National Assembly session begins but experts worry it could end soonWith no lower house, upper house is the only legislative body to hold the government to account.
Parliament holds the government to account.
But with the lower house dissolved it is now the upper house doing the role of the legislature.
The 59-member National Assembly is envisioned as the permanent House in the bicameral system of legislature in Nepal and its members are elected by an electoral college of the people’s representatives at the local and provincial levels.
As the winter session of the National Assembly commenced on Friday, this responsibility was not lost on Dina Nath Sharma, parliamentary party leader of the Nepal Communist Party in the upper house.
Addressing it, he said, “A bigger responsibility has come to the National Assembly to surveille the government and hold it accountable. The upper house remains the only place to put forth the concerns of the people. Therefore the responsibility has come on the shoulders of its members to raise the concerns of the people.”
If the protests on the streets are anything to go by, the concerns of the people at the moment are about the action of President Bidya Devi Bhandari to dissolve the House of Representatives and call midterm polls on April 30 and May 10 on the recommendation of the KP Sharma Oli government.
“The dissolution of the House of Representatives is a step towards the same totalitarian move,” said Jitendra Dev, a Nepali Congress lawmaker.
Oli had long been concentrating power in himself including by bringing the National Intelligence Department, the Department of Revenue Investigation and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation under the Prime Minister’s Office, Dev said.
Pramila Kumari, a lawmaker from the Janata Samajbadi Party, said she is hopeful that the Supreme Court revokes the government’s unconstitutional decision to dissolve the House.
“I also strongly demand the government correct its undemocratic step by withdrawing the decision to dissolve the House,” she said.
Besides the dissolution of the lower house, splitting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party and the Oli government’s move to issue an ordinance to revise the Act related to the Constitutional Council to monopolise the appointments in constitutional bodies are the political backdrops in which the upper house has convened.
Experts on constitution and parliamentary affairs say though the National Assembly isn’t as strong as the House of Representatives and doesn’t have a specific role when there is no lower house, it still has the authority to hold the government to account and bridle it if it tries to breach constitutional limitations.
“It is up to the National Assembly whether to play an effective role to check and balance the government or be limited to the formalities,” said Mohan Lal Acharya, who served as a legal adviser to the Constituent Assembly. “It can hold the discussions on Oli’s decision to dissolve the House and can seek an answer from the prime minister himself on the matter.”
It can also caution the government on any move it may take like those related to provincial assemblies as the two warring factions of the Nepal Communist Party are trying to take control over six of the seven provinces where it has majorities, he said.
“It can also caution the government not to take any extreme measures against provincial assemblies,” Acharya said.
Parliamentary committees are another aspect of a parliamentary system that can keep an oversight on the government.
Of the 13 parliamentary committees, four comprise upper house members. These are the Legislation Management Committee, Sustainable Development and Good Governance Committee, National Concerns and Coordination Committee and Delegation Management and Government Assurance Committee. They evaluate the actions of the government related to their areas of watch.
According to Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the parliament secretariat, Parliament has two functions: drafting the laws and holding the executive accountable.
No bill can turn into law without its endorsement by both the Houses.
Although the lower house has special powers in cases of laws related to finance and bills that are introduced in it become defunct even if they are presented in the National Assembly, if the tenure of the lower house comes to an end or is dissolved, the upper house can work on the bills directly registered to it.
“The National Assembly compliments the House of Representatives in the lawmaking process,” said Thapa.
But he is not optimistic that the National Assembly session will be very long.
Thapa also believes the National Assembly was convened just to oblige with the constitutional provision that does not allow the gap between two House sessions to be more than six months.
As the budget session of the federal parliament was abruptly ended on July 2, it was a constitutional obligation to call the meeting by Jan 2.
“Don’t get surprised if the National Assembly session ends within a few weeks,” he said.