Congress boycotts hearing panel meeting, accuses ruling party of bypassing opposition

- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Feb 3, 2019-

The Parliamentary Hearing Committee on Sunday moved forward the hearing process of chairpersons of five constitutional commissions despite objections from the main opposition, in a move which the Nepali Congress said is against democratic practices and parliamentary norms.

The Constitutional Council on January 20 had decided to recommend chairpersons for the five constitutional commissions. But the meeting that recommended the names was not attended by the leader of the Congress. The leader of the opposition party is one of the members on the five-member Constitutional Council.

The Nepali Congress on Sunday boycotted the Parliamentary Hearing Committee meeting. The party has four members in the committee, while the ruling Nepal Communist Party controls majority with nine members. The other two members are from the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal.

But despite the opposition boycott, the hearing committee moved forward the hearing process--and decided to seek complaints, if there are any, against the chairpersons recommended for the five commissions.

Later on Sunday, the Congress issued a statement expressing dissent.

The statement undersigned by four lawmakers from the Congress party, who are members of the hearing committee, cites Clause 6 of the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties, Powers and Procedures) Act 2010 which states that “the Constitutional Council secretary shall, as per the direction of the chairperson, send a notice of date, time, place of the proposed meeting and the agenda to be discussed at the meeting to the each member in the advance of forty eight hours of the proposed meeting.”

The four Nepali Congress members in the hearing committee are former ministers Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, Bhimsen Das Pradhan and Jitendra Narayan Dev and party Whip Pushpa Bhusal.

The Constitutional Council chaired by the prime minister includes chief justice, Speaker of the House of Representatives, chairperson of the National Assembly, leader of the opposition party in the House of Representatives and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives as members.

The Congress party says since the council took the decision in the absence of the opposition leader, whose presence as per constitutional and legal provisions is mandatory, it is illegal.

“The government is refusing to follow the due process of law; it is trying to take decisions on the basis of majority only,” Congress lawmaker Radheshyam Adhikari told the Post. “Today only they moved an amendment bill to the Truth and Reconciliation Act in the National Assembly suspending some rules,” he said. “The ruling party is not only centralising power but also using laws to curtail people’s individual freedom. This is unfortunate.”

Experts on parliamentary practices and constitutional affairs say in a democracy, the government must take the opposition into confidence and refrain from showing disregard for the opposition.  

On the Constitutional Council decision, Bipin Adhikary, an expert of constitutional law, said the council seems to be functioning like Cabinet, where opposition does not exist.

“The provision of having the presence of the leader of the opposition in the council is there to ensure that opposing views can be registered and recorded,” Adhikary told the Post. “Two-thirds majority is for political stability--it cannot be an alternative to the laws and the system.”

However, Deputy Speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe, who is also a member of the Constitutional Council, claimed that the council took the decision following the due process. “Since the January 18 meeting had failed to decide due to the absence of opposition leader, the council took the decision [of recommending names] on January 20,” Tumbahamphe said.

But Congress lawmakers say Sub-clause 5 the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties, Powers and Procedures) Act 2010 states that each matter submitted to the meeting shall be decided unanimously and when a key member--leader of the opposition--was not there, there was no unanimity.

“We oppose the illegal decision of the Constitutional Council taken without informing the leader of the opposition party through the proper channel and avoiding the role of opposition… this is against the parliamentary system,” reads the statement issued by four Congress members in the hearing committee.

They have also said the the Constitutional Council decision was not only against the constitutional and legal arrangements but also against constitutional and political spirit and practices.

The January 20 meeting of the Constitutional Council held without the opposition leader had decided to recommend former secretary Balananda Poudel as the chairman of the National Natural Resource and Fiscal Commission, former finance secretary Shanta Raj Subedi as the chairman of the National Inclusive Commission, Bijay Kumar Datta as the chairman of the Madhesi Commission, former state minister Bishnu Prasad Chaudhary as the chairman of the Tharu Commission and Samim Ansari as the chairman of the National Muslim Commission.

On the hearing committee’s decision to move the hearing process forward despite the opposition boycott, its Chairman Laxman Lal Karna said the committee could do nothing regarding the decision of the council whether that was taken with due process or not. “We had urged the lawmakers to continue discussions while moving ahead with the process but they refused,” said Karna.

The Nepali Congress, which is already up in arms against the government and announced a nationwide protest on Monday, is also objecting to the way the ruling party lawmakers used their numerical strength--and the House Speaker--to bulldoze the National Medical Education Bill on January 25 despite it objection.

Published: 04-02-2019 07:30

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