Provision allowing prime minister to monitor constitutional commissions raises concernsOpposition leaders say the provision was inserted in the bill in a mysterious way.
In what looks like yet another instance of an attempt to infringe upon the independence of constitutional bodies, a bill on Economic Procedure and Financial Accountability has a provision that allows the prime minister to monitor their expenses and programmes.
The bill was endorsed by the House of Representatives in the second week of August after clause-wise discussion at the Finance Committee.
Clause 50 (1) of the bill on Economic Procedure and Financial Accountability states that the role of maintaining financial accountability by selecting projects, preparing mid-term expenses structure, proposing budget, protecting and managing the government’s properties, surrendering the budget and monitoring the plans and programmes goes to the respective chiefs in the case of constitutional bodies, and concerned ministers and state ministers in the case of ministries and central level secretariat and commissions.
But Clause 50 (3) says the prime minister will monitor the financial accountability of the authorities mentioned in Clause 50 (1).
Though lawmakers of the ruling Nepal Communist Party have said the provision was “not intentional” and that it got incorporated “inadvertently”, concerns have grown, given the fact that the KP Sharma Oli government has introduced a slew of controversial bills over the months, which were criticised for the provisions that aimed to curtail the rights of National Human Rights Commission and control freedom of speech and press freedom.
A Nepali Congress member of the Finance Committee said the controversial provision in the bill on Economic Procedure and Financial Accountability was inserted in a mysterious way.
“I wonder how the provision was inserted in the bill. I was not aware of this provision during the clause-wise discussions in the committee,” Karki told the Post. “I had raised the issue at today’s committee meeting as well. Our party will object to the provision and demand its retraction.”
Even a ruling party leader said the provision did not come to his notice during the discussion phase.
“I didn’t notice that provision during discussions,” said Metmani Chaudhary, a Nepal Communist Party leader and member of the parliamentary committee. “I think the provision was inserted later.”
The Finance Committee of the lower house includes several top leaders of both the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the main opposition Nepali Congress.
It has former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai; former deputy prime minister Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar; former finance ministers Surendra Pandey, Bishnu Poudel and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki; Congress General Secretary Shashanka Koirala; and Mahantha Thakur of Rastriya Janata Party as members.
This provision, if endorsed by the National Assembly in its present form, would allow the prime minister to influence the constitutional commissions, while ministers can largely influence the activities of the independent commissions formed under the respective ministries.
Krishna Prasad Dahal, chairman of the Finance Committee said the provision allowing the prime minister to monitor the expenses and programmes of the constitutional commissions had gone unnoticed and that it was not an intentional move.
“I have already talked to the finance minister in this regard,” said Dahal, who is a lawmaker from the Nepal Communist Party.
According to the House committee members, not enough attention was paid during the discussion phase, and the focus was largely on other provisions.
“Our discussion mainly focused on ways to make the prime minister and minister more accountable. We could not see the forest for the trees,” Dahal told the Post. “This will be corrected in the upper house.”
There are two ways the provision can be removed from the bill: either the finance minister or members of the National Assembly have to register an amendment to the bill.
The bill also allows the minister for communication and information technology to monitor the expenses and programmes of the independent Information Commission, an independent, autonomous and impartial body.
The commission, under the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, was formed to protect and promote the fundamental rights of the citizens, and existing laws guide all its activities, including the finances.
“Any law that affects independence, autonomy and impartiality of an independent body is against the spirit of the constitution and democracy,” said Kiran Pokhrel, a commissioner at the Information Commission. “We have just gone through the bill, and we will register our concerns with the concerned authority after studying the provision.”
Dahal, the committee chairman, however, said the issue related to the Information Commission was not their concern, as that falls under the ambit of the ministry.
“In the case of Information Commission, the government will take appropriate action,” said Dahal.