New rules urged to govern parliamentary oversight of ECP
04 March, 2013
ISLAMABAD: Democracy Reporting International (DRI) has called for clear written rules and procedures to regulate parliament's oversight of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in a new report which states that such rules are a must to ensure proper scrutiny while protecting the ECP's independence.
The DRI, a Berlin-based, independent, not-for-profit organisation, in its report 'Independence and Accountability of the Election Commission of Pakistan' makes recommendations for securing the ECP's independence, including allowing it to self-regulate and organise, granting security of tenure to key decision-making staff, and budgetary protection from governmental influence.
The report also supports the proposal of the Special Committee of the Senate on Election Issues to form a joint parliamentary committee with representation from the National Assembly and the Senate. It says that the parliamentary committees should operate under written rules and procedures which respect both the need to scrutinise the ECP as well as its independence. "It should have broad cross-party representation to strengthen both public and political confidence in the body. Such a committee should be empowered to investigate without waiting for referral and could also provide useful assessments of changes in election-related legislation."
Further recommendations include new laws to require the ECP to issue reports on events or issues, such as preparedness before an election or updating the electoral rolls. "All such ECP reports and follow-up by parliament should be documented and made publicly available. It is the responsibility of electoral bodies such as the ECP to ensure accountability through regular reporting to stakeholders and the public; providing evidence that its activities are effective and that it meets its required legal, ethical, service and financial standards," the report notes.
DRI Country Director Vladimir Pran said, "A legislature has a special responsibility to hold public institutions to account; one of its core functions is oversight. Its roles as representative of the people – the principal stakeholders in elections – and scrutiniser of government, allow for oversight that is integral to state structures, setting it apart from other scrutinising agents such as observer groups. That is why it's vital we lay down solid foundations so parliament can scrutinise the ECP and at the same time ensure it is protected from undue government influence."
The report defines the boundaries of parliamentary oversight, stating that it should not extend to giving instructions. "The authority of an oversight body may be far reaching in relation to access to information, but such authority does not extend to annulling, amending or overruling any decisions and must be used responsibly in the interests of the public."
It goes on to say that oversight should not undermine independence nor empower any other body to make decisions that fall within the jurisdiction of the institution being scrutinised. The very idea of oversight should be to ensure transparency, policy development and, ultimately, confidence in public institutions. The report explores various aspects of parliamentary oversight of the ECP and highlights the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as the main set of electoral obligations subscribed to by Pakistan that should provide the basis for establishing both the independence and accountability of the ECP.