There is a common complaint from the academics of Bangladesh that their research works do not (cannot!) reach the doors of the policy makers. On the other hand, recently the Higher Judiciary has expressed its concern expressly, more than once, about the quality of the drafting of laws and parliamentary debates. This happens because of the fact that the quantity of lawyers are decreasing in the parliament. In the 10th Parliament, only 13% of the total members of the Parliament whereas in the first Parliament the percentage of lawyers was almost 42% (Rounaq Jahan, The Parliament of Bangladesh: Representation and Accountability). This is also because, I argue, of the inadequate technical legal knowledge of the parliamentarians. Because of their lack of technical legal knowledge, the Members of Parliament (MPs) are hardly interested in any policy debate resulting into poorly drafted laws. It is evident from a recent study conducted by TIB where it has been found that only 1.8% of the total time of parliamentary session has been spent for enacting any law.
Originating from Canada, the movement of establishing an Institute for Parliamentary Studies (IPA) is a relatively young phenomenon. In our neighbouring country India an Institute of Parliamentary Affairs and Studies has been set up for the purpose of enhancing the quality of the debates in the Parliaments. The justification for the establishing an IPA is to provide the Parliamentarians with quality research works and to build up their capacity for the purpose of preparing our Parliamentarians with the ability to make informed decisions. This shall result into the development of our parliamentary debates on policy issues.
For all these reasons, the first Sheikh Hasina Government of 1996-2001 enacted law namely, the Bangladesh Institute of Parliamentary Studies Act, 2001. This Act in its preamble recognised the need for such an institute in the present socio-economic reality and the urgency of the Parliamentarians to play an increasingly dynamic role in the Parliament. This Act also acknowledges the necessity for developing a culture of co-operation amongst the MPs to strengthen and stabilise the Parliamentary Democracy. To fulfil these needs the Parliament, in this Act, sought for establishing an Institute where a group of experts on constitutional and parliamentary affairs shall assist the Parliamentarians to play their role in policy making. Though this Act clearly was a very farsighted initiative of the current Prime Minister, it is very frustrating to note that such an initiative remained unimplemented even during her later regime of almost 10 years.
Under section 3 of this Act, it was the responsibility of the Parliament Secretariat to establish this Institute by notification in the official Gazette to fulfil the aims and objectives of the Act. Section 5 of the Act vests the management and administration of the Institute to the hands of the Governing Board consisting of highly influential persons in the policy making including the Speaker as the ex-officio chairman. A Rector, who shall also be a member of the Governing Board, is supposed to be appointed by the Governing Board from amongst the members of the Parliament or Teachers of University or Senior Advocates of the Supreme Court having knowledge about law and parliamentary affairs. The Rector shall be the fulltime Executive Officer of the Institute. The Act also makes scope for appointment of a number of Directors and Experts who shall be well experienced in law and parliamentary affairs.
The composition of the Governing Board itself proves the importance of such an institution in our democratic reality. The Institute shall function as the knowledge hub for the parliamentarians and the researchers of constitutional law and parliamentary studies. Section 7 of the Act determines the functions of the Institute categorically which mostly include research works on different issues. Appointment of an academic in the field of constitutional law on the post of the Rector shall be a turning point for this institution for a number of reasons. Firstly, the job mainly requires extensive research works which can be better pursued by the academics and secondly because of their direct contact with the young and bright minds of the country. They are in a position to utilise the young bloods of the country properly identifying them based on their intellectual capability.
One of the fundamental reasons of electing MPs is to enact laws. Democracy expects reflection of peoples' choice in the making of law and policy. It is essential that the enacted legislations accurately reflect the original intention of the law makers. For that to happen, the law makers need to make informed choice. A research institute like Institute of Parliamentary Studies shall facilitate the law makers in that regard and establishing it is an urgent necessity.
Md. Azhar Uddin Bhuiyan
Student of Law, University of Dhaka