Quorum crisis

The 15th session of the tenth parliament is set to begin on May 2, 2017. Mohiuddin Alamgir writes how a quorum crisis is deeply hampering the overall function of the parliament

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A lawmaker’s presence at the parliament is immensely important to help at playing a central role of the Parliament at making new laws as well as making changes to existing legislation. Other lawmakers have to play their roles of scrutinising the work of the government by questioning the prime minister, other ministers, debating and standing committee work, check and approve budget, government spending and taxation.

The Jatiya Sangsad of Bangladesh is no exception. The current parliament is already facing controversies as it was made through an election that was boycotted by many major parties, around a half of the total lawmakers were elected uncontested and with the main opposition facing an ‘identity crisis’ that it cornered itself into by being in the opposition bench and holding cabinet positions at the same time.

Against this backdrop, the 15th session of the current parliament is going to begin on May 2 and parliament watchdogs said that opposition parties are not boycotting the sessions and walkouts are hardly taking place. But quorum crisis has hit the proceedings hard during the beginning of almost all the sittings of the Jatiya Sangsad as well as after Magrib prayer break.

According to the Transparency International Bangladesh, quorum crisis along with delay in the beginning of the sittings, which eventually affected day to day activities, led to a waste of about Tk 87 crore in between 1st and 13th sessions of the current 10th Parliament.

In the parliament watch reports, released by the TIB from July 2014 to April 2017, it can be seen that the total time lost due to quorum crisis is estimated to be 114 hours and 14 minutes in between 1st and 13th sessions. Monetary value for the total time lost during these sessions is estimated at Tk 87.92 crore.

TIB estimated that during the first session, total time lost due to quorum crisis was 17 hours and 07 minutes and at that time the cost involved for running the Parliament session per minute was around Tk 78,000. Thus, considering theses estimates the monetary value for the total time lost was estimated at Tk 8.1 crore.

During second and sixth sessions, the total time lost due to quorum crisis increased to 48 hours and 41 minutes and at that time the cost involved for running the Parliament session per minute was around Tk 1.1 lakh. Thus, considering theses estimates the monetary value for the total time lost was estimated at Tk 32.62 crore.

In between seventh and 13th sessions, total time lost due to quorum crisis was 48 hours and 26 minutes. With the cost involved for running the Parliament session per minute at around Tk 1.62 lakh, monetary value for the total time lost was estimated at Tk 47.20 crore.

The report made the estimation of the money value per minute for running the parliament based on the revised budget for the Parliament for the corresponding fiscals. The main items of expenditure taken into consideration were salaries and allowances of employees of the Parliament Secretariat, repair and maintenance costs, electricity bills, supplies and services, and remuneration and allowances of Parliamentarians. Expenses for parliamentary committees and International Institutions were deducted.

Quorum crisis happens due to delay of taking seats by the members, said TIB in its parliament watch reports since 2014, when the first sitting of the current parliament was held.

Parliament secretariat sources said that many lawmakers of current parliament are businessmen turned politician. Most of them show less interest in parliament activities. Also, many lawmakers and ministers remain busy with state and personal works during the sittings.

Chief whip ASM Feroz, however, said that TIB calculation of money value of per minute for running the parliament based on the revised budget for the parliament for the corresponding fiscals was ‘wrong’.

‘During a session, only electricity bills is added to the other usual expenditure of parliament secretariat annually,’ he says. He asks, ‘How can the expense for running a parliament per minute be so high?’

Feroz assures that quorum crisis has been on the decline during the 10th parliament, when compared to previous parliament tenures.

TIB trustee board chairman Sultana Kamal and executive director Iftekhauzzman both said that though the quorum crisis is declining, this is still a matter of concern.

According to the rules of procedure, presence of at least 60 out of 350 lawmakers is mandatory for continuing proceedings of the parliament. There are 276 lawmakers from Awami League and 40 from Jatiya Party fraction led by HM Ershad, others from Workers Party of Bangladesh, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Tariqat Federation, Jatiya Party fraction led by Anwar Hossain Manju, Bangladesh Nationalist Front and independent.

Parliament secretariat officials said that in most sittings parliament session begins with 65 to 70 lawmakers present in the house. Many times even front row of the treasury and opposition benches are found almost empty.

Several lawmakers said that whips, and parliamentary party leaders can play vital role to reduce the quorum crisis by making lawmakers more active in joining sessions.

Chief whip ASM Feroz said that quorum crisis exists in all parliaments across the globe. ‘MPs usually attend sessions. But they end up leaving the house for different reasons including medication and state affairs,’ he concludes.