ISLAMABAD - President Mamnoon Hussain has supported a request for getting access to attendance record of MNAs, directing the National Assembly Secretariat to furnish the information within 15 days.

The information will unveil the details as to how many MNAs remained absent from the proceedings of the house, a record the lower house has kept secret.

The access to the attendance record of MNAs was sought by Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) that approached the federal ombudsman, making the National Assembly Secretariat as respondent.

As the case landed at the Presidency, President Mamnoon Hussain upheld PILDAT’s request for attendance record of MNAs, directing the National Assembly Secretariat to provide the information to PILDAT in 15 days.

The Presidential verdict No. 441/WM/2013 dated 6th July 2015 on ‘Ahmed Bilal Mehboob versus National Assembly Secretariat’ case was made on July 6, rejecting the appeal of the National Assembly Secretariat that it had made in October 2013 against the federal ombudsman’s recommendation to the National Assembly of Pakistan to provide the attendance records of individual members to PILDAT.

The President’s order states that the required information (attendance records of MNAs) neither falls in the exclusion clause nor in the exempted clause of the relevant law, so the impugned decision of the wafaqi mohtasib is unexceptionable.

PILDAT, the petitioner, celebrated the move, terming it a landmark decision what it claimed would strengthen democracy and legislation in the National assembly, besides making MNAs accountable before voters.

It said that following the President’s order, it remains crucial for Pakistan’s citizens and media to ensure that the National Assembly Secretariat provides the requested attendance record of members of the National Assembly within a fortnight as instructed.

PILDAT which has been struggling for greater transparency in the Parliament and the provincial assemblies for years believes that public record of attendance of honourable public representatives is one of the basic requirements of democracy.

Flouting all standards of transparency, openness and public access, the National Assembly has continued to maintain that attendance record of MNAs should not be made publicly available.

This position of the National Assembly, PIDAT said in a statement, belies both regional and international good parliamentary practices where attendance records of public representatives such as Lok Sabha in India are openly available on their websites.

Taking a leaf out of standards of openness and transparency, one of Pakistan’s own provincial legislatures, the provincial assembly of the Punjab, has begun to make attendance records of MPAs available online on its website.

“The regressive stance taken by the National Assembly is, therefore, both unfathomable and without legitimate ground as upheld by the Presidential decree of July 6,” it added.

PILDAT sought from the National Assembly the complete record of attendance of each MNA for the term 2008-2013 in March 2013. However, the National Assembly Secretariat declined to share the required information.

Resultantly, it sought the information, invoking the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002, but the request was again turned down by the assembly, maintaining that the attendance record of MNAs does not constitute a public record under section 7 of the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002.

PILDAT filed a complaint before the Ombudsman of Pakistan, maintaining that attendance of parliamentarians does not constitute excluded information under Section 15-18 of the FOI 2002 and that PILDAT, as an indigenous organisation by Pakistani citizens, has the right to know the commitment and dedication of the MNAs towards their legislative duties for which they were elected through an electoral process.

The order of President Hussain maintains that the contention of the National Assembly is misconceived in nature and that the assembly’s representation is rejected on the following grounds:

“Articles 66 and 67 of the Constitution do not apply to the facts for the reasons that Article 66 primarily gives the immunity and privileges to a parliamentarian for speeches on the floor of the house and Article 67 pertains to framing the Rules of Procedure with regard to proceedings in the house,” the order adds.

The President rejects the representation by the National Assembly, directing it to provide the attendance records of MNAs within 15 days.