Evade conflict of interest within the parliamentary committees

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

It was quite a good initiative to bring amendments in the parliamentary rule of procedures to choose presidents of the parliamentary standing committees from among the MPs outside the cabinet in 1997.

Before that, the ministers used to be the president of the respective parliamentary standing committees which did not comply with parliamentary democracy. Questions were raised as to how accountable would be the executive when a minister, who is the chief of the ministry, becomes the head of the concerned parliamentary standing committee.

The 12th national parliament has formed a total of 50 parliamentary standing committees within just five days of starting. Of them, 39 are standing committees on different ministries. The remaining 11 committees are on parliamentary affairs.

The main task of a parliamentary standing committee is to review the works of the concerned ministry and to investigate major allegations of irregularities and corruption. Besides, these committees also make necessary recommendations to respective ministries after analysing the bills raised in parliament.

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Just like the past, questions have been raised regarding the presidents and members of the parliamentary standing committees this time as well.

According to the rules of procedures of parliament, any person who has personal, financial and direct interests under consideration of the committee cannot be a member of the committee.

According to a Prothom Alo report, conflicts of interest are likely in at least six of the committees, including the committee on the commerce ministry. The remaining five include parliamentary standing committees on the labour ministry, power, energy and minerals ministry, shipping ministry, expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry and the local government, rural development ministry.

Six of the nine members of the parliamentary standing committee on commerce ministry are businesspersons. However, Chief Whip of the national parliament Nur-e-Alam Chowdhury does not see any problem in that.

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He said many of the committee members have business and there is no problem with that. We have to see whether they are doing business with the government.

It is hard to form any parliamentary standing committee excluding businesspersons, when the majority of the MPs in the parliament are businesspersons. Still, it would be prudent to exclude businesspersons from the parliamentary standing committee on the commerce ministry.

Parliament researcher and former professor of the Chittagong University Nizam Uddin told Prothom Alo that it would have been better if the persons, who have personal interest with the respective ministries, were not included in the parliamentary standing committees.

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A conflict of interest is unavoidable when persons involved in shipping business are included in the parliamentary standing committee on the shipping ministry or the owners of garment industries are included in the parliamentary committee on labour ministry. Many of the members of the new parliamentary committees have business with the government. To avoid conflict of interest the MPs should inform the speaker or the chief whip regarding this beforehand.

Another problem surfaced with the ‘incorporation’ of the former ministers by appointing them as presidents of the parliamentary standing committees on the respective ministries. Many consider it as a consolation prize.

The rationale behind choosing the ex-ministers is they are well-informed about the activities of the concerned ministries. The negative side of this is the chances of exerting influence while investigating any allegation of irregularities of corruption during the previous term.

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A mental conflict is also not impossible when a former minister is made the president of the parliamentary standing committee on the respective ministry. Besides, many of the presidents of different parliamentary standing committees do not have even the minimal knowledge about related matters.

The role of the opposition is also quite important for a meaningful parliament. However, it is unfortunate that there is no real opposition in the parliament this time as well as the previous two terms. Considering this reality, the speaker should come forward to restructure the parliamentary committees excluding members who can cause a conflict of interest in the future