UML seeks government accountability while it holds the House of Representatives hostageA dysfunctional Parliament is unlikely to convene meetings anytime soon amid Covid-19 scare.
A team of CPN-UML called on Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Saturday to draw his attention to the spike in coronavirus cases and to demand the government’s proactive role on its control, prevention and treatment.
The team led by Subas Nembang, vice-chairperson of the main opposition party, also asked the government to expedite the campaign in administering vaccines against Covid-19, saying that the government had failed to do so.
The UML’s point is valid. After all, in a democracy, it is the responsibility of the opposition to question the government and hold it to account.
What, however, appears to be farcical is Nepal’s main opposition has held Parliament hostage for months.
The federal parliament is in session and the meetings of both its houses are being called regularly. However, they have become dysfunctional owing to the obstruction by the UML.
It has been four months since the main opposition party started continuously obstructing the House meetings. Except for endorsing replacement bills of four ordinances related to the national budget and approving the proposal to withdraw two bills, the House has remained totally dysfunctional. The bills and the proposals were approved using marshals amid obstructions from the UML.
“The UML wouldn’t need to visit the prime minister at Baluwatar to draw his attention, only if it had lifted the House obstruction. The demands presented through the House have more gravity than the ones done through submitting a memorandum,” Tara Nath Ranabhat, a former Speaker, told the Post. “Such questions raised to the government also remain in records.”
He said while the government’s attention can be drawn through in-person meetings, it is wrong to obstruct the House, the right place to hold the government to account, and take alternative ways.
Ranabhat says every lawmaker can put the concerns of the people from the area they represent.
However, not all of them have access nor is it possible for all of them to meet in person with the prime minister or ministers to put forth their demands.
Generally, “zero hour” sessions are held prior to entering the House agenda every meeting to allow lawmakers to present their concerns.
Similarly, time slots for “special” sessions are allocated whenever lawmakers want to present serious issues.
The UML has been resorting to House obstruction since September 8 citing Speaker Agni Sapkota’s inaction to strip 14 UML lawmakers of their positions.
The session lasted 51 days but did not endorse a single bill, except for those related to the budget, owing to the continuous obstruction from the lawmakers in the opposition. The ongoing session that began on December 14 faces a similar fate.
The UML has been accusing the Speaker and the government of not taking a serious initiative to resolve the problem and has said Sapkota and Deuba should hold separate meetings with its chair KP Sharma Oli.
Deuba visited Oli’s residence on January 8 to request him to allow the House to function.
Oli doesn’t seem to be in a mood to do so.
Meanwhile, Monday’s scheduled House meeting has been postponed. In a notice, the Parliament Secretariat said that the meeting was postponed in view of the growing risk of Covid-19. The next meeting has been scheduled for January 30.
Congress leader Minendra Rijal was quick to take to social media to ask if the next meeting would also be postponed as it has been scheduled on a public holiday.
“It's Martyr’s Day on January 30. Will the meeting be held or postponed again?” Rijal wrote on Twitter.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say the UML is trying its best to prove the present House irrelevant to justify the dissolutions. President Bidya Devi Bhandari, on the recommendation of Oli, dissolved the House on December 20, 2020. The Supreme Court overturned the move on February 23 last year saying it was unconstitutional.
The House session was called on March 7, 2021 as directed by the Court. The first meeting of the reinstated House lasted 44 days and held nine meetings without endorsing a single bill. It is the government’s responsibility to provide business to the House. It was probably the first time in the country that an entire session ended without endorsing a single bill while Parliament had over 50 bills to discuss and endorse.
The session ended abruptly on April 19 amid talks among opposition parties to bring a no-confidence motion against Oli. A month later on May 21, President Bhandari dissolved the House again on the recommendation of the Oli government. The Supreme Court on July 12 not only overturned the decision but also unseated Oli as the prime minister.
“The UML has been holding the House hostage to justify the dissolutions and prove that it has become irrelevant ,” Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at Parliament Secretariat, told the Post.
“It is a paradox that it is holding in-person meetings with the executive while obstructing the House. In addition to preparing the laws and making and unmaking of the governments, Parliament has yet another important job—giving space to people’s representatives to discuss issues of public concern.”
According to him, a functional and vibrant parliament is a must to strengthen democracy.
“A party that calls itself a democratic force shouldn’t paralyse the parliament,” said Thapa.
UML leaders, however, say the House obstruction is a compulsion. They said it is their fight against injustice from Sapkota.
“The Speaker misused his authority and he is not ready to correct that. The court is refusing to hear our case. So we are forced to resort to obstructions,” Bishal Bhattarai, the UML’s chief whip, told the Post.
“As a responsible opposition, we met the prime minister to draw the government’s attention to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and urge him to respond to the pandemic.”