House meet uncertain over gold smuggling probe rowParties have disputed over jurisdiction of to-be-formed commission.
The lack of agreement on forming a high-level commission to investigate gold smuggling has thrown Sunday’s meeting of the House of Representatives called after two weeks into uncertainty.
The CPN-UML last month withdrew its month-long obstruction of Parliament after forging a two-point agreement with the ruling parties on the need for a probe panel. Following the August 22 deal, the main opposition agreed to allow the proceedings of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly.
As per the first point of agreement, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), which has been studying a recent haul of smuggled gold, would continue to have the authority to prosecute all those involved in the crime.
Once the police bureau submitted its report, an independent and neutral inquiry was agreed to be formed on September 22 to look into repeated cases of gold smuggling. The parties agreed that the commission to be formed as per the Commission of Inquiry Act would submit its recommendations addressing the necessary measures to check the crime, along with a blueprint for investigating such cases.
The probe committee hasn’t been formed even after a week since the agreed deadline, owing to the differences among the ruling and opposition parties over the commission's jurisdiction. They are divided on whether to further the investigation from the CIB’s probe or to conduct a fresh one.
The ruling parties have maintained that the commission would recommend a revision to laws and changes in the existing mechanism for the investigation of such crimes, if necessary. It can also study the CIB’s report and recommend further investigation if any lapses are found. However, the UML says it is not convinced that the police investigation has reached the masterminds of the repeated cases of gold smuggling over the years.
“The government and ruling parties have betrayed us by refusing to act as per last month’s agreement. We have no option but to halt the House proceedings to oppose their betrayal,” Mahesh Bartaula, the UML’s whip, told the Post.
Starting Sunday, the UML will not allow both chambers of the federal parliament to enter the agenda. The party, however, will not obstruct the emergency, zero and special sessions of the House where lawmakers can present their views.
“On Sunday, our party will use the House to remind the government and the ruling parties of the deal. If there is a concrete and trustworthy commitment from the government to form the investigation commission, we might allow the House to function,” Rajendra Gautam, chief of the UML’s publicity department, told the Post. “So far, we are prepared not to allow the House to enter the business.”
The tentative Sunday agenda of the House includes the presentation of the School Education Bill.
The ruling parties reject the UML’s allegation that they have refused to stick to the agreement from August 22. They claim that starting a fresh investigation bypassing the CIB’s report conveys a meaning that there is no trust in the police, the authorised government agency for the criminal investigation.
“It’s not that we are against forming the commission. Our only urge is to respect the CIB’s investigation,” Hit Raj Pandey, chief whip of the CPN (Maoist Centre), told the Post.
UML leaders, however, say it is clear that only carriers of the smuggled gold have come under the police scanner. They also claim that by refusing to allow a high-level commission to thoroughly investigate the gold smuggled concealed in motorcycle brake shoes and electronic cigarettes, it has proved that a section of those involved in the crime has been spared investigation. “Why do we need a high-level commission if it cannot conduct a thorough investigation into the smuggling?” Bartaula asked.
He reiterated that the ruling party leaders suspected to be involved in gold smuggling have been spared. On December 25 last year, the airport customs office seized electronic cigarettes used to smuggle gold concealed in them.
Police found that former Speaker and CPN (Maoist Centre) Vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara and his son were in regular contact with a Chinese national who was allegedly smuggling gold through consignments of electric cigarette imports. Images of the alleged smuggler pictured with former Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun and Maoist Centre leader Barsha Man Pun were widely circulated on social media. However, except the son Mahara, no other suspect has been questioned.
Ruling party leaders say they are open to further dialogue to settle the differences. “We couldn’t settle the issue from our level. Now that the prime minister has returned home, I hope dialogue will be held at the top level to find a way out,” said Pandey.