In all democratic countries, standing committees are considered vital for promoting democratic culture, ensuring accountability and suggesting progressive recommendations on any particular issue to the Parliament. The purpose of forming any such body is to focus on one particular issue at a time. This way, members of the said body come up with recommendations after studying the issue at length.

Pakistan, like all other parliamentary countries, has standing committees in both houses of the parliament. In Pakistan too, the standing committees include the members from both treasury and opposition benches, which in itself is a step forward towards participatory democracy. However, a recently published report in The Nation evaluated the performance of different Standing Committees. The report reveals that most of these committees met only about ten times in the last four parliamentary years.

How much seriousness do these committees show on the burning issues that Pakistan is facing? One can imagine how seriously these standing committees take up issues of urgent importance by looking at an example of a standing committee that focused on discussing the push-ups of Pakistan’s cricket team. Pakistan is facing some serious problems that no other country in the region is suffering from. An awful human rights record, environmental degradation, adverse effects of global warming on Pakistan, water scarcity, growing militancy and intolerance, abysmal performance in education and degrading conditions of public health are longstanding issues that need the attention of our lawmakers. Not a single committee on these respective areas has come up with a comprehensive plan to find some solution for the abovementioned problems.

One argument often given, to avoid criticism, in this regard is that lack of democratic culture is the root cause of all these problems. But, it can also be argued that the poor performance of our legislative members and visionless leadership has further deteriorated the state’s performance in all public sectors. There is no excuse for legislative lethargy. Political stability has returned to Pakistan now. It seems difficult that somewhere in the future any adventurist general will roll back the democratic process. Now is the time for the parliament to make these committees more responsive and alert to issues they are supposed to deal with. The parliament should ask these bodies to function as per their objective; ie, legislative oversight. In this regard, clear and proper rules and procedures should be devised – starting with compulsory attendance for lawmakers and regular meetings of standing committees.