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Bangladesh 8th Jatiya Sangsad: A Review

 

Paper 707                             05.06.2003

By Jyoti M. Pathania 

Introduction:

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with broad powers exercised by the prime minister.  Past records show that the opposition party in Bangladesh be it the Awami League or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the role of the opposition has been destructive rather than constructive.  Opposition in the past parliaments and even today  are either absent from parliament or boycott it, making it a less effective deliberative body.  The party in majority  prevents real debates on legislation and national issues nurturing in negative attitude, foul play and negative politics.  The 8th Jatiya Sangsad  which commenced on 8th May was no different.

Bangladesh is a very poor country but recently foreign investment has significantly increased in the gas and electrical power generation.  Periodic natural disasters also hamper its development.  Nature’s fury is a stumbling bloc for Bangladesh road to development.   Bangladesh is a nascent democracy or could be said democracy in its salad years.  Refusing to learn from its past parliamentary experiences it has not been able to achieve any noteworthy development in the last 32 years.  The main reason has been the endemic conflicts and disunity among the political parties on major national issues.  Political observers and analysts feel if this is rectified ever? i.e. if political unity is ensured on national issues then the country will progress. 

Political Unity   <On>   National Issues   <Will ensure>   Political Stability   <Will increase>  Direct investment Flow <Lead to>   Poverty eradication                        

Henceforth political unity is directly proportional to poverty eradication and the overall development of Bangladesh. 2Stephen Smith, head of the South Asian Department of British Foreign and Common wealth office reacting to a question about his impression about the current parliament and the opposition’s boycott of the current session, said though he will not comment on specific issues, he observed that in any democratic parliament differences of views is inevitable, but there is a need for resolving the differences and allowing the system to continue. 

Parliamentary Proceedings: 

Part V of Chapter 1 of the constitution of Bangladesh says that there shall be a parliament/Jatiya Sangsad (to be known as the House of Nations) in which subject to the provisions of this constitution shall be vested the legislative powers of the republic.

The president of Bangladesh Iajuddin Ahmed summoned the 7th session of the 8th parliament on the 8th of May at 7pm (BST) at the Parliament building.  The president summoned the session as per clause (1) of Article 72 of the Constitution, which empowers him to summon the session of the Jatiya Sabha.

Parliament shall be summoned, prorogued and dissolved by the president by public notification and when summoning, the president shall specify the time and palace of the first meeting. Provided that a period exceeding 60 days shall not intervene between the end of one session and the first sitting of the parliament in the next session. 

The Eight Jatiya Sangsad:

The present Jatiya Sangsad/House of the Nation is a unicameral legislature and is the second to have been elected after the Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act 1996 providing for holding of general election under a non-party caretaker Government came into force. In the general election held on October 1, 2001 the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (B. N. P.) secured an absolute majority winning as many as 191 seats. B.N. P and its allies in the Four-party Alliance secured a comfortable two-third majority in the House.  The strength of the parties in Parliament, as it emerged after the general election held on the 1st of Oct. 2001 and after the by-elections respectively are as follows: -

 

Political Party

October 2001

November 2002

1

Four-party Alliance  -

(214)

(220)

 

a. Bangladesh Nationalist Party

(191)

(196)

 

b. Jamat-e-Islami, Bangladesh

(17)

(17)

 

c. Jatiya Party (N.F)

(4)

(4)

 

d. Islami Oikya Jote

(2)

(3)

2

Bangladesh Awami League

62

59

3

Jatiya Party (Ershad)

14

14

4

Jatiya Party (Manju)

1

1

5

Krishak Sramik Janata League

1

1

6

Independents

6

5

 

TOTAL

298

300

Source: http://wwwparliamentofbangladesh.org/general-13html 

Tenure of the Parliament: 

The parliament dissolves after the period of five years, unless dissolved by the President earlier. This period of 5 years may be extended by an act of parliament but by not more than one year at a time. The actual term of seven previous parliaments is shown below: 

Parliament Date of First Sitting Date of Dissolution Actual Term
First Parliament April 7,1973 Nov.6, 1975 2 years 6 months
Second Parliament April 2,1979 March 24,1982 2 years 11 months
Third Parliament July 10, 1986 Dec. 6,1987 1 year 5 months
Fourth Parliament April 15,1988 Dec. 6,1990 2 years 7 months
Fifth Parliament April 5, 1991 Nov. 24,1995 4 years 8 months
Sixth Parliament March 19, 1996 March 30,1996     12 days
Seventh Parliament July 14, 1996 July 13, 2001 5 years
Eight Parliament October 28,2001 Continuing  

Source: Http:// www parliamentofbangladesh.org/general.4html 

Issues discussed in the House of Nations:

The opposition wanted at least 7 days session but the ruling party denied it keeping in view the upcoming budget session, which is to be summoned in the second week of June. The opposition party boycotted the session on the very opening day protesting against the switching off the microphone of the leader of opposition party and  against the appointment of Major (retd) Khairuzzaman an accused in the jail killing case to the foreign ministry. Despite their absence a number of issues were discussed, some of the important ones have been mentioned below:

  

Standing Committee:

  

The committee system in Jatiya sabha has its roots in the constitution itself.  The foundation of the system has been laid down in article 76, which has been quoted below: Article 76(1) Parliament shall appoint from among its members the following standing committees i.e. to say

a)      A public accounts committee

b)      Committee on privileges

c)      Such other standing committee as the rules of procedure of parliament requires

 76(2) In addition to the committees referred to in clause (1), parliament shall appoint other standing committees, and a committee so appointed may, subject to this constitution and to any other law.

The much-awaited parliamentary standing committees was be finally constituted during this session. The prime ministers parliamentary affairs advisor Salauddin Kader 3said that ruling party would constitute standing committees during this session. He further said in the event of the 10 member committees two opposition members would be accommodated under formulae of proportional representation. But in the case of 12 members or 15 members committees, 3 opposition members would be inducted. About the allocation of chairmanship of the Standing committees, he said no chairmanship would be offered to the opposition since they want to follow the past tradition. 

 

(SCs) on Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Textile, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Estimated Expenditure, Public Undertaking, Public Institution, Public Accounts, Petition, and JS Library were formed on May 12 last. Earlier, the government formed four SCs on Sangsad Committee, Rules of Procedure Committee, Business Advisory Committee and on Private Members Bills and Resolution. 113 Adjournment motions submitted by the opposition law makers  were rejected by   the government on grounds of lack of sufficient evidence. 

*

 Law Reforms:

Law minister Moudud Ahmed said the government is planning for major law reforms to protect litigants from harassment in the course of legal procedure by imposing cost on injunction and adjournment of hearing.

  

Opposition Mooted issues:

The opposition wanted to discuss the following national and international issues like the gas export to India, rising prices of the essential items, deteriorating laws and order situation, load shedding, Iraq issue, looting of arms and ammunition from lower forces, non formation of the parliamentary standing issues., repeated ferry incidents, exchange of fire by the BDR and the BSF, criminal activities and terrorism which are still on the rise. 

 The Awami League (AL) further questioned inclusion of ministers in two of the 11 parliamentary standing committees formed by the Jatiya Sangsad claiming that it was in clear violation of the Rules of Procedure claimed the Opposition Chief Whip 4Abdus Shahid ,Referring to rules 234 and 239 that deal with the formation of such committees, Shahid said the Speaker wrongly did not mention the relevant rules to constitute the committees as he was not well informed about those. The rule relating to formation of the Public Accounts Committee reads, "The committee shall consist of not more than ten members who shall be elected by the House: Provided that a Minister shall not be elected a member of the committee, and that if a member, after his election to the committee, is appointed a minister, he shall cease to be member of the committee from the date of such appointment."

* Bills seeking amendments were passed in the parliament

  •   Trade Marks (Amendment) Act 2003

  •   The Patent and designs ( Amendment) Act 2003

  • 54 bills-53 government and one private were passed till the recently concluded 7th session of 8th Parliament. Eleven Standing committee(SCs) on different ministries and other public agencies were formed on May 12, after about 19 months since the alliance government took office on October 28, 2001. Earlier, four SCs were formed in the 8th JS. BNP sources said that the rest of the SCs would be formed soon

      

Conclusion: 

The opposition should perform the function of scrutinizing the government, strengthening democracy and improving the quality of work in the parliament, which can be done through  operational reforms and expanding the role of committees.  Bangladesh parliament did take a step towards enhancing its parliamentary culture by being the first South Asian Country to introduce Prime Minister Question time in the Jatiya Sangsad.  Moreover all eyes are now focused on the budget session  which is to begin on the 10th of June though keeping up with the old tradition, the opposition has already threatened to boycott the session. In this coming Budget session an independent Anticorruption commission will be formed fulfilling the election pledge of the ruling four party alliance.  

  

Bangladesh’s wish that the opposition political parties play a constructive role with a sense of responsibility towards the country’s democratic system remains a wish only. The first step towards fulfillment of this wish would be in the form of effective participation in the parliamentary proceedings. The inherent rivalry between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia leads to lack of constructive approach taken by the two leading political parties hampering not only the country’s developmental activities, but also its foreign policy matters, especially relations with India.

  

References: 

1.   Arif Joarder, New Trend For Opposition, Alchona Network  1998-2002

2.   Metropolitan News, May 13, Tuesday 2003

3.    The New Nation online, May 13,2003

4.    The Daily Star, Volume 3 Number 1305,Wed. May 14, 2003

5.    www.Parliamentof bangladesh.org

6.    Bangladesh info.com News

        7.   News from Bangladesh , Vol 5, Number 526, May 19,  2003

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