Amid government failings, lawmakers call for House session to hold it to accountGovernment has failed in its fight against the pandemic and the House—not social media—is the proper place for the government to listen to people’s plight, parliamentarians say.
When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli decided to prorogue the budget session of federal parliament on July 2, he was in a difficult situation in his party with most of the leaders demanding his resignation.
He feared that demands for his resignation would also be made in Parliament and even a vote of no-confidence could be tabled and despite important bills needing to be passed, he recommended that the President end the session.
But almost three months later, the situation has changed.
With Oli having managed to avert the precarious situation and saving both of his positions—party chair and prime minister, lawmakers have started demanding the new session of federal parliament.
Ruling party lawmaker and former law minister Sher Bahadur Tamang said a large number of lawmakers were for resuming the new session of Parliament at the earliest.
“Parliament is the only space where people’s voices and sufferings can be heard and ways to resolve problems facing the country discussed,” said Tamang. “At this crucial time of difficulty, Parliament must not remain a mere spectator. We need to act and discuss.”
The call for the resumption of Parliament is being made across the party line.
“If necessary, the federal parliament could arrange for provisions to protect lawmakers from the coronavirus but when all the major businesses are operating, the only place for raising people’s concerns cannot remain shut,” said Pushpa Bhusal, whip of the main opposition Nepali Congress. “There are several issues at hand for which there is a need for an immediate call for a new session of Parliament.”
The federal parliament had adopted necessary safety protocols including social distancing to conduct the budget session that began on May 8 when the country was under lockdown.
The number of coronavirus cases has been rising sharply in the past few months and there are no signs that the government has taken effective measures to control the pandemic.
On July 2, there were 14,519 persons infected with the virus. On July 21, when the four-month-long lockdown was lifted, the number of cases had reached 17,994. As the cases continued to rise, district administration offices across the country imposed prohibitory orders. Chief district officers of Kathmandu Valley issued prohibitory orders from August 19 when the number of cases in the Valley stood at 2,498. Relaxations were announced from September 17 with 13,661 cases on September 16.
On Friday, the number of people infected with the virus was 70,614 with 459 deaths across the country of which 19,974 cases and 122 deaths were in Kathmandu Valley.
“It’s now time to resume the new parliamentary session to make the government sensitive about the sufferings of the people and to hold it to account,” said Kamala Roka, another lawmaker. “When most businesses can run why not the parliament?”
While Oli runs the strongest government in recent history, the main opposition has been the weakest ever. The Oli administration has been facing allegations of failing on various fronts. The government’s response to the virus has been poor, while some of the Cabinet ministers face corruption charges. Lawmakers from across the political spectrum admit that Parliament is the only place where the government can be held to account. But the new session is nowhere in sight.
“Having no space to raise their voices, the people’s representatives and the people are writing on social media to criticise the government,” said Tamang.
Even as social media posts may generate conversations, the voices expressed on the platform lack legitimacy.
Two weeks ago, the government decided to task lawmakers with monitoring the activities on combating Covid-19 at their respective constituencies, but the decision could not be implemented as Parliament does not recognise it.
Since the legislative wing of the state is independent, there is confusion among the lawmakers whether to abide by the decision, according to Tamang.
According to Bhusal, her Congress party will discuss the resumption of Parliament in the Parliamentary Party and also in the party committees to press the government and the Speaker to call the new session at the earliest.
As per the constitution, the gap between the two sessions of Parliament should not exceed six months, but sessions could be called anytime as per the need.
The problem for resuming Parliament is not the coronavirus but the fear that the government has to answer questions if the session starts, said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a lawmaker and central committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. “We had strongly opposed the government’s move to prorogue Parliament abruptly in July and now the House must resume at the earliest.”
Jhakri said there are so many crucial bills pending in Parliament and many of them are with 10 different parliamentary committees.
When the budget session was abruptly ended on July 2, crucial bills related to citizenship, the federal civil service and public procurement awaited endorsement.
The sixth session of the federal parliament, which lasted 58 days, endorsed just six bills in addition to the budget and second amendment to the constitution.
“There are more than 50 bills in discussions at both houses of parliament,” said Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary for the House. “But it’s up to the government to call the new session of Parliament.”
According to Yogi, there have been no discussions about calling the new session of Parliament, at least not before the festivals.
“I don’t think the new session of Parliament could begin before the festivals are over,” said Yogi.
Not only the federal government, most of the provincial assemblies have also taken the increasing number of coronavirus cases as an excuse to delay the meetings or new sessions.
Some ruling party lawmakers including Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel and Lalbabu Pandit, however, said the new session could be resumed after the festivals are over.
Nepali Congress lawmaker and former minister Gagan Thapa said the opposition parties should have dragged the government to Parliament to make it accountable for its activities during the pandemic.
“If the leader of the main opposition puts pressure on the prime minister, the government will be compelled to call a new session,” said Thapa.