One year on, PTI’s legislative agenda must gather speed
When Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan launched his party’s 100-day agenda roughly two months before the general election last year, it was heralded as a welcome first-of-its-kind document that demonstrated his party’s readiness to undertake critical national-level reforms.
Khan’s 100-day agenda covered 28 key objectives under six broad themes including the transformation of governance, strengthening the federation, economy, agriculture and water conservation, social services and national security. About 30 task forces and committees were constituted to produce 57 specific documents to clearly define the reform agenda of the new government.
The PTI’s election manifesto which was launched a few days after the agenda also set 49 targets for the party. It was estimated that roughly 200 laws would need to be drafted, debated and passed by the national and provincial legislatures to give effect to the plans and policies of the new government. This, in effect, set the five year legislative agenda of the PTI government.
In stark contrast to the formidable legislative agenda set by the 100-day program and the election manifesto of the PTI, the party’s first year of legislative performance especially in the Parliament, has not been impressive.
The National Assembly passed a total of 10 bills during its first year. Three of these were either supplementary finance bills or the finance bill, which is a routine obligation. Four bills covered routine amendments to existing laws and the other two were meant to repeal two old laws.
The only substantive legislation passed during the year was the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, which proposed to increase the number of seats from erstwhile FATA in the National and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assemblies.
Even this private member’s bill was not taken up by the Senate and so it could not become law. In addition, the PTI Government promulgated seven ordinances during its first year. One of the ordinances related to Assets Declaration, which was criticized by many as it negated the PTI’s past opposition to giving amnesty to people who concealed their wealth and did not pay taxes.
In order to move forward, the PTI government needs to improve its working relationship with the opposition in order to pass more laws, especially in the Senate.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
The ‘Naya Pakistan Housing Authority Ordinance,’ however, was a serious step towards implementing PTI promise to construct 5 million low-cost homes. But other ordinances related to routine business did not further the party’s legislative agenda in any significant way.
The thin majority of the PTI-led coalition government in the National Assembly and its lack of majority in the Senate, makes legislation a challenging task for the government, which must show its resolve by introducing robust legislation and engaging with the opposition to get bills passed.
The total pending bills in the National Assembly stand at 62 at the end of the first year. Three bills passed by the National Assembly are also pending before the Senate, including a bill regarding a proposed increase in the number of Islamabad High Court judges – an issue directly impacting the dispensation of justice to the public.
The provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have passed 16 and 30 laws respectively, many of which are more relevant to the PTI’s manifesto. The party has always championed effective local governments and both assemblies have passed local government laws which may be considered the PTI’s most important legislative accomplishment to date.
The Punjab Assembly has also passed the ‘Aab-e-Pak Authority Act’ which, if rigorously implemented, will address a critical public issue regarding safe drinking water.
But many of the PTI’s key policy preferences, like impartial accountability, police reforms, speedy justice, a just tax system and institutional reforms within institutions like the FBR and state-owned enterprises, have been absent in legislation during the party’s first year in power.
In order to move forward, the PTI government needs to quicken its pace. It must improve its working relationship with the opposition in order to pass more laws, especially in the Senate. If, despite government efforts, the opposition does not cooperate, the government can at least demonstrate its good intentions by introducing people-friendly legislation in the legislatures.
It is understandable if the opposition resorts to protests, but the government must refrain from time-wasting tactics and place a greater focus on legislation.