Our parliamentarians are giving a dreadful account of themselves with their notorious record of absenteeism.
On Sunday, fed up by their disregard of her repeated urgings, Speaker of the House Onsari Gharti Magar had to threaten parliamentarians to strip them off their parliament membership if they continued bunking even important House meetings. She was speaking by stepping on a constitutional provision whereby MPs can be relieved of their duties if they miss 10 consecutive House meetings without informing the parliament secretariat. But this provision is more lenient than it appears. In order to be ‘present’ in the House, an MP need only have signed the attendance register, after which they can go wherever they like. And to be on the right side of law they need to be present, to sign, only once in 10 consecutive House meetings. So the Speaker’s warning won’t have much effect on them. But the warning does serve the side purpose of bringing to public notice the blatant dereliction of duty of elected officials. This adds to public pressure on our MPs to mend their ways. Such pressure needs to be sustained if we are to see any improvement.
But this is not a new affliction. Ever since the restoration of democracy in 1990, the vast majority of our parliamentarians cultivated a habit of skipping the ‘boring’ parliamentary procedures. Only on the rare occasions when party whips made their presence in parliament mandatory, usually to make or break a ruling coalition government, did MPs bother to turn up. Often important House meetings would have to be cancelled without the required quorum. Such blasé attitude of our parliamentarians feeds the public perception that Nepali politicians are self-serving and far removed from public concern. Parliament is a place where people’s grievances are aired and solutions sought. If it doesn’t function properly the crucial link between the people and their elected representatives is severed. It also makes people lose faith in democracy as they see that its supposed torchbearers are themselves undermining the democratic process. Our MPs must give a better account of themselves in order to restore the eroding public trust in democratic institutions. If they don’t do so voluntarily, they must be forced to.
Perhaps the Speaker can take the initiative to put in place a mechanism to name and shame the MPs who are routinely absent from the House. For instance every month the parliament secretariat can hold a press conference and disclose the names of the MPs with most problematic attendance records. Concurrently, the MPs who regularly attend House meetings and take part in important deliberations can be feted.
Perhaps there is even the case of cutting the pay and perks of the most egregious lawmakers: How can the people who so blatantly neglect their duties be paid in full? Would such negligence be acceptable in any other profession? If nothing else, we would like to ask the Speaker to continue to raise the issue whenever she gets the opportunity. The more often, the merrier. The media should also play its part to expose serial absentees. Only through sustained, all-round pressure will these MPs be made to change their errant ways.