Econ-ity on Parliamentarian participation in Nepal

Samriddhi Foundation in association with Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) conducted a public dialogue titled, ‘Parliamentarian Participation in Nepal’ on the 30th of January 2023 at the Hotel Himalaya, Kupondole. The panel discussion was honored with the presence of esteemed dignitaries like Hon Gagan Thapa- General Secretary of Nepali Congress, Dr. Binda Pandey- Chair, GEFONT-Trade Union Policy Institute, Prof. Krishna Khanal- Political Scientist and Dr. Bhimarjun Acharya- Constitutional Expert. The session was moderated by Mr. Hari Bahadur Thapa- Editor-in-Chief, eKagaj with the main agenda of discussing the current participation of MP’s in the parliament, importance of parliamentary committees along with their impacts on the bills and the way forward in robust functioning of the parliament in the near future.

The program kicked off with a presentation on “Parliamentarian Participation  in Nepal” by Yatindra KC- an Advocate and a Researcher, Samriddhi Foundation. He emphasized that the bills affecting the treasury get less scrutiny than those more important within the political sphere from the parliamentarians. He pointed out that active participation, thinner presence of parliamentarians, organizational and financial resources are to blame for ineffective functioning of the parliament. The research suggested that mandatory quorum  requirement has prevented minority law making in Nepal.

The discussion started with Dr. Bhimarjun Acharya highlighting the importance of parliamentary committees in a constitutional democracy like ours. He emphasized that the full house should focus on passing the bill and leave deliberations and discussions on those bills to the respective committees. As a constitutional expert, he questioned the accountability of the present government with regards to the absence of a strong opposition. Along with this, he expressed his concerns on the matter of a high level committee of veteran politicians meddling over the parliamentary proceedings. For an accountable legislature, he suggested that active participation of the parliamentarians is a must along with proper coordination between respective ministers and committees during the bill drafting process.

Then, Prof. Krishna Khanal took over and highlighted the vast difference between rule of law and rule by order in the current scenario of the Nepali legislature. He emphasized on the importance of the Committee of the Whole House on bills that need further deliberations and on the matters of the whip system for the merit of legislation. He expressed his concerns that we are grooming super MP’s that mostly disregard the recommendations of the respective parliamentary committees and hold themselves above the parliament. In order to create an effective committee system, he suggested that we should fix the tenure of the committee leader for an entire life of the parliament so that parliamentarians with ministerial ambitions won’t go to head the committee. Further, he pointed out that the Prime Minister is the leader of the house, not the majority. At the end, quoting Nelson Mandela, he brought up the culture of “Back Bench” that needs to be thought of by the parliamentarians in our country as well. 

Dr. Binda Pandey started her duration with saying that she believes that whenever we speak of reforms, we tend to only focus on the political system because of which we have been somewhat disregarding the financial, social, and cultural reforms. When a leader is contesting for election, they are affiliated to a political party, however once they get elected, they are a representative of a common man is what leaders tend to forget, she believes. 

On the matter of the research report, she further opined that the physical presence for five to seven hours in the house is not necessary as the Member of parliaments can listen everything at their homes as well in this digital era. The good thing about contemporary parliament is the transparency which makes the members more accountable with everybody being able to listen to the discussions and being able to monitor the attendance. The pictures of empty parliament in the TVs, newspapers, and on our phones agitates us however what we must understand is that the preconceived notion that empty seats in the house are bad or full seats are good might not exactly be true. There are many parliamentarians that are in the house but provide no value in the discussions. She concluded with averring that only changing the system will not be effective until and unless tendencies of the general public change with it.

The final panelist, Honourable Gagan Kumar Thapa began with asserting the condition of the house discussion where most of the parliamentarians get to know about content of the discussion in the parliament moments before the discussion start. Thapa also claimed that not even one big and influential leaders from any political party have ever taken part in the discussions about bills. He further opined that there is an imperative need for a research center within the parliament in collaboration with universities and NGOs for better information access to the member of parliaments. This research center will ensure quality discussions and also prevent prejudices from the advisors of the parliamentarians. 

Further, Thapa added on the point of why leaders tend to go for tangible progress (roads and bridges) as people elect parliamentarians on the basis of these tangible rather than what the leader did as a parliamentarian. A parliamentarian must create a political value like communicating the actions and decisions they are taking in the legislation process via townhalls and more, he added. Only the bills that receive media attention seem to get acknowledged and because of which the MPs also tend to repeat the same media points during the discussions which does not make it effective. About the attendance topic in the report, he said attendance is an inconsequential matter and what matter is participation and that too quality participation. He bolstered this by giving an example of a particular MP whose attendance in the parliament was approximately 99% however that MP did not speak even a single day. He ended his duration with emphasizing on how a parliamentarian should focus more on creating political value (legislation, functioning of government) and less on populist ideas like construction of roads and bridges.

In conclusion, thematic committees and their recommendations are of utmost importance. Active and quality participation in the parliament is imperative for an effective parliamentary practice.