Parliamentary Committees

Parliamentary Committees formed exclusively of members of the jatiya sangsad (Parliament) for such purposes as to evaluate legislative proposals and to scrutinise activities of the executive government. In effect, these committees in most democracies provide a means of keeping the parliamentarians busy, feeling useful and remaining watchful on the policy-management processes.

The Constitution of Bangladesh provides provisions for establishing various parliamentary committees. The Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad is empowered through Article 76 of the Constitution to appoint a number of standing committees, including the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee of Privileges, for the purpose of examining legislative proposals, considering bills, inquiring or investigating into the performance of the ministries, and reviewing measures for enforcement of law for proper governance. The rules of procedure framed by the Sangsad itself guide and regulate functional details, overall operation and terms of reference of these committees. There are provisions also for the formation of sub-committees within the committees. The standing committees in Bangladesh are generally grouped into such categories as ministerial committees, finance and audit committees, and a number of other committees of standing nature. These however, exclude select or special committees.

The members of the standing committees are either appointed by the Sangsad itself or nominated by the Speaker. Members of the financial and ministerial committees, including those of the committees on privileges, government assurances, rules of procedure and private members' bills, are appointed by the Sangsad while the members of the house committee and the business advisory committee, including the two committees on petitions and library, are nominated by the Speaker. The sittings of the committees and their hearings and deliberations are held in private. In order to have quorum for the sitting of a committee, the presence of one-third of the committee members is required. Agenda of the committees are addressed by a majority of the members present. The committee chair has a casting vote in case of a tie of votes. The committees prepare their respective reports that are subsequently placed before the Sangsad in session.

The standing committees involve themselves in activities of the day-to-day parliamentary business and in such other matters as facilities to be provided to the members of Sangsad, control of financial actions of the executive, examination of the functions of various ministries, and scrutinising on matters of specific issues. The select committees are appointed on ad hoc basis to deal with the proposed bills. In order to examine and report on certain assigned subjects, special committees are also formed temporarily. The standing committees on ministries examine the activities of the executive government. They also review bills and other issues referred to them from time to time by the Sangsad in session. They are supposed to meet at least once a month to review and examine various affairs of the administration.

Finance and audit committees are considered as special mechanisms of the Sangsad to perform its supervisory role over the government expenditures. Thus the Public Accounts Committee chaired by a member of the Sangsad scrutinises annual financial accounts and appropriations as approved, and pinpoints the irregularities of the government bodies with necessary recommendations and remedial measures. The Committee on Estimates examines estimates throughout the financial year and gives suggestions for ensuring economy and efficiency in governance process. Accounts and reports of public institutions are reviewed by the Public Undertaking Committee, which points out the gap between the affairs of the public offices and the on-going government policies. The functions which are discharged by other standing committees include: rights and immunities of the members of Sangsad, specific complaints made in the petitions, allocation of time for the stages of government bills, private members' bills, conduct of business in the house of Sangsad and matters of procedure, enhancement of library facilities, and accommodation facilities and other services for the Sangsad members.

Through the parliamentary committee system attempts are made to demand transparency and accountability of the government. The meetings of the standing committees are attended by senior members of bureaucracy who explain their respective performance and, whenever necessary, submit information before the concerned committee. While scrutinising administrative actions in the committees on ministries, the people's representatives keep themselves informed of the ongoing state business. In the process of examining accounts and public expenditure, the financial committees determine whether the government's financial powers are exercised properly and public money has been spent following the approved procedures.

Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad has altogether organised its committee structure. The first Sangsad had 14 committees. With the passage of time and increase of state business, the number of standing committees rose to 51 in the second Sangsad, 6 in short lived third Sangsad, 48 in the fourth Sangsad, 53 in the fifth Sangsad and 48 in the seventh Sangsad. With this the number of sub-committees had also increased. Until the sitting of the seventh Sangsad the ministers themselves headed the committees on ministries. In the fifth session of the seventh Sangsad an amendment to the Rules of Procedure was adopted under which no minister but only a member of the Sangsad was made chairman of each of these standing committees. This was done to give impetus to the committees for effectively demanding executive accountability. The eighth Sangsad had 48 standing committees and until July 2006 it constituted 131 sub-committees. These committees and sub-committees had held respectively 1157 and 421 meetings between October 2001 and July 2006. Different ministerial committees also produced 12 reports until July 2006. After the commencement of the ninth Sangsad on 25th January 2009, 48 committees have been formed proportionate to the representation of political parties in the Parliament and of these committees two are chaired by the opposition MPs.

However, the committees of the Bangladesh's Jatiya Sangsad are yet to come into view as efficient instruments of the legislature especially in detail scrutinizing of bills, overseeing the activities of the executive and making the government behave. The major causes of such performance had irregularity in holding committee meetings, poor turnout of the committee members, improper application of the Rules of Procedures of the Parliament, partisan approach of the committee members, executive domination in legislative affairs, tendency of the executive agencies to defy the recommendations and committee directives, meager logistic prop up, poor research and expert support and so on. In order to ensure meaningful performance capacity building of the parliamentary committees, consensus building at the committee structures and public input including civil society involvement in the committee process are greatly called for. [Al Masud Hasanuzzaman]