Without calendar, House sessions are called at government’s convenienceOfficials say winter session will commence soon, but no one knows when.
The winter session of federal parliament is just about to commence. But neither the Parliament Secretariat nor the government knows exactly when. The confusion largely stems from the lack of a set calendar.
Nepal has had parliamentary democracy for the last three decades, but House sessions have always been called as wanted by the government of the day.
At an interaction in the Capital in October last year, then Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara said making a calendar for the House of Representatives would be his main priority. However, after leading the House for over a year, during which he failed to prepare a calendar, Mahara stepped down in early October following allegations of attempted rape.
Different countries, including the United Kingdom whose Westminster model of parliamentary government is adopted by Nepal, prepare the calendar for House sessions a year in advance. Though there are no fixed dates for the commencement of parliamentary sessions in neighbouring India, it has set that the budget session starts in February and ends in May, the next session begins in July and runs through September and the winter session lasts over a month in November and December.
“We have long been planning to introduce a calendar, but we are yet to have one,” Bharat Raj Gautam, secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post.
Experts on the parliamentary form of governance say parliament can function in a more effective manner if there is a fixed calendar.
The winter session of Parliament will be crucial as a host of bills related to the operation of three tiers of government are pending. One of the tasks the House needs to complete immediately is elect the Speaker. Besides, around a dozen bills are pending from the previous session, awaiting deliberations before they are enacted as laws.
Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said preparations for the calendar are long overdue.
“We have been talking about a fixed calendar for years now, but no concrete steps have been taken to have one,” Thapa told the Post. He said the commencement of Parliament is also linked with timely elections. In the United Kingdom, for instance, elections are held on the first Thursday of May every five years and parliament sessions are held accordingly.
Some attribute the failure to adopt a parliamentary calendar to political instability and the long-drawn transition. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the country saw frequent government changes, with none serving a full five-year term.
Parties would dissolve the House at the drop of a hat whenever they felt odds were stacked against them. Post-2008, the country struggled to draw up a new constitution, an exercise that continued for seven years.
The 2017 elections, held under the new constitution for the first time, installed a majority government with a mandate to govern for a full five-year term. But even now, no steps have been taken to fix the parliamentary calendar.
Experts say not having a fixed calendar for Parliament has its own downsides and that sometimes this may allow the government to have recourse to ordinance to enact laws.
While the constitution provisions promulgation of an ordinance by the President at the government’s recommendation, it says it should be done only in urgent and emergency situations.
Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst, said there has been a practice of enacting laws through ordinance whenever the government feels its bills can be dragged into controversy.
“Successive governments have misused the authority to issue ordinances,” Shrestha told the Post.
In a recent case, the incumbent government faced criticism when it sent an ordinance to the President to effect some changes to the Constitutional Council Act. The ordinance is currently stuck at the Office of the President. Experts had questioned the rationale behind introducing the ordinance when the winter session is just around the corner, even though the date is yet to be fixed.
As the constitution makes it mandatory to present the national budget on Jestha 15 (end of May), the budget session is called around a month earlier. However, there is no such obligation for the bill session.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat say the responsibility to prepare a calendar for the Parliament lies with the government.
“I haven’t seen any government realising the necessity to prepare the calendar,” a senior official at the Secretariat told the Post on condition of anonymity. He said the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs should take the lead.
Dhan Raj Gyanwali, spokesperson for the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, said he was unaware of any such initiative to prepare the calendar.
The winter session of Parliament also needs to endorse the Federal Public Service Commission Bill, Federal Civil Service Act and amendments to the Citizenship Act and Forest Act, which are directly related to the functioning of provincial governments. Five other crucial bills have also been pending for months as the Deputy Speaker, in the absence of a Speaker, does not have the authority to certify them.
The House of Representatives had endorsed the bill that defines the jurisdiction of the Nepal Police and the provincial police; the national identity card bill; and the bill to amend the Land Act, among others, before its prorogation on September 19. But the bills have not been sent to the Office of the President as they are yet to be certified by the Speaker.
According to the Parliament Secretariat, it needs to be notified about the commencement of the new session seven days in advance so that it can complete the required preparations.
“We haven’t received any notice about the commencement of the winter session,” said Gautam.
Officials at the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry, which works as liaison between the government and Parliament, said they were unaware of the date of the new session.
As per the constitution, the President commences and prorogues House sessions on the recommendation of the government.
“So far, commitments have been made that there would be a calendar for Parliament sessions, but they have been made just for public consumption,” said Shrestha, the political analyst. “Neither the Parliament Secretariat nor the government has made any serious efforts to introduce one.”