The government must be appreciated for introducing laws for good governance but the path often chosen for legislation – ordinances – should be avoided. True, the presidential ordinance is a legal instrument to introduce laws but at the same time it shrinks the presence of parliament. On Tuesday, the federal cabinet sanctioned eight ordinances, mostly about the judiciary, and also about women’s rights and NAB’s treatment of under-trial prisoners. The cabinet gave the go ahead to the following ordinances: the Letter of Administration and Succession Certificates Ordinance of 2019; the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Ordinance of 2019; the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) (Amendment) Ordinance of 2019; the Superior Courts (Court Dress and Mode of Address) Order (Repeal) Ordinance of 2019; the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance of 2019; the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance 2019 and Whistle-Blowers Act. Laws regarding women’s property rights, benami transactions, legal aid and whistle blowers can prove to be game changers if implemented in letter and spirit. The blot of the ordinance, however, will remain hovering over the government’s working style.
The government may justify the overuse of ordinances by explaining its numerical poverty in the Senate. In the lower house, it enjoys a majority. The best course for the government will be taking laws to both houses for thorough debate and consensus. In the past, we have seen that opposition benches often agree with the government when legislation is about durable reforms. The PPP government from 2008 to 2013 passed the landmark 18th Amendment by including all parliamentary parties in the committee tasked with drafting it. The amendments introduced after the 18th Amendment have all been the work of collective wisdom. The incumbent ruling party got the Fata merger amendment only by avoiding solo flight. So far, the government has been creating an impression that it does not want to work with the opposition inside and outside the parliament.
Presidential ordinances will keep coming to the federal cabinet for approval as under the 18th Amendment, the duration of an ordinance can be 120 days twice, and the second lease of life must be approved by one of the houses of parliament. What will the government do once the eight month lifespan of these ordinances expires? It will have to wait till March 2021 for Senate elections when the government hopes to get a majority in the upper house.
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