Deuba skips House committee meeting. Lawmakers decide to summon him againNepal’s prime ministers often ignore such calls, just as questions remain about parliamentary panels also.
The International Relations Committee of the House of Representatives on Sunday was sharply divided over what position it should have after Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba played truant.
The committee on Friday had decided to summon the prime minister to ask him about his upcoming visit to the United States and agendas to be discussed there. It also wanted to discuss the ongoing controversy surrounding the US government’s State Partnership Program and Nepal’s participation in it.
However, Deuba didn’t show up citing a busy schedule.
His secretariat informed the committee just a couple of hours before the commencement of its meeting that he won’t be able to attend.
One of Deuba’s aides told the Post that the committee had summoned the prime minister without checking his schedule so he could not attend the meeting. And, the prime minister’s US visit is also yet to be fixed, said the aide.
The committee has decided to call Deuba again, although the date is yet to be finalised.
“The committee decides to summon the prime minister again to discuss his visit to the United States and the State Partnership Program of the US government,” reads the decision.
Deuba is likely to fly to Washington in mid-July, but the government has yet to make an announcement.
However, there was serious debate among lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties before deciding to summon Deuba again.
Committee chair Pabitra Niroula Kharel said the House panel has taken serious exception to Deuba skipping the meeting.
“I was informed that the prime minister won’t be attending the meeting, only at 8am today,” Kharel, a CPN-UML lawmaker, told the Post. “It’s a serious matter and such an act undermines Parliament.”
At the meeting, Kharel and UML lawmakers said absence of the prime minister was against the parliamentary norms and democratic system. They said the prime minister should be asked to clarify his absence.
However, Nepali Congress lawmakers objected, saying it was wrong to conclude the prime minister’s failure to attend the meeting is against the parliamentary norms and democratic system.
According to Congress lawmakers, the prime minister decided not to attend the meeting also because his visit to the US is yet to be fixed and formally announced, and he had pre-scheduled engagements.
Some members including CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal left the meeting after learning that Deuba was not attending. He then reached Baluwatar to attend a meeting of the ruling coalition partners.
Prime Minister Deuba has been avoiding the House where a number of ruling and opposition lawmakers have been demanding his response on the ongoing controversy over the SPP and his visit to the US.
But Deuba is not the first prime minister to skip House committee meetings. Nepal’s prime ministers have a tendency to ignore House committee summons.
“In the past also, prime ministers have skipped House committee meetings. But they were not accused of breaching parliamentary norms,” said Pushpa Bhusal, a Congress whip, who is also a member of the committee. “How can we demand clarifications when the prime minister has clearly said he had prior commitments?”
After lawmakers from different parties had differing views, Kharel read out a decision to summon the prime minister again.
The 25-member committee has 10 lawmakers from the CPN-UML including the chairperson and five and four from the Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre), respectively. Similarly, three lawmakers are from the Unified Socialist, two from Janata Samajbadi Party and one from the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
House committees are considered mini parliaments and they often summon ministers and government officials to discuss pressing issues.
Nepali prime ministers, however, often tend to not attend such committee meetings—sometimes with reasons, but at other times they don’t even offer any clarification as to why they could not make it to the meetings despite being summoned.
The Parliamentary Hearing Committee had called erstwhile Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on November 26, 2020 to draw his attention to a lack of inclusivity while making appointments to constitutional commissions and ambassadorial positions.
However, he failed to show up. The committee decided to call him again.
But Oli dissolved the House of Representatives a month later on December 20.
House committees on their part also do not have an excellent track record for some of impractical decisions and orders.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say parliamentary committees can summon the prime minister to discuss serious issues. However, that has to be done after checking his availability.
Former Speaker Daman Nath Dhungana said there has to be a very strong reason to summon the prime minister and they have to appear before the House committees.
“However, we have a trend of summoning the prime minister just to boast that the committee ordered the executive head to present himself in person,” he told the Post. “The prime minister is a busy person. It won’t be possible for him to appear in all parliamentary committees. However, whenever there are issues that can be answered only by the prime minister, it becomes his responsibility to respond to them by appearing in the parliamentary committees.”
After controversy erupted over Nepal’s participation in the SPP, the House committee on Friday quizzed Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and Nepal Army Chief General Prabhu Ram Sharma.
Both Khadka and Sharma denied Nepal’s participation in the SPP.
The US embassy in Kathmandu, however, had maintained that Washington accepted Nepal in the SPP in 2019 after it applied twice in 2015 and 2017.
A leaked Nepal Army letter, undersigned by then Army chief Rajendra Chhetri, shows that the Nepal Army had applied for Nepal’s participation in the SPP on October 27, 2015.
UML chair KP Sharma Oli was prime minister at that time. The UML, however, has maintained that the Army bypassed the Oli government while writing to the US.
Pradeep Gyawali, a UML leader, has vehemently criticised the incumbent government over the SPP.
In 2019, when the US said it accepted Nepal in the SPP, Gyawali was foreign minister in the Oli Cabinet.
Between 2015 and 2019, all the top leaders of the major parties—the UML, Congress and the Maoist Centre—have led the government.
In 2015, UML’s Oli took over from Congress’ Sushil Koirala. In 2017, Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was prime minister until June and then he was succeeded by Congress’ Deuba. In 2019, when Oli was prime minister again, he and Dahal jointly led a party called the Nepal Communist Party, which was invalidated in March 2021.
“Deuba’s absence in the meeting has been blown out of proportion,” said Dhungana. “Their conclusion that Deuba’s skipping the meeting is against parliamentary practice is wrong.”
Parliamentary experts say the House committees shouldn’t be selective in summoning the prime minister.
Dhungana said although the chairpersons of parliamentary committees represent one or another party, they shouldn’t be seen taking different decisions based on which party is leading the government.
In October 2020, amid deepening infighting in his party, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), then prime minister KP Sharma Oli had met Samant Kumar Goel, chief of Indian spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, at his official residence in Baluwatar.
The act was heavily criticised within his party and outside as undiplomatic. No details were released about his midnight meeting with Goel.
Despite widespread criticism, the parliamentary committee did not summon Oli.
Experts on parliamentary affairs, however, say there are various instances where prime ministers have appeared before House committees and responded to lawmakers’ concerns.
Surya Kiran Gurung, former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala had appeared before a parliamentary committee in 1992 to give his clarifications on the dispute about the Tanakpur Agreement (Treaty).
“The parliamentary committees have every authority to summon the prime ministers. However, it has to be done in close coordination,” he told the Post.