Roles of MPs: In light of the constitution
Md. Anwarul Kabir
Article 65 (1) There shall be a Parliament for Bangladesh (to be known as the House of the Nation) in which subject to the provisions of this Constitution, shall be vested the legislative powers of the Republic….
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh
The 9th Parliament has initiated with a promise to establish true democratic ethos in the country in the changed political context. Although in 1991, after the fall of prolonged autocracy, Bangladesh restarted parliamentary democracy, it failed to erect an effective and efficient Parliament. Especially, the controversial role of the speaker, session boycotts, quorum crisis, sidelining Parliamentary Standing Committees were marked as salient features of the immediate past parliament. In true sense, the parliament became insignificant and moth-eaten due to the hegemony of the corrupt MPs and so virtually the republic was administered by the Prime Minister and her kitchen cabinet. This unaccountability of the government sharply violated the Article 55(3) of the constitution which explicitly states that, "The Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament".
Voters this time have rendered AL a landslide victory as it has pledged for bringing a positive change by rendering Good-Governance. For this, the first and foremost task is to make the Parliament an efficient and effective one. Over the decades, our MPs in previous parliaments totally lost their focal point in discharging their obligations. According to Article 65(1), MPs are vested with legislative powers of the Republic and so their supreme obligation is to formulate, modify various legislations with a view to administering country in righteous ways following the peoples' aspiration as the Article 7(1) confirms that all powers in the Republic belong to the people. Instead of working at the policy level, MPs in the past involved in local development works which ultimately led them to be involved in all pervasive financial corruptions. For them, the major motivation for becoming MPs was to be a "millionaire" within a shortest possible time at the cost of public fund. Consequently, the nation observed the influence of black money in the electoral races. Due to this paradigm shift of politicians' psyche, the Parliament became ineffective and democracy was at a stake.
For survival and strengthening our democracy, the Parliament must be the focal point of our national politics. To bring a positive change, while discharging their obligations, MPs must be aware of their constitutional roles and jurisdictions. MPs are not meant for involving themselves in local development works, rather they have to work at national policy level. According to Article 59(1) the local government bodies in every administrative unit of the republic are the major actors of all sorts of local development works. Yes, the Parliament has something to do for the local government and this is also defined in our constitution. Article 60 has clearly defined, "….. Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies, including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds". So the Parliament is constitutionally bound to provide the local government bodies with full autonomy. Hopefully, instead of involving the MPs in local development works, this Parliament will facilitate the local governments to be effective and efficient in line with the constitution.
As we are following the West Minister style parliamentary system, we should consider the roles of MPs in the British Parliament. British MPs split their time between working in Parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them, and working for their political party. In their constituency, MPs often hold a 'surgery' in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matter that concerns them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster. As in Britain, our MPs should also play vital roles both in the Parliament and their respective constituencies.
For this, Government may allocate offices for the MPs in their constituencies so that they can keep in close touch with the people at grass root levels with a view to assessing the opinions of the people regarding laws to be introduced and other government policies. Besides, MPs should monitor different activities of the local government bodies from a distance just to ensure that they follow the Parliament adopted policies justifiably.
Our constitution has rendered the Parliament a supreme honour considering MPs sensible and responsible citizens. For instance, Articles 78(1), 78(2), 78(3), 78(4) render the special immunity to MPs and they are not accountable to any court for their utterance in any parliamentary session. Unfortunately, in the past, many MPs misused this privilege and turned the Parliament into unprofessional and unethical discussion forum. Hopefully, this time, MPs through their performance will enhance the dignity of the Parliament.
In the past we observed that many of the Parliament sessions were either suspended or adjourned due to serious quorum crisis. It may be noted that according to the Article 72(2), to run a session, the presence of only 60 members out of 300 members is required. It was a shame for the past Parliaments that they failed to ensure the presence of this minimum number of MPs in many sessions. MPs must be aware that each session of the Parliament costs huge amount of Tax Payers' money. So, on part of an MP, attending Parliament sessions is a moral obligation, if not legal one.
Continuous boycott of Parliamentary sessions by the opposition made the last Parliaments ineffective. Due to partisan roles of the speakers, row over trifling matters led the opposition party to boycott the Parliament. This time, people have wanted to see the different scenario. However, this is unfortunate that raising dispute over mere seat arrangement, this time too, the opposition has refrained from attending the session. The crisis of sitting arrangement could be easily resolved if the notion of the treasury bench changes in accordance with the Prime Minister's quotable quote, "The opposition will not be evaluated in terms of numbers." On the other hand, people of the country are not approving the present rigid stance of the opposition on the issue. We hope, both the opposition and treasury benches will resolve the problem immediately.
To make the Parliament effective, Article 76 dictates for appointing Standing Committees
of Parliament on different issues of public importance. These highly empowered committees should examine draft bills and other legislative proposals, review the enforcement of laws and monitor the activities of the concerned ministries. Definitely, this will promote the good governance of the country. However, our past Parliaments undermining the Parliamentary Standing Committees curbed the roles of the Parliament in Governments activities. However, it is appreciative that the new Parliament has initiated its encouraging step to empower these Standing Committees. Besides, it is a praiseworthy gesture of the treasury bench that it has offered at least four chairmanships to opposition in such Committees. In this context, it is expected that this Parliament will establish the office of the Ombudsman following Article 77 as it will further enhance the accountability of the government.
Finally, it is expected that all MPs for the greater interest of the country should play active participation in the Parliamentary session. For this, they should acquire adequate knowledge on constitution and other government policies. However, at present for a healthy parliamentary debate, Article 70(1) is a barrier. This article restricts an MP to vote against the decision of his/her party. This is a severe blow to the fundamental freedom of expression. Conscious citizens of the country expect the wipe out of this article from our constitution soon. In fact, the Parliament should be a place, in Tagore's words, "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high/Where knowledge is free/Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls/ Where words come out from the depth of truth/ Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection/ Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit/ Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action".
Md. Anwarul Kabir is an educationalist and a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com