no-confidence motion against the government and the budget. The membership of any standing committee member with conflict of interest should be cancelled. When legislations being passed in parliament are not discussed, when budgetary formulation is carried out without question, and when the Jatiya Sangsad lacks any opposition to hold the government and ruling party to account, democracy ceases to exist. This contradicts the principles upon which this nation was born.

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