Parliamentary panels acting as govt's mere shadow

Published On: September 24, 2017 04:45 AM NPT By: Ashok Dahal  | @ashokpillar

KATHMANDU, Sep 24: Instead of working as watchdogs over the government, the parliamentary committees have become loyal to it and favor its policies and decisions, recent decisions of some of these committees show. 

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC)  remained without a head for six months last year because of a dispute over whether the ruling party or the opposition should lead it. There was a tradition of the PAC being led by the main opposition party as this committee is responsible for overseeing the reports of the Auditor General's Office,  government procurement and other financial matters. 

Maoist lawmaker Janardan Sharma resigned as chairman of the committee after his party joined the government. But the Maoists again stacked a claim to its leadership. With the election of Dor Prasad Upadhyay as chairman earlier this year, the committee has remained silent over some major decisions of the government. 

Similarly, other key parliamentary watchdog committees, including the State Affairs Committee (SAC) and the Parliamentary Hearings Special Committee (PHSC), have been headed by ruling party leaders. And not only the government and the ruling party leaders but the security bodies also have been exerting influence over the decision-making processes of parliamentary committees. 

The Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force had objected to a provision in a Public Service Commission bill which proposes allowing the commission to require written exams for recruitment to all the security bodies. The bill has since been stalled in parliament for over a year. Likewise, the Bill on Criminalizing Torture has also been stalled at the SAC for three years after the Nepal Police objected to some of its provisions. The army had registered its discontent over the first bill and the police had officially requested the dropping of some provisions in the second. 

For over a month the State Affairs Committee sat on a bill on election of members of the House of Representatives, following pressure from the top leadership of the ruling Nepali Congress, including the prime minister himself, claim committee members. The SAC did not endorse the bill until Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba hinted to SAC Chairman Dil Bahadur Gharti to move it forward. The bill had stalled in committee after some NC lawmakers demanded that those convicted of corruption should be allowed to contest parliamentary elections after a period of three years. 

Parliamentary committees worked for three years on replacement bills for the Muluki Ain (Civil Code). But two bills endorsed unanimously by the Bills Committee were returned to committee for revision earlier this week, allegedly upon the request of  Arzu Rana Deuba, the wife of the prime minister, and some women rights activists. They had demanded the removal of the will system from the bill, which was provisioned to come into force after 18 years. 

Following media reports about embezzlements in land procurements by Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), parliament's Finance Committee held a meeting to investigate the issue. But according to committee member Keshav Badal, Speaker Onari Gharti asked Prakash Jawala, the committee chairman,  not to take up the matter. Gharti said it falls under the jurisdiction of the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by a ruling CPN (Maoist Center) lawmaker. However, the speaker, who is from Maoist Center, didn't intervene when the Industry, Commerce and Consumer Rights Protection Committee was investigating the same issue simultaneously. 

SAC had summoned the home minister, the chief of Nepal Police and other officials for discussions on the disaster management bill. Prime ministerial spouse Arzu Rana Deuba, who is a member of the committee, raised the issue of disaster security at nightclubs in Kathmandu. 

According to committee members, the issue was not mentioned in the first draft of the committee decision. But upon Mrs Deuba's request, the committee directed the police to submit a report on the safety status of Kathmandu nightclubs, and later added this to the decision. 

“Parliamentary panels are also known as mini-parliaments, but these are now failing to play their role properly. Their role has become curtailed following their reshuffling after the election of the Constituent Assembly (CA) in 2008,” said constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari. 

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