| October 24, 2018

Fuss and feathers

Absence of house hearings

The long delay in giving final shape to the Parliamentary Hearings Special Committee has hollowed important organs of the state and made high-level decision-making nigh impossible. In the absence of the committee, the parliament has not been able to conduct the mandatory confirmation hearings of the 11 new Supreme Court justices, the Chief Justice, 22 ambassadors and the Chief Election Commissioner. The new constitution has envisaged a 15-member hearings committee and CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist), the two coalition allies, insist that a new committee should be formed in line with this constitutional provision. But Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, has been insisting that the old 73-member all-party committee be given continuity until the time of the next general election. The way we see it, the Congress demand that the old jumbo committee be retained when the new constitution clearly provisions for a leaner (and a nimbler) replacement does not make sense. But the party's doubts over a new committee can't be understood only in terms of hard-nosed logic. Political reasons behind the stand are aplenty.
First of all, Congress is unhappy with the 'unilateral' decision of the UML-Maoist government on appointment of new Supreme Court judges and ambassadors. The ruling coalition, it is true, didn't make much effort to take the opposition Congress and Madheshi parties into confidence on the new appointments. The opposition parties therefore suspect that the Oli government is trying to maintain an absolute control over government machineries by appointing UML apparatchiks in all important state organs, in a move termed by one Congress leader as 'soft coup'. It is no such thing. Both the President and the Prime Minister, even though they belong to the same party, were appointed by the sovereign house. And the appointments of apex court judges and ambassadors to various countries also follow the old tradition of the political parties in power claiming all such posts. So nothing new here. But, yes, PM Oli could most certainly have tried to take the opposition parties into confidence over these vital appointments. Just because something has been done in the past is no reason to keep doing it; sooner or later you have to fix the broken system.

On the question of the hearings committee, again, we would prefer a smaller one as per the provisions of the new constitution. But if Congress is implacable, there is no harm in continuing with the old committee either. After all, the parliament hearings committees of the past have not blocked a single nomination for important constitutional posts. The hearings, in other words, have become a formality. Perhaps Congress wants to delay some appointments if old committee that comprises representatives from fringe parties that oppose the new constitution (and, by extension, the Oli government) can conduct new hearings. But it is hard to see how Congress benefits from such brownie points. Whatever the underlying reason for this petty dispute, ultimately, it will only contribute to the popular perception that our major parties are self-serving and ready to compromise on the country's vital interests if it is politically expedient for them to do so. The major parties will fan his perception at their peril.

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