Parliament and its committees | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 07, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 07, 2008

Parliament and its committees

Niaz Ahmed Khan enjoys a work on politics

The mammoth contextual complexities, structural heterogeneity, and functional diversity render modern parliaments no easy subject of research and exploration. Dr. Taiabur Rahman has ventured to explore, usually with verve and insight, a number of major challenges and issues surrounding the operation of contemporary parliaments in the three South Asian democracies of Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. The main focus is on parliamentary committees -- especially on the role they play in holding the executive to account in these countries. Notwithstanding the growing emphasis on and repeated attempts to ensure such accountability, ensuring 'government accountability through parliamentary control' has, thus far, proved to be one of the most elusive goals for politics and society in South Asia. Dr. Rahman's long pursuit in searching for the ways and means of developing an enabling democracy in this region has produced a series of research articles; and the current volume represents his untiring zeal for and continued commitment to the search.
The author sets the stage by discussing the methodological and conceptual tools, approaches, and considerations of the study (Chapters 1 and 2). The subsequent two chapters (3 and 4) contain an extensive global and regional literature survey of the structures and performance of legislatures in general, and parliamentary committees in particular. The empirical findings and analyses of the study are presented in chapters 5 through 7, probing, in the main, the role of parliament and parliamentary committees in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka in holding the government to account. The final chapter recapitulates and summarizes the main findings and arguments of the work from a comparative perspective; one overriding conclusion of the study being the following: …parliamentary committees [in these countries] do not perform at par with their counterparts in the Western world in controlling the government and holding it to account…[T]he current state of securing executive accountability by parliamentary committees in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka hinges upon the prevailing macro-political context of the country and the institutional rules of the committee system, originating mainly from the political system and shaped in part by the prevailing hierarchical culture of the region (pp.200&210).
The chapters are coherently arranged, and the flow of arguments is generally smooth (this book originates as a Ph.D. thesis at City University of Hong Kong). Even on a superficial browsing of the book, one can feel the vigour and dedication of the author as a researcher. Absorbed as he is in the work, however, the author's long narrative descriptions of the structural and functional attributes of parliamentary committees may be somewhat taxing on the reader's patience. On producing analytical narrations, Tim May (Social Research: Issues, Methods and Process Buckingham: OUP, 1997, p 152) has this useful tip: 'When writing up fieldwork … maintain a focus on the topic and continually ask the question: What is this really a study of? … While interesting to you, a long rambling description of an event … may not be to the audience'. The methodological discussion (Chapter 2) would have benefited from inclusion of the personal insights and experiences emanating from the administration of the questionnaire, and the author's (formal and informal) interactions with the targeted respondents (Members of Parliament in the three countries). Similarly, one may also question the deployment and use of one 'common format' (p.xi) in the description and analyses of the findings given the diversity and complexity of the structures and processes of parliamentary committee operations.
Overall, this intense and engaging piece of work, I believe, makes a substantial contribution to the current orthodoxy concerning comparative legislative studies, and will be especially useful to graduate students, academics and activists in the broad fields of sociology, public affairs, politics and development studies.
Dr. Niaz Ahmed Khan is Professor of Development Studies, University of Dhaka.

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