The nation is witnessing one of the worst acts of violence and harassment against journalists. The same week a journalist was beaten up by unknown assailants in Islamabad, Parliament saw the introduction of a bill on the protection of journalists tabled in the National Assembly by the Minister for Human Rights. The following week, news of a draft Pakistan Media Development Authority 2021 ordinance, which media and rights groups called “martial law on the media,” began to circulate.
The timing is ironic and bizarre to say the least. If, on the one hand, the government takes legislative measures to give journalists their constitutional right to full safety of life and protection against censorship, threats and intimidation, on the other hand, it restricts their freedom. expression by institutionalizing censorship through an ordinance.
One wonders why, in the recent past, issues relating to the restriction of fundamental rights and the restriction of freedom of expression have been the subject of swift and hasty legislation by Parliament or the use of ordinances , while bills on the protection of rights or on matters of public interest go through cumbersome and tedious processes which may take years to pass or which may even fail completely due to the various obstacles, both systemic and created, in the legislative process.
The Minister of Human Rights admitted in a tweet that it had taken two years to finalize the draft law on the protection of journalists. Not only should this bill be speeded up in parliament, but it should also enjoy strong and popular support in its implementation. Why am I not too hopeful that this will happen? Firstly, due to the contradictory behavior of this government visible through the counterproductive order of the PMDA, and secondly, I have witnessed how several bills on matters of public importance have lapsed for lack of attention or are continually delayed due to the lukewarm response from the government. . Too often, MPs have been pressured into withdrawing a bill on the pretext that a similar bill was in the works or would soon be introduced by the government.
According to Pildat, out of 48 laws adopted by parliament since October 8, 2018 – after the swearing-in of the current National Assembly – the average time between the tabling and the adoption of a bill is five months and six days . During the same period, the longest time it took for a bill (Islamabad Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Act, 2020) to go through the various stages of the legislation was 18 months and 10 days. The shortest timeframe was two days, in the case of the Anti-terrorism Act of 2020. On the contrary, these statistics reveal our legislative priorities.
The Senate Parliamentary Year 2020-2021 report shows that of 62 private members’ bills tabled during the year, only 16 were passed – a glimpse of the grim situation we find ourselves in. These numbers reflect systemic issues that increasingly undermine the ability of citizens to be representatives in the development of public policy laws.
Private members’ bills in particular take a very rocky road and a lucky few reach their intended destination. Investing in terms of time and effort in designing, drafting, presenting, lobbying and defending a bill only to see it lapse or withdraw for lack of serious debate or attention or prioritization leaves most members demotivated.
Not so long ago, Islamabad’s Mandatory Vaccination and Health Worker Protection Bill 2019 had to be reintroduced in the Senate after it expired despite an earlier introduction and unanimous passage in 2015.
A bill that aims to protect the country’s children through vaccination against diseases that can lead to death and disability was first introduced in the Senate in April 2015, when it was referred to the Standing Committee on health for detailed deliberations and a public hearing which led to various improvements and unanimous adoption by the Senate in December 2015. It was then referred to the National Assembly where despite the unanimous adoption in committee of health, it was not presented to the National Assembly in time for the vote and thus lapsed in accordance with Article 126 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Senate Business. When it was reintroduced, and despite the unanimous adoption by the Senate in January 2020, this bill was included more than twice on the agenda for deputies’ day but was never taken up again. for tabling in the National Assembly.
Does this not reflect a systemic problem in our legislative process or is it a manifestation of misplaced government priorities where matters of public importance, especially health, are low? It is hoped that a joint session of parliament in accordance with Article 127 will soon be convened to consider all unfortunate bills like the one above which concern the safeguarding of the lives of our children – and that matters of public importance receive the same urgency and the same attention. like ordinances restricting freedoms?
The writer is a former senator and was the prime minister’s focal point for polio eradication.
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Twitter: @ ayesharaza13