ISLAMABAD  - The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a non-government organisation, Friday called for redefinition of the powers of the Senate and its standing committees in order to enhance the Upper House’s oversight as executive branch of government and to help ensure that the treasury is delivering on official commitments made to the house.

The recommendations were made at the launching ceremony of FAFEN’s Annual Senate Report 2013-14, which is based on its direct observation of Senate proceedings during the 11th parliamentary year. Senate Chairman Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari chaired the ceremony.

For greater transparency and accessibility, FAFEN, a network of 42 Pakistani civil society organisations, says that all proposed legislation must be made available for public scrutiny through each stage of the legislative process, and parliamentary proceedings should be open to citizen observers who apply for accreditation through a standardised process. The FAFEN also recommends that a dedicated television station and/or radio channel should be launched to air the proceedings of all legislative bodies. Similarly, all standing committees should have websites to reflect their performance and their proceedings should be open to citizen observers.

The FAFEN called for robust procedures to track government assurances through an assurance committee and to monitor that standing committees meet within required time periods in order to deal with the business mandated to them and curb backlog. According to FAFEN, no vote should be allowed in the Senate without a quorum, especially votes on proposed legislation.

To ensure that the Senate’s time is utilised effectively, FAFEN says Parliament should design a more achievable agenda for the orders of the day, and suggests that points of order raised other than during the zero hour should be disallowed and not documented. The time for zero hour should be increased to enable the full participation of senators as long as the quorum is maintained, and time for private members’ agenda should also be increased.

With regard to some senators’ low participation in legislative proceedings, FAFEN proposes that senators should be required to attend a series of professional development seminars so that they have the skills and information to participate more meaningfully in legislative business. Senators should also be facilitated to take advantage of the support available through the Pakistan Institute for Parliamentary Services (PIPS) in order to enhance the Senate’s legislative output.

According to FAFEN’s Annual Senate Report 2013-14, the Senate made 113 recommendations for the 2013-14 annual budget, of which 21 were incorporated by the National Assembly for the first time. A total of 31 bills appeared on the agenda, including six government bills and 25 private members’ bills, and seven bills were sent by the National Assembly. The Senate passed two private members’ bills, while 24 bills were introduced but not passed and five bills were not taken up. The Senate adopted 26 out of 50 resolutions tabled, 23 calling attention notices (CANs) were put up, of which 16 were taken up and seven remained un-addressed. Fifty-eight senators submitted 1,067 questions, of which 1,022 were starred and 45 un-starred, while 918 supplementary queries were also raised. As many as 588 points of order were raised, consuming 19 per cent of the total session time.