Bangladesh Parliament deaf of People’s voice for 38 years!
Following the footsteps of many world democracies, the committee was introduced in the country in 1975 so that people can have their voices heard in parliament through this body and seek remedies to their problems.
But, parliament experts and lawmakers say, the House committee by remaining inactive has been depriving citizens of their lawful rights. This committee remains inoperative all these years due to “insincerity” on the part of the parliament authorities.
Moreover, most people are not aware of the committee and its function, they add.
“Many issues of public importance could have been resolved had the Petition Committee worked properly,” parliament expert AK Mohammad Hossain told The Daily Star.
Parliament sources say more than 1,039 bills were passed by the Jatiya Sangsad in the last 38 years. But not a single citizen participated in the law-making process through the committee.
There is, however, one instance of getting solution to an issue of public importance in the eighth parliament in 2005 following a petition by Abul Hossain, the then president of the Satkhira Bar.
In line with recommendations of the then Petition Committee, a road inside the Satkhira TV relay station was opened for public until construction of an alternative road.
Petition committees play important roles in ensuring public participation in the law-making process in many democracies including in Australia, Germany, India, Scotland and the UK, said officials in the parliament secretariat.
According to the House Rules of Procedure, anyone with consent of the Speaker can submit a petition, giving his opinion or feedback on any bill placed in the House. Petitions can also be filed on issues pending in the House or any other matters related to public interest.
Under the rules, the Petition Committee headed by the Speaker would inform the House about the petition and recommend actions. This is an all-MP committee, and ministers cannot be its members.
Statistics show 149 petitions related to public issues were submitted to the Petition Committee in the last 38 years. Of them, 12 were filed during the present (ninth) parliament that began in January 2009.
The eighth parliament where the BNP-Jamaat alliance had majority seats, accepted one petition out of 20 submitted. Earlier, the seventh parliament accepted two petitions and the fifth parliament 17 petitions.
Records of the meetings held by the committee during successive parliaments are also very poor. No meeting was held during the first four parliaments from 1973 to 1990. During the next four parliaments from 1991 to 2006, the committee sat nine times.
The Petition Committee of the current parliament has yet to hold its first meeting.
One of the members of the committee is not happy about such inaction. “You better talk to the Speaker,” he told this correspondent, requesting anonymity.
Speaker Abdul Hamid said, “How we can hold meetings when we have not received any petition for discussion?”
Contacted, BNP lawmaker Moudud Ahmed said the Petition Committee had an important role in holding parliament accountable through people’s participation.
“But unfortunately, the committee exists only on paper. And this trend had been prevailing for the past 38 years for which we, the MPs, parliament and the successive governments, are responsible,” he added.
Asked what steps his party had taken when in power, he said no government in the past had done enough to make the committee functional.
“We will have to tell people that they have such a right in parliament. But lawmakers themselves would have to be more serious about the importance of the committee,” he added.