FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 07

The rule of ordinances

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is running the affairs of the country through presidential ordinances instead of making legislation in the parliament. Critics say the objective of the government could really be the wellbeing of the people, but the way it is trying to implement its reform agenda is undemocratic and unconstitutional.
The government’s attempt to bypass the parliament became evident when it passed 11 presidential ordinances within half an hour amid ruckus by opposition members in the National Assembly. Justifying the passage of the ordinances, the government claims it is amending century-old laws to make them conversant to the present age and requirements. “Prime Minister Imran Khan has brought to an end the status quo by accepting a challenge to provide relief and meet basic needs of the common man. The government had discussed each and every clause of the ordinances passed by the assembly with its allies and got it passed by majority votes,” the government’s spokesperson claimed after the passage of the ordinances.
The ordinances passed by the assembly related to conversion of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) into the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), the protection of whistleblowers who will inform it about any benami property and asset, rights of ownership of women in property, efficacious and speedy mechanism for issuance of letter of administration and succession certificates, establishment of a legal aid and justice authority to provide justice to the poor and vulnerable segments of society, court dress and mode of address to judges, recovery of mortgage-backed securities by financial institutions and the National Highway Safety. The government claims the ordinances aimed to provide quick relief to the common people. One of the ordinances is related to provide legal aid to the poor and people who could not afford to get services of lawyers. The government believes the Criminal Procedure Code Ordinance will ensure speedy and inexpensive justice for the masses who have been enduring lawsuits in civil courts for years.
The conversion of PMDC into PMC aims to regulate private medical colleges. According to the government, permission was granted to businesspeople in the past to make money through education, as a result 168 medical colleges opened in the country which had adversely affected the standard of medical education and doctors in the country. Under the whistleblower ordinance, the government will protect people who inform it bout benami property and asset and the informer would get a 25 per cent share in recovery on the basis of their information.
Another ordinance aims to provide the due right of women in inheritance. The Letter of Administration and Succession Certificates Ordinance provides a mechanism for issuance of succession certificates by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). The Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Ordinance will guarantee the right of ownership to women in inheritance. The bill aims at preventing the family from denying the right to women through “coercion, fraud, fabrication, forgery and cheating”. The Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance seeks establishment of a legal and institutional framework to promote access to justice by providing affordable, accessible, sustainable, credible and accountable legal aid, financial or other services to the poor and the vulnerable section of society in criminal matters. The bill attaches priority to disadvantaged women and children, especially in matters of sexual offences.
The most significant ordinance sought an amendment to the National Accountability Ordinance under which people facing charges of corruption worth Rs50 million or more would only be entitled to be kept in “Class C” in jail. Two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), believe the ordinance targets their leaders who are in jails in corruption cases. The government claims the amendment is according to its party manifesto, which called for harsher punishment for corruption accused.
The government passed 11 ordinances passed in such haste that no time was given to the legislators to hold a proper debate on them. The opposition rejected the passage of the ordinances and termed it “unconstitutional.” However, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan blamed the opposition parties for compelling the government to opt for legislation through ordinances.
Legal experts say though there is room in the Constitution for the promulgation of ordinances, yet it can only be done when the parliament is not in session and there is a matter of life and death for the legislature. Under the Article 89 (1) of the Constitution, “The President may, except when the Senate or National Assembly is in session, if satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, make and promulgate an Ordinance as the circumstances may require.”
The government has a bare minimum majority in the National Assembly while it is in minority in the Senate. It thinks ordinances are the best way to make legislation to advance its reform agenda. However, it should engage opposition parties in a meaningful way to make laws more effective. It should provide ample time to them for debate. The opposition should also avoid confrontation with the government for the sake of opposition. It should cooperate with the government in making laws for the welfare of the common people. The ruling party must also realise that law-making is not only the job of the government. It is the job of the parliament and the opposition is also its part. A change in the mindset is necessary to strengthen democracy and provide relief to the people.