Parliament Watch – What do MNA’s and Senators do?

My MNA has a name, but I have no idea what she stands for, what she does, and how is it that she came to be standing for elections. Now, I can find out what his/her name is, but beyond that there is absolutely no information at all. Come election time, just a month or two before voting takes place candidates suddenly appear from nowhere running for election, and provide zero information about themselves in their entire campaign. What did the MNA accomplish in his/her last stint in office? What about their tax returns, their life, their positions on important issues (besides the rhetoric)?

What do MNA’s and Senators do? This has always been a great mystery to me. What did they do before running for office? In western democracies, there is this theory of the person running for office being fit and able to perform the duties required in that office – and to prove this most candidates for public office practically strip their lives bare, to show that they are fit for the job, and have nothing to hide.

I would like to know exactly who and what it is I’m voting for – the best way of getting usable data on our politicians is through the government itself – what is it that they do while in the employ of the govt? Since everything is noted down (in theory, and often times in practice) by the govt. itself, there is no dispute about this information.

Most of the landlords in the Senate and the National Assembly – if you remove all the speculation and opinion pieces, practically the only verifiable information about them is that they’re landlords and they lord over lands, and now and than then do a stint as MNA or Senator. That’s it – there really is nothing else there. The media just spews forth opinion after opinion – talk is cheap, and investigative journalism unheard of, so it’s not really useful as a source of information.

Step 1 is to get the minutes, proposed laws, voting records and whatever else takes place in the Senate and National Assembly easily accessible to the general public. There have been many projects over the years aiming to do just that, with funding provided by the US, the UN, different European Counties, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and more. Despite all that funding and numerous different projects, none of them have succeeded so far, and most (if not all) have already finished (or finished their funds).

The National Assembly website and Senate website are incomplete and contains no useful information besides the names of the current members.

Pakistani law binds the Govt. to provide access to it’s workings, two such laws being the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and the four Local Government Ordinances of 2001 clearly state that all public records are to be computerized and made accessible to the public, and furthermore that the Govt. is bound to assist anyone who requests access to public knowledge.

The cheapest and easiest way to provide access to government workings is over the internet, which the Government acknowledges – the question than becomes that of how to actually turn this commitment into action.

As an example, click on the name of any MP on theyworkforyou.com – it’s amazing the amount of information available – every thing they do and say as MP is available, along with their expenses, voting records, proposed bills, questions, speeches – everything!

Step 2 is to take that data and make it accessible and usable. There are a number of open source initiatives which are doing just this, they’re linked below. The source code for all of them is freely available, and can be adapted to Pakistani needs.

This is trivial, given a few technical people donating some of their spare time – all that needs to be done is to pull the data from government servers, convert/parse it as need be, than store it in a database – which is accessible by anyone anywhere.

Step 1 is far more important, as once that’s done anyone can implement ways of viewing, sorting and visualizing the data as needed.

Links

  • http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ :: Opensource website tracking British Senators.
  • Pakistan SenatePakistan National Assembly
  • Pakistan Legislative STRENGTHENING PROJECT :: One of the stated aims of this was to provide information to the public through ‘parliamentary websites and dissemination of legislative records’
  • Thomas – Legislative Information from the Library of Congress
  • GovTrack.us :: GovTrack.us is a nexus of information about the United States Congress. Bringing together information on the status of federal legislation, voting records, and other congressional data from official sources, and turning it into an understandable and trackable free information resource for everyday citizens, GovTrack aims to narrow the divide between the public and our government. This site serves as both a research tool as well as a customizable Congress-tracker, by providing email updates and RSS/Atom feeds for all aspects of Congress.
  • Hansard :: Hansard (the Official Report) is the edited verbatim report of proceedings in both Houses. (UK)
  • Google Visualization API :: Easy way to visualize and compare data.

All the above sites in turn link to more, there is a wealth of information in most democratic countries about the functioning of their government.

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