National Assembly of Pakistan
The National Assembly of Pakistan serves as the lower house of the nation’s Parliament and is central to the country’s legislative process. Composed of various divisions such as the legislative branch, committee branch, international relations branch, administrative branch, automation branch, and the library and research branch, the National Assembly is a complex web of interconnected units, each playing their part in ensuring the smooth operation of the parliamentary system.
The legislative branch holds particular significance, being the driving force behind the initiation and drafting of legislative proposals. The organisational structure of this branch consists of two main parts: one dedicated to the process and functions of legislation, and the other, known as the motion branch, focusing on debate consideration and translation. This legislation branch operates within a broader structure that facilitates the passage of proposed laws, making it a focal point for the integration of technology.
The legislative process in the National Assembly is twofold. Firstly, bills can be introduced by a minister on behalf of the government. This pathway reflects the conventional procedure found in most parliamentary systems. Alternatively, bills can be introduced by private members, including those from the government party or opposition. Irrespective of the origin of the bill, each undergoes a systematic procedure, from being introduced, deliberated, considered by the committee, and finally, its passage in both the National Assembly and Senate.
III. The Bilingual Challenge and the Slow Adoption of Technology
A unique challenge faced by the National Assembly is its bilingual system, with Urdu and English being the national languages of Pakistan. This necessitates the creation of dual versions of each legislative document, adding layers of complexity to the legislative process. Furthermore, many Assembly members prefer physical hard copies of documents due to a lack of familiarity or comfort with digital devices.
The National Assembly has taken steps to introduce technology to its operations, seeking to streamline processes and improve efficiency. Measures include sending bill copies to members via WhatsApp and email and transmitting meeting notices through a National Short Message System. Free internet access has also been made available within the National Assembly premises, further facilitating the use of digital tools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a significant transformation of the National Assembly’s operations. Committee rooms have been equipped with the necessary facilities for conducting virtual meetings, enabling members to continue their legislative work despite physical distancing measures. This shift to digital platforms such as Zoom for meetings has necessitated a new mode of operation, with meeting agendas and relevant details now consistently being made available on the National Assembly’s official website.
The transition to a fully digital system in Pakistan’s political landscape is fraught with challenges. Factors such as the nation’s literacy ratio, traditional governance system, and cultural norms do not lend themselves easily to a swift and seamless digital transformation. The lack of political will, unreliable digital access, cybercrime security concerns, resource allocation, and widespread poverty add to the complexities of this transition.
Despite the hurdles, the digital transformation of the National Assembly is critical. The adoption of digital processes will not only lead to resource conservation but also expedite the legislative process, drastically reducing the time taken to pass bills and amendments. The digitalisation of the National Assembly of Pakistan is a significant step in bolstering the legislative business of the country, positioning it to better navigate the increasingly digital future.
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