You cannot mistrust people’s representatives on every issueRamesh Lekhak, Nepali Congress chief whip, on the government’s performance, internal dynamics in the party and its relations with the main opposition and vital issue of transitional justice.
The Nepali Congress, senior coalition partner in the incumbent Pushpa Kamal Dahal Cabinet, has expressed discontent over “partiality” against its leaders in investigation of different criminal cases. It also has reservations over the Supreme Court’s interim order to halt the implementation of the Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme (CIDP). Against this backdrop, the Post’s Binod Ghimire sat down with Ramesh Lekhak, the Congress chief whip, to discuss the government’s performance, internal dynamics in the party and its relations with the main opposition. As a member of the sub-committee studying the amendment bill to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, Lekhak also touches on the vital issue of transitional justice.
You have objected to the apex court’s order to halt implementation of Constituency Infrastructure Development Programme. Does your party view it as judicial activism?
I didn’t comment on any particular judgement. My question is purely over principle. Separation of power among three state organs is a key foundation of our federal republic and the democratic system we practise. Each organ must respect the prerogative of others. If a state organ breaches the jurisdiction of other organs, it will only invite power imbalance. This would be unconstitutional too. Similarly, the fund for the CIDP was allocated through the appropriation bill, which is a finance bill. Even the President doesn’t have the authority to return the finance bills for a review. This speaks volumes about the gravity of the finance bills which are promulgated for resources allocation and determination of tax rates.
Parliament has a special prerogative over the finance bills. This is why the Constitution of Nepal says the President cannot return these bills for review. How can the court enter into the special privilege of Parliament? Also, the lawmakers don’t execute the programme. They just recommend projects from their constituency. What is a lawmaker supposed to do if s/he cannot even recommend development programmes to the government?
But don’t you think development works should be undertaken by the executive rather than the lawmakers, as the interim court verdict also suggests?
I am talking about resource allocation. The final authority on resource allocation is Parliament. If not Parliament, who else can decide resource allocation? Let me make it very clear, under the CIDP, the parliamentarians only recommend projects but are not involved in project implementation.
In a democracy, the people’s court is the highest court. Only after being endorsed by this court can you be a lawmaker. My people have the first authority to reward and punish me. They will punish me in the next election if I do something wrong. How can those who are never tested in the court of people take every decision of the state? You cannot mistrust people’s representatives on every issue.
Having said that, we fully abide by the court’s rulings. However, we also have to raise questions if its decisions contradict the spirit of the constitution.
Do you think the Supreme Court’s ruling against the formation of the Koshi government is also judicial activism?
I have a clear position on this matter. All decisions relating to the government formation in the Koshi Province, of late, are not in line with the constitution and laws. I have been saying this for a long time.
On the national front, is the Congress satisfied with the performance of its ministers and the government as a whole?
The party is yet to evaluate the performance of its ministers. It will be too early to make such evaluations, even before the ministers have completed a year in office. The party will analyse their work at the right time.
When it comes to the government, our party is not unhappy. The pressure in the economy and budget is a big drag in the government’s output. It is natural for the lawmakers and the leaders to have some dissatisfaction. However, as a whole, the government is headed in the right direction.
But your party President Sher Bahadur Deuba and some party leaders seem dissatisfied with the way some criminal cases involving Congress leaders are being pursued.
The top leadership is also our guardian. With a long experience, it is natural for them to comment on some of the government’s actions. That in no way means a political accident is imminent.
Does the Congress feel that there is some political bias in the investigation of such criminal acts?
I don’t think there is strong dissatisfaction in the party. However, the prosecution in any offence must be done in line with existing laws, without any misinterpretation. It would be wrong to prosecute someone solely with the intent of keeping them behind bars. Party leaders have been arguing that wrong interpretation of laws, in some cases, should be stopped. Let’s hope the government can start a course correction on these issues.
There is speculation that the Congress and the UML are inching closer, even to the extent of replacing the current government. Is that true?
It is vital for all the parties to talk and work in collaboration in order to make the Parliament function effectively, for the larger good of the nation and to safeguard the present political system and the constitution. The Congress, the UML and the Maoist Centre were on the same page when the new constitution was being promulgated. So it is their responsibility to work together in safeguarding and strengthening the present political system and the constitution.
Our party has a clear position that it wants the continuation of the present alliance and it is against formation of any new political alliance. The Congress wants stability and continuation of the current alliance.
A dissident faction of your party led by Shekhar Koirala, however, has been vocal against the present government.
Our recent parliamentary party meeting made a unanimous decision that as the present coalition was formed with the initiation and support of the Nepali Congress, the party should work to make it stable and effective. This is a political decision. The leaders you named also have agreed on this.
When will the party hold its policy convention as discussed in last month’s Central Working Committee meeting?
We are preparing to convert the upcoming Mahasamiti meeting as a policy convention. It will most probably be held after Tihar (mid-November) .
We also hear demands for a change in party leadership.
There are set processes to change the party leadership and the party statute. It can be done only through the general convention. It is neither possible nor is politically right to demand for leadership change before the general convention. Let us wait until the general convention to do it the legitimate way.
You are also a member of the sub-committee studying the amendment bill to the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act. Why hasn’t the panel been able to finalise the bill?
The cross-party lawmakers in the sub-committee are close to a consensus. We will give the bill a final shape after discussing it with top leaders. The prolonged House obstruction had delayed such consultations. Now that we have sorted out the issues that led to House obstruction, the consultations will soon begin.
The UML is strongly in favour of listing ‘murder’ as ‘non-amnestiable crime’ while it is also pitching for the incorporation of former child soldiers in the law. How will you find meeting points on these issues?
We are very close to ironing out our differences on the issue of murder. Let me remind you, the UML government in the past had honoured the former child soldiers as democratic fighters. Now they are no more child soldiers. I, therefore, don’t see any need to incorporate anything about them in the bill.
We are having intense discussions with cross-party leaders, experts and other stakeholders. We will make a mature decision this time by addressing the concerns of different quarters. There is a broad understanding that it might take some time but the bill should be a unanimous document.
Have you also agreed on the composition of two transitional justice commissions that have been vacant for a year now?
No, we haven’t discussed the selection of office-bearers in the commissions. The parties will not be involved in the selection process. It will be done through a transparent process. However, there is broad agreement among the parties that competent people with high integrity should be selected to lead the commissions.
In my opinion, the two years given to complete investigations, as provided in the bill, is too short. They should get four years. Transitional justice is very complex and we shouldn’t be too ambitious. The Comprehensive Peace Accord said the whereabouts of the disappeared would be made public in 60 days. It’s been 16 years and we still haven’t been able to implement it. We need to be realistic while setting the deadline. I am confident that we will have a good law in place this time.