Parliament secretariat says no possibility to hold formal meeting of the House committees virtuallyFinance Committee meeting called for Wednesday cancelled following the rejection.
The parliament secretariat has rejected the request of the cross party lawmakers to hold virtual meetings of the House committees, saying the existing law as well as technological constraints do not allow it to conduct such meetings.
Amid growing criticism over the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the lawmakers had suggested holding virtual meetings of parliamentary committees to discuss the issues concerning the disease and its preparedness.
Baburam Bhattarai, chairperson of Samajbadi Party Nepal, had held a virtual meeting with Finance Committee Chair Krishna Prasad Dahal on Friday about the need to call a remote meeting to evaluate the measures the government has taken to combat Covid-19. Bhattarai had also proposed holding a budget discussion for the upcoming fiscal year.
The national budget for the fiscal year 2020/21 will be presented before the federal parliament on May 29.
Dahal had called the meeting of the panel for Wednesday was later cancelled at the instruction of Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota .
“We have postponed our meeting called for Wednesday after the Speaker said it was not possible to hold a virtual meeting now,” Dahal told the Post. “We have asked to find a way out. We are expecting that the secretariat will come out with a solution.”
The Speaker has called a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee on Tuesday to discuss the ways to hold meetings of the House committees.
Nepali Congress lawmaker Gagan Thapa had also proposed holding the meeting of the Education and Health Committee to discuss about the government’s current actions in dealing with the pandemic.
However, the officials in the parliament secretariat said it was not possible to hold the formal meetings virtually. They, however, said that there can be informal discussions among the lawmakers.
Gopal Nath Yogi, acting general secretary of the parliament secretariat, said there were different factors that stood as hurdles to holding virtual meetings.
First, there is no provision regarding virtual meetings in the existing regulations of Parliament; second, the federal parliament is not equipped with the technology for such meetings; and third, there is a concern regarding security and privacy.
“The authenticity of the decisions taken through virtual meetings could be questioned in the lack of regulation in place,” Yogi told the Post.
He added that the free versions of the software to hold the virtual meetings like Zoom were available only for half an hour and it would take time if the secretariat decided to purchase a software.
“We can rather hold meetings in person by maintaining safe distance among the lawmakers,” Yogi said.
With no immediate possibility of holding formal meetings, the Health and Education Committee has convened an informal video conference session with its members on Tuesday.
“We are told there cannot be formal meetings but we can still discuss informally about the ongoing tests and treatment the government is providing to prevent a major outbreak of Covid-19,” Jaya Puri Gharti, chairperson of committee, told the Post.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari prorogued the winter session of the federal parliament starting April 6 following the government’s recommendation. However, the meeting of the House committees, which act like mini parliament, could be held to hold the government to account.
Different decisions of the KP Sharma Oli government from procurement of the medical equipment through a private company to authorisation of purchasing rights to the Nepal Army have landed in controversy.
The Public Accounts Committee has already received a number of complaints about possible irregularities in the procurement of medical equipment, and the government’s intention to award the new procurement deal to the Army.
However, the House committees are sitting idle saying they are not in a position to hold their meetings.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of June 2, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,321,836 people with 375,657 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 198,140 with 5,608 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 72,460 confirmed cases with 1,543 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1,811 cases with eight deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.