Lawmaking 'one-party affair' as MPs rubberstamp bills

Riadul Karim | Update:

Parliament (Jatiya Sangsad) building. Photo: BSSThe overwhelming majority of members of 10th Jatiya Sangsad (national assembly) have no active role whatsoever in the house, their records say.

The collective role of the members of parliament (MPs), whose main task is to make law, has now been limited to taking part in the process of registering voice votes -- saying yes or no -- during passage of bills.

In 2017, only nine MPs, in a parliament of 350 in all, served notices and joined discussion on the bills, shows an analysis of the parliamentary records. These MPs made proposals to send 21 bills to the scrutiny committee and took part in the discussion on them.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), which carries out research on activities of parliament, has underlined the need for exercising democracy within each political party to ensure active participation of MPs in parliamentary activities.

"The structure of the current parliament has been made in such a manner that the lawmaking has become a one-party affair," TIB executive director Ifthekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo.

As the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the general elections, demanding poll-time caretaker government, the Awami League returned to power through a one-sided ballot on 5 January 2014. Jatiya Party (JaPa) led by HM Ershad, having 40 MPs, has been made the official opposition party despite its participation in the formation of the government.

None of the AL MPs took part in the process of serving notice on the bills in 2017. Of the nine who were engaged, two were independent MPs while the rest from JaPa.

Asked about this, Chittagong University professor Nizamuddin Ahmed said the article 70 of the Constitution is not a bar in this case. The article 70 stipulates that the membership will be cancelled if any MP votes against the party.

He pointed out that in case of emergency, the whips too can bring amendments to the bills.

"Normally the opposition party is supposed to serve notices on the bills, but there is no effective opposition party in this parliament. As the bills are discussed in the parliamentary standing committee, it is not elaborately discussed during the session," Nizamuddin said.

Seven of the MPs who served notices are from JaPa. They are Fakhrul Imam (15 bills), Nurul Islam (14 bills), Nurul Islam (13 bills), Raushan Ara Mannan (13 bills), Selim Uddin (11 bills), Nur-e-Hasna Lily Chowdhury (6 bills) and Kazi Feroz Rashid (5 bills).

Independent MPs Md Abdul Matin made proposals on five bills and Rustam Ali Farazi on two bills.

A total of 24 bills were passed in five sessions of parliament in 2017. Five JaPa MPs and one independent MP brought section-wise amendment proposals. Only four amendment proposals were accepted out of 50.

Those who conduct research on parliamentary affairs regret that it has become a custom that the ruling party MPs do not serve notice on the bills.

According to rules, an MP can give notice if an amendment to any section of the bill is necessary before its passage. After discussion, the minister concerned can consider the amendment. At this stage, voice-vote takes place.

Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury told Prothom Alo that opposition members of parliament oppose when a bill is tabled and then discussion on it takes place at the standing committee.

When the bill is returned to parliament, the opposition MPs bring amendments to the bill, she added saying that sometimes the amendments get accepted.

The speaker also said that the ruling party has to listen to the opposition party's opinion and answer its questions.

JaPa MP Fakhrul Imam floated the highest 14 amendment proposals last year. Of them, two were accepted.

"Making law is not an interesting matter," Fakhrul Imam told Prothom Alo.

"Many MPs have no interest in making law as it requires much thinking and analysis," he added.

Former caretaker government adviser M Hafiz Uddin Khan said such a serious matter of lawmaking has now become an easiest job since parliament is dysfunctional.

In India and the United Kingdom, a bill is passed after a series of discussion "but Bangladeshi MPs do not consider lawmaking as a serious matter", he pointed out.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Imam  Hossain

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