Lawmakers in the 10th parliament spent little time on the lawmaking process as 71 percent of the bills were passed within one to 30 minutes, according to a report of Transparency International Bangladesh.
Besides, the country had to waste more than Tk 163 crore due to quorum crisis in the 10th parliament from January 2014 to October last year, the TIB said in its Parliament Watch report released yesterday.
The MPs spent 16 percent of the 69 hours of unscheduled discussions on criticising political rivals and civil society members, using offensive, abusive and vulgar expressions. This was done in violation of the rules of procedure of parliament as the persons in question were not present in the House, mentioned the report.
The lawmakers also spent 10 percent of the allocated time for unscheduled discussions in praising the government and the head of the government, it pointed out.
In the 10th parliament, only 94 of the 350 lawmakers participated in the lawmaking process, taking about 31 minutes on average to pass a bill. It was about 12 minutes in the ninth parliament and 20 minutes in the eighth parliament, the report said.
About the source of information, the TIB said it collected data from the summary of parliament proceedings, reports of standing committees, live telecast of parliament sessions on Sangsad Television, gazettes, research reports, books and newspapers.
It also said there was hardly any opportunity for holding the government accountable in the 10th parliament as there was no opposition party in the House in “the true sense”.
“The 10th parliament failed to meet public expectations, especially in terms of its mandate to ensure accountability of the government,” TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman told The Daily Star.
Contesting Iftekharuzzaman’s statement, Treasury Bench Whip Atiur Rahman Atik told this newspaper that the 10th parliament was lively and effective with active participation and constructive criticism from the opposition.
The 10th parliament was constituted after the Awami League retained power through a landslide victory in the 2014 polls, boycotted by major opposition political parties, including the BNP. An unprecedented 153 out of 300 MPs were elected unopposed.
The Jatiya Party played the role of opposition in parliament while three of its MPs were in the cabinet and its then chief HM Ershad served as special envoy of the prime minister.
PASSAGE OF BILLS
The 10th parliament had 410 sittings in 23 sessions with 1,410 hours of discussion. A total of 193 bills were passed, and of those, 51 were amendment bills.
The TIB report shows that the MPs spent 12 percent of the discussion hours on the lawmaking process.
The House of Lords in the UK spent 48 percent of the total discussion time on enacting laws in 2017-18 and the Indian Lok Sabha 32 percent in 2014-19, it mentioned.
Quoting from the report, a TIB official said two appropriation bills and the local government (municipality) amendment bill were passed in less than two minutes while the passage of a bill on the 16th amendment to the constitution took the highest time -- one hour and 49 minutes.
Iftekharuzzaman said the passage of bills within one to 30 minutes shows a lack of interest of the MPs in lawmaking.
The report said the MPs spent 24 percent of the 1,410 hours on budget discussion, 60 percent on representation and oversight function of parliament and 8 percent on other issues.
The TIB also mentioned that the number of businessmen-turned-MPs was on the rise.
In the 10th parliament, it was 59 percent compared to 18 percent in the first parliament. On the other hand, the number of lawyers-turned-MPs is decreasing. It plunged to 13 percent in the 10th parliament compared to 31 percent in the first one.
More than 194 hours were wasted due to quorum crisis in 410 sittings, meaning 28 minutes were lost in each sitting.
At least 60 MPs must be present, apart from the person presiding over the sitting, to constitute a quorum of the House and start its business.
In the eighth parliament in 2001-2006, when the BNP-led four-party alliance was in power, 227 hours were wasted due to quorum crisis. It was 222 hours in the ninth parliament in 2009-2014 when the AL-led alliance was in power.
Iftekharuzzaman said, “The party that was designated as the opposition party [in the 10th parliament] suffered from a crisis of identity as it had one foot in the government and the other in the opposition. So it failed to play its due role in parliament…”.
He noted that the positive side was that the culture of parliament boycott by the opposition, which was seen from the fifth to the ninth parliament, was absent in the 10th parliament. Opposition MPs walked out for only 13 times.
The TIB report said opposition MPs walked out 99 times in the eighth parliament and 54 times in the ninth one.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also the leader of the House, attended 338 of the 410 sittings in the 10th parliament while Raushan Ershad, the opposition leader in the House, was present in 242 sittings, it added.
On the parliamentary standing committees, the TIB said 50 parliamentary watchdogs held 1,566 meetings in the 10th parliament. And 45 percent of the recommendations made by them were implemented.
Only two standing committees -- one on public accounts and the other on the shipping ministry -- held at least one meeting a month. Besides, members of eight standing committees had conflict of interest with their respective committees.
Two parliamentary bodies -- one on the rules of procedure and the other on privileges, didn’t hold any meeting during the period. The standing committee on public accounts held the highest 108 meetings.
The TIB recommended that the House pass a bill on the code of conduct for lawmakers with guidelines on their behaviour in and outside parliament. It also suggested amending article 70 of the constitution, allowing MPs to express opinions on issues except for no-confidence motion against the cabinet and the finance bill.
It also urged the Speaker to take strong measures to stop the use of abusive and unparliamentarily words in the House.