Power sans accountability: Another Balochistan budget without input from standing commitees

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Quetta: The budget the Balochistan government would present this June would be without any oversight from standing committees that are meant to ensure transparency, accountability and good governance, playing a crucial role in the pre and post budget audits of various departments. And it will not be the first such budget.

For several successive governments now, the provincial assembly has been without standing committees. As for the incumbent government, it has stayed true to the tradition: It has yet to appoint standing committees despite a lapse of 2 years and 6 months, presenting yet another budget without oversight and accountability of departments.

Standing committees are formed worldwide in the legislative bodies to delegate the matters of legislation to the special committees. The British House of Commons, the lower chamber of the British legislature, and the Congress, the collective name of the United States of America’s legislature, have special committees on special legislative methods, which include standing committee on parliamentary affairs, special committee of public accounts, foreign affairs. The list runs long.

The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan envisages standing committees for the federal and provincial assemblies. The standing committees in the National Assembly, senate and the assemblies of all other three provinces have been formed but Balochistan lags behind in this regard.

Abdul Khaliq Rind, the Chairman Parliamentary Gallery in Balochistan Assembly, said the issue of standing committee had lingered on since 2004 when Mir Jam Mohammad Yousuf was the chief minister. His government went without the oversight of standing committees. The same holds true for the subsequent government of Nawab Aslam Raisani from April 2008 to May 2013 that did not constitute the committees during it 5 years.

“The current government came to power in September 2013, but no standing committees have been formed to date in Balochistan Assembly,” Rind told News Lens.

Rind attributed the delay in formation of standing committee delay to the parliamentarians’ mindset to escape accountability. He said that the Balochistan government was under constitutional obligation to form 19 standing committees for accountability of ministers and the chief minister.

He, however, said that the formation of the standing committees was under discussion and it was speculated that 9 standing committees would be placed under the Pakistan Muslim Leauge (N), 5 under Pushtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and 3 under National Party. The three parties are coalition partners in the provincial government. 2 committees would go to opposition benches.

“It seems the government is distributing the standing committees among its coalition partners to avoid accountability,” said Rind. “It is a constitutional tradition nowadays in Pakistan that the Public Accounts Committee’s chairmanship goes to the opposition leaders.”

Qadir Bareech, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science University of Balochsitan (UoB), said that the purpose of formation of the standing committees was to facilitate the legislative process in the legislatures as members did not have expertise in all the fields.

“Therefore, members with special interest and expertise are made members of various standing committees to investigate the need of legislation in each department,” he said and added that amongst all the committees, the Public Accounts Committee was the most important as it had the mandate to investigate the expanses of all the departments. He said that the standing committees gave recommendations on legislative matters after conducting research into the issues.

When asked about the reasons behind non-formation of committees in Balochistan Assembly after a lapse of almost more than 2 years since the government was formed, he said that the standing committees were not even formed during the previous government. Under the Raisani government, in a House of 65, Bareech said a cabinet of 64 was made with only a single opposition leader who never visited the assembly.

“This shows the commitment of the politicians to the democratic norms in the province,” said Bareech.

Regarding the incumbent government, Bareech said it had its own compulsions. He explained that first, it was a coalition government that lacked the consensus needed for the formation of the committees. Second, the bureaucracy that wanted a control over departments and a culture of impunity was also a hurdle. He said the current assembly members seemed least interested in democratic norms and one could judge their credibility from the fact that one of them secured 500 votes and made it to the assembly.

“500 votes are nothing in a huge constituency,” he said and added that this also reflected the troubled nature of politics in the province that contributed to its larger problems.

Speaking of democracy, Bareech said the words of Churchil should be kept in mind: “I know the opposition leader more than my spouse.” But when the entire house is part of the government – as was the case of previous government in Balochistan – who would be part of the standing committees?, asked Bareech.

The Spokesperson for Government of Balochistan Jan Muhammad Buledi said that government had issued notification for 19 standing committees in Balochistan Assembly which would be formed shortly.

“We provided our three names for standing committees,” said Buledi, who is a leader of the National Party. He said MPA Haji Islam, Dr Shama Ishaq and Yaseeem Lehri would be the heads of the National Party’s three standing committees.

Buledi said that the delay in formation of the standing committee was caused because the provincial assembly has to elect a speaker after the resignation of former speaker Jan Muhammad Jamali.

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