Functions and Procedures of Parliament
Parliament in a parliamentary form of government is a multifunctional organ of the state, but its functions are rarely defined in any Constitution or other document anywhere in the world. One has to read in between the lines of a Constitution to locate the specific functions of Parliament, if there exists a written Constitution. Parliament of Bangladesh is not an exception to this nearly universal phenomenon. This document restricts itself only to the following three functions of Jatiyo Shangshad: -
1. Enactment of Legislation
2. Consent to taxation and control of public expenditure
3. Ensuring accountability of the Government
The elective functions of Parliament, which include the election of the President, and the exercise of its constituent power for amendment of the Constitution, along with several other functions, have not been discussed.
Enactment of Legislation
Legislation is the basic function of Bangladesh Jatiyo Shangshad. The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh has vested the legislative powers of the Republic to Parliament, subject to the provisions of the Constitution. Reference was made earlier to the fact that the President shares this power in two ways; first, he can make laws called Ordinances which have a life limited by the Constitution; and secondly, a Bill passed in Jatiyo Shangshad becomes a statute only after the President has assented, or is deemed to have assented, to it.
Every proposal in Parliament for making a law has to be made in the form of a Bill. If notice for introduction of the Bill has been given by a Minister, the Bill is known as Government Bill.
If a Member who is not a Minister introduces it, the Bill is known as Private Member's Bill. A Bill passes through three distinct stages in Parliament i.e. the introduction, consideration and passing, which conform to the three readings usually known in parliamentary parlance as first reading, second reading and third reading respectively. A new stage in the legislative process
called the Committee stage is also now frequently referred to in many Parliaments. In the case of a Government Bill, a Minister, or in the case of a Private Member's Bill, a Member may make a motion for leave to introduce a Bill after giving the Secretary to Parliament written notice of his/her intention to do so. A Minister or a Member who has given such notice is known as Member-in-charge in respect of the Bill. The notice has to be accompanied by two copies of the Bill, together with objectives and reasons. If the Bill is one that under the Constitution
requires the previous recommendation of the President for its introduction, the notice has to
contain a certificate that the Bill has been recommended by the President for introduction. If a motion for leave to introduce a Bill is opposed, the Speaker may without further debate put the question to the vote of the House, after permitting, if he considers appropriate, a brief explanatory statement by the Member opposing the leave for introduction and the Member-in-charge moving for leave. If leave is granted, the Member-in-charge, when called, formally moves a motion forthwith introducing the Bill and, on the motion being made, the Bill stands introduced. This process constitutes the first reading stage of a Bill.
The second reading of a Bill begins after a Bill has been introduced. The Member-in-charge may make anyone of the following motions in regard to his/her Bill, namely:
that it be taken into consideration by the House either at once or on some future day to be specified in the motion;
that it be referred to a Standing Committee;
that it be referred to a Select Committee; or
that it be circulated for the purpose of eliciting opinion on the Bill.
Following any of the above mentioned motions, the lengthy, and to some extent complex, stage of the second reading commences, the details of which are defined in the Rules of Procedure. In the first phase of this stage, no amendment to the Bill may be moved. However, any Member may make a counter-motion calling, for example, for the circulation of the Bill to elicit public opinion on it. The principles of the Bill and the general clauses of the Bill are discussed. Details of the Bill are not discussed further than is necessary to explain its principles. This is followed by a clause by clause consideration of the Bill when amendments to the Bill are considered and voted upon.
The third reading stage is short. The Member-in-Charge makes a motion that the Bill be passed. The Speaker will then usually put the motion to vote without allowing any discussion on it. Consent to Taxation and Control of Public Expenditure Parliament controls the purse of the nation. This authority is derived from the provisions of the Constitution to the following effect:
No tax shall be levied or collected except by, or under, the authority of an Act of Parliament.
No money can be appropriated from the Consolidated Fund except by an Act of Parliament.
Tax proposals of the Government are submitted to Parliament generally in the form of the Finance Bill, introduced each year by the Finance Minister shortly after his budget speech. Some of the existing Acts/Ordinances that the Finance Bill usually seeks to amend are the following:
a. Stamp Act, 1899
b. Wealth Tax Act, 1963
c. Customs Act, 1969
d. Income Tax ordinance, 1980
e. The Excise and Salt Act, 1944
f. Gift Tax Act, 1990
g. Value Added Tax Act, 1991
h. Court Fees Act, 1870
i. Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1931
Occasionally, a new Bill, in addition to the yearly Finance Bill, may be introduced to give effect to tax proposals not falling within the scope of an existing law.A statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government for a financial year is laid before Parliament around 3 weeks before the commencement of that year. This statement has been termed as annual financial statement in the Constitution and as budget in the Rules of Procedure. The Finance Minister lays the statement in Parliament after his yearly budget speech in which, among other things, he outlines the taxes proposed in the Finance Bill and also highlights proposed allocations under some, if not all, demands for grants.
Some of the terms used in financial considerations of Parliament, such as consolidated fund, charged expenditure; demands for grants possibly need some clarification. All revenues received, all loans raised and all moneys received in repayment of loans by the Government form part of the Consolidated Fund. All other public moneys received by or on behalf of the Government are credited to the Public Account. Expenditure from the Consolidated Fund may be classified into two categories: charged expenditure and vote-able expenditure. Remuneration payable to the President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, Judges of the Supreme Court, Comptroller and Auditor General, as well as a few other items of expenditure, have been termed as charged expenditure in the Constitution. Charged expenditure to the Consolidated Fund may be discussed in Parliament but is not subject to its vote. All other expenditure from the Consolidated Fund is subject to the vote of Parliament.
Proposals for vote-able expenditure are submitted to Parliament in the form of demands for grants. Parliament enjoys power to assent to or to refuse to assent to any demand, or to assent to it subject to a reduction of the amount. After the grants have been made by Parliament, a Bill is introduced to provide for appropriation
out of the Consolidated Fund moneys required to meet:
a. the grants so made by Parliament ; and
b. the expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund.
An Appropriation Bill is usually passed in Jatiyo Shangshad without any discussion for two probable reasons: first, detailed discussion has already taken place on the demands for grants; and, second, no amendment having the effect of varying the amount of any grant can be proposed.
Ensuring Accountability of the Government
The Constitution states that the Cabinet shall be collectively responsible to Parliament. The Rules of Procedure of Parliament have prescribed a number of devices to make the Government answerable and accountable to Parliament. These include:
Discussion for short duration
Among these devices, questions and call attention notices feature in almost all sittings. In fact, the first hour of every sitting, unless otherwise directed by the Speaker, is earmarked for Members to ask questions on matters of public importance. Ministers answer all questions in writing. However, oral answers are also given to 'starred' questions i.e. questions marked with asterisks by Members. Once a starred question has been answered, Members can ask supplementary questions. It is followed by call attention notices. Questions and call attention notices are the most common devices used to raise discussions on the floor of the House.