House panels issue conflicting directives—at their own peril

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu
Parliamentary committees, which number 16 at present, are often found to be making decisions that clash with each other

Oct 7, 2018-The International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives earlier this week directed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation not to start felling trees for the Nijgadh International Airport in Bara without proper study to delimit the area that needs to be cleared.

The committee on Saturday formed a subcommittee led by former PM Madhav Nepal, giving it two months to complete the study and submit a report. This means the ministry will have to wait for at least two months before it could embark on clearing the forest for the airport.

However, a day after the International Relations Committee’s directive, the National Concern and Coordination Committee of the National Assembly made a contradictory decision, asking the ministry to expedite the works for the planned airport while resolving the forest issue. The committee said the ministry has to ensure swift progress in developing the national pride project.

Following the two contradictory decisions, officials at the Civil Aviation Ministry say they are confused whose order to follow. This adds to the confusion over construction of the airport which has got into a controversy over the number of trees that need to be felled before the first phase of construction begins. The civil society and conservationists have opposed plans to cut down some 2.4 million trees in the project area.

“These contradictory decisions definitely are the barrier to any development or bureaucratic works,” said Ghanashyam Upadhyay, a spokesperson for the ministry. “We urge the House committees to have one voice so we don’t get trapped in the middle.”

Parliamentary committees have an important role to play in ensuring checks and balances on the executive branch. There are 16 committees under the federal parliament to oversee the activities of different ministries and government agencies. However, they have often been found to be making decisions that clash with each other.

On June 3, 2016, the Parliamentary Finance Committee instructed the government not to approve Ncell’s capital increment plan and other business expansion schemes until outstanding tax liabilities related to its ownership transfer were cleared. Two months later, the Development Committee directed the government not to bar the telecom service provider from expanding its 4G service though there had been no decision regarding the tax liability of the multi-national telecommunication service provider.

Senior leaders with experience in the affairs say the act of House committees to issue contradictory decisions weakens their role because the executive branch would no longer take such issues seriously. This also gives the executive branch an opportunity to follow whichever decision suits it. In Ncell’s case, the Nepal Telecommunication Authority permitted the company to expand its 4G service.

Mukund Sharma, a former parliament secretary, said this results from a lack of coordination between the House committees and their desire to get into the limelight by taking on pressing issues. Sometimes “personal interest” of lawmakers could lead to such decisions, he remarked.

Such incidents make the mini-parliaments ineffective even as they have an important role to play in a democracy, he told the Post.

Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the respective committees have separate jurisdictions and they should function accordingly. “I will enquire if such decisions have been made. This should not repeat,” he said at an interaction on Saturday.

He said he would call a meeting of the chairpersons of all the committees to discuss the process they must follow and the matters they can question. Mahara clarified that the chairpersons, who got the responsibility recently, might take time to get fully acquainted with their areas of jurisdiction.

Published: 07-10-2018 07:28

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