Meanwhile, after around five months, the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry is holding a meeting today, Monday. However, the present state of the economy is not on the agenda of the meeting. Sources of the parliamentary secretariat said that that the agenda for the meeting includes approving the minutes of the last meeting, scrutinising the 'payment and settlement systems bill' and miscellaneous topics. However, if any member of the committee wants, they can raise any issue as a miscellaneous topic.
The parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry has 10 members including the finance minister. Two of the members are of the opposition, one being Jatiya Party's Rana Mohammad Sohel and the other BNP's Harunur Rashid.
Speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Sunday night, MP Harunur Rashid said, the parliamentary committee should certainly discuss the state of the economy. He said that even though the meeting has been called after five long months, he is unable to join the meeting today, Monday, as he did not receive the notice in time. He said he only received news of the meeting yesterday (Sunday) afternoon. By then he had already left Dhaka and was on the way to his home constituency in Chapainawabganj. He said, till the evening no letter was sent to his office about the meeting. He only heard that the meeting had been summoned basically to discuss a certain bill.
According to the Jatiya Sangsad Rules of Procedure, it is compulsory for the parliamentary standing committees on the various ministries to hold meetings at least once a month. But most of the parliamentary committees do not adhere to this rule
The BNP lawmaker said, the economy was in a crisis. Had he been apprised of the parliamentary standing committee meeting in time, he would have been prepared to discuss inflation, the price of essentials, the dollar market and such. It was meaningless to summon a meeting without informing the members in time. In the past too, when discussions on economic issues were raised, the deliberations were cut short. In many instances the meetings were hurriedly concluded. About this parliamentary committee holding only a few meetings, he said the members can do nothing if the chairman does not summon a meeting.
According to the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament)'s Rules of Procedure, it is compulsory for the parliamentary standing committees on the various ministries to hold meetings at least once a month. But most of the parliamentary committees do not adhere to this rule. The parliamentary committee on the finance ministry is one of the committees that does not hold regular meetings. In the present parliament, the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry was formed on 6 February 2019. Over these past three and a half years or so, this committee has held only eight meetings.
When asked why the parliamentary committee on the finance ministry does not hold regular meetings, the committee chairman Abul Hasan Mahmud Ali told the Prothom Alo correspondent, "Don't you know that everything is closed because of Covid, that meetings aren't held? Can these be held? It is too risky."
Mahmud Ali was also unwilling to disclose the agenda of the meeting being held today, Monday. He said that this will be made public in a press release after the meeting.
According to the parliament's Rules of Procedure, the task of the ministry-based parliamentary standing committee is to scrutinise any bill or issue sent by the parliament and to review the performance of the ministry under the particular committee. The committee is to investigate any irregularities or serious allegations against the ministry and, if it so deems, to scrutinise any issue related to the committee and issue recommendations accordingly. However, the eight meetings held by the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry so far have basically dealt with passing bills.
During the Jatiya Sangsad session in April, members of the opposition sternly criticised the rising price of essentials. With the parliament not being in session at the moment, there is no scope for discussion in the House. When the parliament is not in session, there is scope to discuss various issues in the parliamentary standing committees.
Concerned people feel that there should be discussions on the state of the economy and the market several times a month in the parliamentary standing committees on the finance ministry and the commerce ministry. They say that the parliamentary committees can make recommendations to the relevant parliamentary committees. But both the important committees are inactive.
The meeting of the parliamentary committee on the finance ministry in February discussed the Trade Organisation Bill. After that, over the past three months, the committee has not held any meeting. Last year (2021) this committee did not hold any meetings. One of the members of the committee, AKM Bahauddin, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that the committee held only few meetings because of corona.
The meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the commerce ministry, at its meeting in October 2020, discussed the issues of commodity prices. At the meeting it was said that in order to keep the potato and onion market stable, it had directed that the demands for the various commodities be assessed at least five to six months in advance. It also recommended that talks be held with both the retailers and the wholesalers as well as the importers to avoid any crisis and also to keep adequate supply in stock. The committee also recommended that if any such situation arose, a meeting should be held among the ministers and secretaries of the finance, commerce, agriculture and food ministries to identify the problems and take measures to overcome these.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) regularly publishes a research report on the Jatiya Sangsad and the activities of the parliamentary committees.
TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman told Prothom Alo that the parliamentary standing committees should place importance in discussing matters related to national interest. The state of the economy is now being discussed widely. The government should also speak about this. The parliamentary standing committees can provide the government with recommendations about what initiatives can be taken in the situation. This is within their jurisdiction.
Experts on parliamentary affairs said the parliamentary standing committees can discuss various problems of the people and the country, can give meaningful recommendations to the ministries, can give directives. The committees can also point out any mistakes that may appear in the ministries' activities or policy decisions. But it is unfortunate that though there is a sort of unrest prevailing in market control and the economy, the parliamentary standing committee remains silent and evades its responsibility.
* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir