Lawmakers not interested in laws

Riadul Karim . Dhaka | Update:

Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban. Photo: Prothom AloOne of the main tasks of the lawmakers is to compose laws but most of the parliamentarians did not seem to be interested in carrying out that duty. Very few MPs took part in discussions on laws, while rest of them just voted, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the first four sessions of 11th parliament that was formed after the 30 December 2018 elections, records show.

A total of 13 laws (excluding three budget-related laws) were passed in those four sessions. Just 14 out of 350 MPs (including 50 women MPs from reserved seats) took part in discussion on bills, issuing notices. Only eight of those 14 MPs -- 10 from Jatiya Party, three from BNP and one from Gano Forum -- brought proposals to the changes and discussed them.

This suggests only four per cent lawmakers took part in discussions related to composing laws.

None of the 301 MPs of ruling Awami League issued any notice or proposed changes in the bills that were tabled.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, professor at Chittagong University Nizam Uddin Ahmed said the opposition is supposed to remain more active in discussion on laws. But this is happening because of the absence of a strong opposition in parliament. And, MPs from the ruling party might think it would not be appropriate to say anything against any bill since the cabinet passed the draft. Article 70 of the Constitution is not a bar in this regard, though.

According to Article 70, lawmakers lose their seats in parliament if they vote in the House against the party that nominated them.

Professor Nizam Uddin Ahmed also said parliament committees discuss the bills. This could be another reason for the short discussion in parliament. But the chance of mistakes remaining becomes minimal if there is more discussion on bills, and this makes the bill more pro-people.

The main opposition in parliament is supposed to be more active in composing laws. But only 10 out of 26 Jatiya Party MPs took part in discussion on bills.

Jatiya Party MP Fakhrul Imam gave notices to the vetting committee and took part in discussions of the highest number of bills, 10.

Jatiya Party MPs Kazi Firoz Rashid, Mujibul Huq, Rawshan Ara Mannan and Pir Fazlur Rahman took part in discussions on seven bills each. Besides, Rustom Ali Farazi (4 bills), Shamim Haider Patwari (3), Salma Islam (2), Begum Nazma Akhter (3) and Liakat Hossain (1), BNP’s Rumeen Farhana (5), Mosharraf Hossain (4) and Harunur Rashid (2) and Gano Forum’s Mokabbir Khan (5) also took part in discussion of bills.

None of their proposals were accepted. All the proposals to send bills to vetting committee were discarded in voice vote. Jatiya Party MP Fakhrul Imam raised objections against tabling more than one bill but that too was rejected.

Even a lesser number of MPs made amendment proposals. Only eight MPs took part in discussion proposing amendment in articles. Of them, Fakhrul Imam made 10 proposals, Kazi Firoz Rashid and Pir Fazlur Rahman made seven each, Mujibul Huq made six, Rawshan Ara Mannan made four, and Rumeen Farhana, Shamim Haider Patwari and Salma Islam made two proposals each.

More than one proposal of Fakhrul Imam, Rumeen Farhana, Rawshan Ara Mannan and Pir Fazlur Rahman were accepted.

Speaking to Prothom Alo Jatiya Party MP Fakhrul Imam said the main task of an MP is to compose laws. But this task is painstaking. One needs to study pros and cons of the bill and understand everything. You need to keep an eye on the bill from the time of passing in cabinet. Many are not interested in this painstaking task.

Citing an example of neighbouring India’s Lok Sabha, he said the opposition is very small there but it took over seven hours to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Act-2019 there. Now laws are made in Jatiya Sangsad in a very short time. Sometimes ministers said public opinion on bills is not necessary since it was discussed in cabinet and parliamentary committee. But this is not acceptable.

The 13 laws passed in 2019 are -- Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kiln Establishment (Control) (Amendment) Act, Bangladesh EPZ Act, Chittagong Hill Tracts (Land Acquisition) Regulation (Amendment) Act, Representation of the People Order (Amendment) Act, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Aviation and Aerospace University Act, Plant Variety Protection Act, Bangladesh National Social Welfare Council Act, Life Insurance Act, Animal Welfare Act, Bangladesh Veterinary Council Act, Law and Order Disruption (Speedy Trial) (Amendment) Act, Bangladesh Film and Television Institute (Amendment) Act and International Mother Language Institute (Amendment) Act.

The relevant parliamentary standing committee discusses a bill before it is tabled in parliament. But most of the time not all the 10 members take part in discussion. Nothing much changes in the bill too.

Rashed Khan Menon, president of parliamentary standing committee on social welfare ministry, told Prothom Alo that there’s no doubt the standing committee members discuss the bill but most of the time it is not on a large scale. The discussion was more vibrant in the past. Nowadays the opposition in parliament raises questions but there is mental block for the MPs of the ruling party.

There is no hindrance for the ruling party lawmakers to issue notices or propose changes but none of the 301 MPs of the ruling party did that even for once. Four MPs of Workers Party, four independent, two of JSD, two of Bikalpa Dhara, and one MP each from Tarikat Federation, and Jatiya Party (JP) followed the suit of those of the Awami League. All those MPs finished their duty saying “yes” or “no” only in several steps.

The minister, however, is bound to take part in composition of laws.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Jatiya Sangsad chief whip Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury said there is no bar for ruling party MPs to issue notices on bills. Those are tabled in parliament once it gets approval of the concerned standing committee. The MPs discuss it there. Still some amendment proposals are accepted in Jatiya Sangsad.

A study of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on 10th parliament (2014-19) revealed only 12 per cent of parliament’s time was spent in composing laws. India’s Lok Sabha spent 32 per cent of its time between 2014 and 19 while House of Lords of UK spent almost 48 per cent of its time in composing laws in 2016-17.

The TIB study also said the 10th parliament took 31 minutes on average to pass a bill. The time includes tabling the bill, MPs discussion and the minister’s response. Of the bills, 46 per cent were passed from one to 20 minutes, 45 per cent between 21 and 40 minutes, eight per cent from 41 to 60 minutes. The parliament took over 60 minutes to pass only one per cent of the bills.

While the 16th Lok Sabha of India discussed each bill for around 141 minutes on average, around 71 per cent bills of 10th parliament of Bangladesh were passed within 30 minutes.

TIB executive director Iftekharuzzzaman told Prothom Alo that the parliamentarians have three duties -- represent the people, hold the government accountable and draft laws. The most important duty is drafting laws. But their lack of interest in this is embarrassing. There are questions as to whether they have the competence to draw up laws.

It is not that all the MPs are to draw up of laws but their lack of interest is unwarranted.

* The report, originally published in print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza

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