Parliamentary committees in Nepal: Scope and constraints

Parliamentary committees in Nepal have had a rich history. Their formation or at least the imagination of their functioning in furtherance of the role of the parliament goes as far back as the first parliament in Nepal. Throughout the years, the number of parliamentary committees in Nepal has changed. Yet the idea of a small group of parliamentarians working to support the parliament has remained.  Currently, the parliament of Nepal (both the House of Representatives and National Assembly) has 16 thematic committees, with members ranging from 23-25 in case of House of Representatives and 13-15 in case of National Assembly. The committees function within their own pre-determined jurisdiction which is laid out in the House of Representatives Rules and National Assembly Rules.

A major part of the parliamentary committee’s function relates to discussion on bills registered in the parliament. In fact, in the House of Representatives, the sectoral committees spend most of their time deliberating on the bills registered in the parliament. Nepal’s parliamentary system allows the Speaker to either send the bills to be discussed on the sectoral committee or institute a discussion within the house itself. Till date, discussions have only happened in the parliamentary committee. To that end, parliamentary committees in Nepal have an important function to play in terms of deliberating on the provisions of the proposed legislation, suggesting amendments, submission of final report and engagement of stakeholders. Other than this, some parliamentary committees have also been known to conduct market inspection and monitoring, most notably the Industries Commerce Labor and Consumer Protection Committee. 

Undoubtedly, parliamentary committees have a great role to play in the law-making process in Nepal. In fact, most of the deliberations on the intention of the bill, the provisions of the bill and their consequences are done in the committees itself. To that end, they act as a form of oversight mechanism for all laws passed by the parliament. Ideally, deliberations on any proposed bill should happen within the parliament itself. However, our deliberations are limited to parliamentary committees in the sense that the practice of sending bills to committees for deliberations, although an option, has become more or less of a formal step in the law-making process. This practice is the same across most countries that follow a Westminster style of parliament, with the report of the committees serving as an essential document for any debate between the opposition and those in power in the parliament. 

Parliamentary committees in Nepal are not without its own set of challenges. Although the practice of parliamentary committees in Nepal is not new, they have received very little attention in terms of the amount of budget allocation. Of all the parliamentary committees in the House of Representatives, all parliamentary committees’ annual reports point to the lack of availability of funds for carrying out necessary functions. The lack of funds clearly has an impact on the hiring of experts for evaluation of select bills and/or select government decisions. 

Additionally, another long-standing issue with the parliamentary committees has been reaching the quorum required to reach any decision. Currently, 51 percent of incumbent members of the committee must be present to reach any decision. However, on most occasions, this requirement is not met. A look at the records of parliamentary committee meetings shows that meetings have been postponed on many occasions. Even when the quorum is met, participation has been limited to a mere 51 percent of the total members of the committee. Indeed, participation of all members of the committee would yield robust deliberations. However, a participation of more than 51 percent of the committee is only found on rare occasions. While annual reports of the parliamentary committee state that the requirement of quorum delays decision making, it must also be noted that such requirement is the only mechanism by which some form of participation is guaranteed. In the absence of such a mechanism, the rate of participation would likely be lower. 

Whereas parliamentary committee decisions on registered bills are frequently taken into consideration and even accepted without any changes, such is not the case with other decisions. Decisions made by the parliamentary committees which require either an action or inaction by the executive branch are almost never adhered to. Strictly speaking, decisions of the parliamentary committees are not binding, yet the practice in most Westminster style of parliament is to adhere to them in good faith. 

Nepal’s situation is a little unique in this regard. Parliamentary committees have their own rich history, their role in the law-making process is perhaps the most visible and even the most important. Yet, in other instances, institutionalization of the practice of effectively adhering to the decisions is perhaps an area we need to work more closely on. 

Yatindra KC works as a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization.