Rana impeachment motion sent to probe committee, but time is running outProposal can’t pass the House without the support of UML, which seems disinterested in ruling coalition’s agenda.
Nearly six months after its registration at the parliament secretariat, the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana was forwarded to the Impeachment Recommendation Committee on Sunday following a discussion in the House of Representatives.
The committee will now probe the allegations against Rana. As many as 98 lawmakers of the ruling coalition—Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist)—had on February 13 registered the motion against Rana with 21 charges including that he promoted corruption in the judiciary and failed to discharge his duties effectively. Rana was automatically suspended following the registration of the motion.
After sitting on the motion for months, the ruling parties presented it for discussion in the House on Sunday and forwarded it to the recommendation committee. The recommendation committee to investigate the allegations against Rana was constituted on March 6.
Taking part in deliberations, lawmakers of the main opposition CPN-UML asked the ruling parties and the Speaker why the motion was kept on hold for months and was presented only after the government announced the date for elections.
Mahesh Basnet, a UML lawmaker, said the fact that the motion has been presented for discussions while the tenure of the lower house is nearing its expiry shows the ruling parties registered it to serve their vested interests.
“It was wrong to keep the motion on hold for months despite the pressure from our party and the civil society to settle it through the parliamentary process,” said Basnet. “It has been presented for processing while the term of the House is coming to an end.”
The government on Thursday announced that federal and provincial elections will be held on November 20. There is a debate going on about whether the House can function after the election date is announced.
The recommendation committee has a maximum of three months to investigate the allegations and present its report before it is put to a vote.
Rule 163 of the Regulations of the House of Representatives allows the recommendation committee a maximum of three months, from the day it starts work, to probe the allegations.
Ruling party leaders say the motion couldn’t be presented because the UML obstructed the House while the government had to focus on the national budget after the obstruction was lifted.
“The recommendation committee can conclude the probe in two weeks if there is consensus among the parties,” Min Bishwakarma, the Congress whip who is also a member of the committee, told the Post. “We want the House to vote on the motion before its tenure expires.”
The ruling parties are for continuing the House meeting until Dashain (mid-October) as the terms of lawmakers do not expire until the Election Commission begins registering candidacies for elections.
UML lawmakers, however, say it is not possible to conclude the investigations in two weeks as claimed by Congress lawmakers. Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe, who also is a member of the committee, said the lawmakers have already started visiting their constituencies after the poll dates were announced. Therefore, they cannot fully devote themselves to the investigation.
Three of the UML lawmakers, who are on the recommendation committee, are currently touring their constituencies. “The ruling parties neither consulted us while registering the motion in Parliament nor before presenting it today [Sunday],” Tumbahangphe told the Post. “The impeachment motion is a sensitive issue which needs to be probed seriously by following a due process.”
Officials at the parliament secretariat say it will take at least three-four days for the recommendation committee to hold its first meeting. And it will take a couple of more days to prepare the working procedure.
Laxmi Prasad Gautam, secretary for the recommendation committee, said the senior-most member of the committee will consult with members and call the first meeting.
“The committee will then prepare a working procedure and elect its coordinator before formally commencing its investigation,” he told the Post. “The chief justice will be called for his clarification on the charges and the committee may also consult experts.”
The 11-member committee has four lawmakers from the UML, two each from the Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre) and one each from the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. The committee will endorse its report in consensus or through a vote and submit it to Parliament, according to Gautam.
Experts on parliamentary affairs say completing the probe against Rana in 15 days, as claimed by Congress lawmakers, is impossible because the recommendation committee needs concrete evidence to impeach Rana and the process is time-consuming.
“The motion has been forwarded just to show that the ruling parties had at least tried to impeach Rana,” Surya Kiran Gurung, a former general secretary at the parliament secretariat, told the Post. “The motion won’t be put to a vote without the assurance of a two-thirds majority in its favour. However, the UML appears to be against the motion. So I think the term of the House will expire before taking any decision on the motion.”
The impeachment motion against Rana cannot be endorsed without the support of the UML, the main opposition, which has 98 lawmakers in the House. To impeach Rana, the motion needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the 271-strong House, for which 181 lawmakers must vote in its favour.
“The opposition lawmakers must be clear whether they stand with the motion or oppose it. We can endorse the motion if the UML wants. Time is not a problem,” said Haribol Gajurel, a Maoist Centre lawmaker in the House. “It seems the UML wants to protect Rana.”