Parties that accused UML of subverting Parliament are themselves doing itMinisters are skipping budget-related discussions and experts call it insult to the people and Parliament. Ministers must be accountable to Parliament, says UML chief whip.
Nepal’s political parties can outcompete each other fairly easily when it comes to undermining the sovereign institutions including Parliament.
The CPN-UML held the House hostage for months before lifting obstructions last month. Before that, its chair KP Sharma Oli as prime minister dissolved the House twice. Both of his decisions were termed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Oli’s second dissolution cost him his job, as the court consigned him to the other side of the aisle while awarding the prime ministerial office to Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba who has the backing of four parties.
Now it’s the ruling parties that have undermined the Parliament.
On May 19, the House of Representatives was scheduled to hold pre-budget discussions for the upcoming fiscal year. As lawmakers during the discussions offer suggestions on issues to be included in the budget, the presence of the finance minister is mandatory.
However, Janardan Sharma didn’t show up for the meeting. After objections from UML lawmakers, Speaker Agni Sapkota issued a ruling to the minister to be present in the House.
Sharma came to the meeting only after the ruling.
Discussions on the budget for the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration and Ministry of Communication and Information Technology were scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
The bell in the House sounded a few minutes after 11am, the time for the commencement of the meeting. However, none of four ministers from the ministries was present at the meeting, prompting officials at the House to continue ringing the bell for over 10 minutes. It’s a rare incident, according to Parliament officials.
The ringing of the bell signals the lawmakers to enter the hall of the lower house prior to the commencement of the meeting.
The House meeting began around half an hour later than the scheduled time only after Industry Minister Dilendra Badu entered the hall. The same was the situation in the National Assembly where the meeting was delayed as no ministers were present.
The opposition lawmakers took the opportunity to criticize the ministers saying they were undermining the dignity of the House by remaining absent time and again. “I request our ministers to show respect to the House and stop demeaning it,” said Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel, a CPN-UML lawmaker.
The discussions on the budget of the four ministries including the Ministry of Finance were scheduled on Thursday. However, Sharma, the finance minister, remained absent on Thursday. The UML lawmakers took exception to his absence. And Sapkota said Sharma had informed him that he was not unwell and could not participate in the discussions.
“The government and the ministers must be accountable to Parliament. It is a case of sheer negligence for the ministers to skip budget discussions,” Bishal Bhattari, the UML chief whip, told the Post. “It is their responsibility to respect the supremacy of the Parliament.”
Bhattarai might be talking about maintaining the dignity of the House, but it was his government that dissolved the lower house twice. The erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government, on December 20, 2020, dissolved the House for the first time which was reinstated by the Supreme Court on February 23 next year saying the move was unconstitutional.
However, Oli dissolved it again on May 21 last year. Through its July 12 verdict, the court not just reinstated the House but also directed to appoint Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister. After the reinstatement, the UML continuously obstructed the House proceedings between September 8, 2021 and May 17. The eight months long obstruction left the House totally dysfunctional leaving dozens of bills that are awaiting endorsement unattended.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say it is wrong that Congress and other ruling parties that earlier criticized the UML for demeaning the dignity of the House, are themselves doing the same. The first duty of the ministers is to address the concerns of the people’s representatives.
“It is wrong for the ministers to skip pre-scheduled budget discussions,” Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “No other work can be more important for them than to listen to the budget-related questions and concerns from lawmakers.”
As the House elects the government, the government is answerable to it. Similarly, it is the parliament which holds the executive accountable. The lawmakers in the House raise the concerns of the people they represent.
Experts say the ministers by remaining absent from parliament meetings are showing they are least bothered about the concerns of the people’s representatives. “The House has just returned to normalcy after months long of obstruction and dissolution. It is the responsibility of the government and also the Speaker to ensure it functions effectively until its tenure completes later this year,” Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker, told the Post. “The Speaker should be strong enough to make sure the ministers respect the dignity of the House.”