Winter session of Parliament likely to end without endorsing crucial billsWith over 40 bills pending, the winter session, also called the bill session, has largely been squandered by squabbling within the ruling party, analysts say.
The ongoing session of federal parliament, also dubbed the bill session, looks like it might be the most unproductive one. With just about two weeks remaining for the prorogation of the current session, dozens of bills, including some crucial ones, are likely to remain pending.
“I don’t think the ongoing session can go beyond mid-Chaitra [end of March],” Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, told the Post.
The Parliament met late, sitting for its first real meeting a month since the President called the winter session to order at the end of December. Though the House session commenced on December 20, there was no Speaker for 36 days, as the ruling Nepal Communist Party chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal could not reach a deal on the next Speaker of the House. While Oli favoured Subas Nembang, a two-time chair of the Constituent Assembly, Dahal wanted Agni Sapkota for the job. The post had been vacant since early October, after Krishna Bahadur Mahara stepped down following allegations of attempted rape.
Sapkota was eventually elected Speaker on January 26 and the House business has been progressing since then. However, many have raised questions regarding his role as leader of the House of Representatives.
“Sapkota seems to have failed in coordination,” Taranath Ranabhat, a former speaker, told the Post. “He can place pressure on the Parliament Secretariat and respective House committees to expedite the process to finalise the bills, but he hasn’t.”
According to Ranabhat, the Speaker can also request the government to draft necessary bills and table them at Parliament.
“Sapkota has yet to realise that he is no longer a Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader and has to work putting aside the interests of the party and the government,” said Ranabhat.
When the session started, it had to deal with as many as 46 bills, including 33 pending from the previous sessions.
As of now, only two bills—the bill to amend the Revenue Leakage (Investigation and Control) Act, and the Industrial Enterprise Development Bill—have been endorsed.
Around a dozen bills related to the authority of the three tiers of government have been pending from the second and third sessions of Parliament.
Gopal Nath Yogi, acting general-secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, conceded that the ongoing session has not been as productive as it was expected to be.
“The delay on the part of the parliamentary committees to finalise the bills is responsible for the poor show,” Yogi, who was elevated to acting general-secretary on Sunday, told the Post.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat say that the House of Representatives has failed to function well because it has largely been held hostage by the ruling party’s indecision. But all lawmakers, regardless of party, need to shoulder the blame as the minimum number of lawmakers required have failed to show up. The minimum number of Members of Parliament required to pass a bill is 25 percent, or just 69 out of 275 members.
The next meeting of the Lower House has been called for March 20 and even if the House runs regularly, there is no possibility of holding more than 10 meetings, which is not adequate to endorse all the pending bills.
Then again, lawmakers have been demanding that the House session be prorogued amid concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, Radheshyam Adhikari, a Nepali Congress member of the National Assembly, called to postpone Parliament sessions for a month. Bhimsen Das Pradhan and Bharat Kumar Shah, also Nepali Congress lawmakers in the Lower House, made similar demands last week.
Yogi said going by the experience of previous years, the winter session will conclude by the last week of March.
“The budget session should start from the last week of April. Therefore, it won’t be untimely to conclude the winter session without waiting too long,” Yogi told the Post.
Last year, the budget session started on April 29, just a month before the fiscal budget was presented. As per the constitutional mandate, the government must present its fiscal budget on May 29.
Speaker Sapkota and Ganesh Timilsina, chair of the Upper House, are holding meetings with House committee chairs on Wednesday, asking them to expedite the finalisation of the bills, but things don’t look optimistic.
Two key bills that should have been endorsed by the ongoing session are an amendment bill to the Citizenship Act and a bill related to the Civil Service. Both are pending at the State Affairs Committee.
Hundreds of people have been barred from acquiring citizenship because the Citizenship Act has yet to be amended. Similarly, provincial governments have not been able to hire staff due to a lack of the necessary umbrella civil service law.
“I am aware of the problems that have been created due to a lack of laws,” Sapkota told the media at a press meet on Monday. “I will ask the respective House committees not to hold the bills for too long.”
Experts say the current session of Parliament should have functioned in a proactive manner and endorsed crucial bills necessary for the implementation of federalism. According to them, at a time when the legislature is facing criticism for functioning akin to an extension of the executive, its failure to endorse crucial bills does not bode well for the parliamentary system.
“It is unfortunate that the session is just about to end without endorsing some crucial bills,” Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst, told the Post.
According to Shrestha, House committees are working directly with the consent of the parties; therefore, the delay is because of the indecision of the party leadership.
Of the 18 parliamentary committees, 17 are chaired by lawmakers from the ruling party, which commands close to a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament.
“I blame the government and the ruling party more than the Speaker for the failure to endorse crucial bills during the ongoing session,” said Shrestha.