Nepal | May 28, 2020

‘Government has anti-federal mentality’


Jagdishor Panday
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Former minister and Nepali Congress central committee member Ramesh Lekhak is a reputed legal expert. He was one of the key lawmakers of the then Constituent Assembly that prepared a draft of the new constitution of the federal democratic republic of Nepal. He is unhappy with the government’s sluggishness in implementing the constitution. Lekhak, who criticised the government’s ‘anti-federal mentality’, talked to Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times sharing his critical views on implementation of the federal constitution, government activities and his party’s role as the main opposition in Parliament. Excerpts:

What do you think about the way the constitution is being implemented?

The government’s effort to implement the constitution, especially the provisions of federalism, is sluggish. I have visited all seven provinces and met the stakeholders. All of them — from chief ministers to civil servants and chief attorneys of provinces to local representatives — have said implementation of the constitution was not going well. To sum up what they said: on the one hand, the federal government’s mentality towards implementation of federalism was completely negative; while on the other; the centre never held any fruitful discussions with the provinces and local levels on implementing the statute.

The central government has been blocking the provinces and local levels from functioning by intentionally delaying the introduction of necessary laws. There are no laws, employees and other resources in the provinces. The few bills registered by the government in the federal Parliament are also not compatible. For instance, the Information and Technology Bill stated that there will be a different information and technology court in all seven provinces. But the provincial governments and lawmakers of provincial assemblies don’t have any idea about this. The provincial governments don’t even know how the central government is functioning in their respective provinces.

Are you saying the central government drafted the bill proposals without consulting other levels of government?

Yes. The central government has never coordinated with provincial and local governments while framing laws. The central government has not prepared the laws in time. Although the constitution has clearly provisioned separate power structures at the centre, province and local levels, the federal government has not made necessary laws allowing the province and local levels to exercise their concurrent powers. Lack of laws has also created confusion in the provinces and local bodies.

What suggestion do you have for the centre?

Firstly, the federal government must change its mentality. The federal government must have the willpower to implement the constitution. For example, if you have a car and want to go somewhere, you must use it. If you don’t use the car and only wish to travel somewhere, you can’t do it. Like your car, constitutional provisions need to be activated. In essence, the federal government should have a positive mentality to implement the constitution. However, the reality I have noticed is that the central government and its leaders don’t want to give power to the lower-levels of government.

How do you evaluate the role of lawmakers in the Parliament?

Clearly, I can say the Parliament has been forced to act as a ‘puppet’ of the government, while the government itself is handicapped by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s dictatorship. In this context, the role of lawmakers has been undermined by the government in the name of two thirds majority. The reality is PM Oli has been centralising powers of both the government and Parliament in himself.

Besides, the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has not held its central committee meeting to discuss the government’s functioning and other issues. Party co-chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal often take all the major decisions without consulting other leaders. Their monopoly on the party’s structure has had its adverse impact on the government as well as the Parliament. You can’t run the government with the same ways used to run the party. If the top leadership of NCP(NCP) doesn’t mend its ways, it will be detrimental to democracy.

In this backdrop, what kind of role should the speaker play in the Parliament?

As said earlier, the speaker also seems helpless. NCP co-chairs Oli and Dahal have always dictated to the speaker to make him run the House as they wish. He can’t conduct the Parliament smoothly without the party leadership’s consent. The provincial assemblies are also under the shadow of the NCP-led governments. So, it won’t be logical to count on any specific role of the speaker in the existing scenario.

What about the role of the NC as the main opposition party in the House?

Considering the numerical strength of Nepali Congress in the House, our party has been, somehow, playing its role of the main opposition. But, I agree the NC has not been effectively making its presence felt in the House to meet people’s aspirations. The NCP’s numerical strength as well as the NC’s own intra-party issues are hindering factors. Obviously, people want us to be aggressive against the government’s working style, but the NC, being a democratic party, always follows democratic norms and values. In the coming days, NC will certainly be visible and its presence in the House will be important to check the government’s wrongdoings.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has publicly accused the Nepali Congress of supporting ‘reactionary’ forces, what’s your take on this?

That’s a silly statement. How can Oli, who has centralised all powers in himself, accuse the main opposition? The government has not done anything to institutionalise the federal system. It has completely failed in all aspects of development – economy, security and governance, among others. Oli wastes his time with statements such as ‘rain is coming from china and water boat from India.’ He doesn’t want to talk about implementation of federalism, but is always eager to make foolish statements. Even with two-thirds majority, the ruling party’s criticism of the main opposition is illogical. NC is the only force that will always protect democracy and act as per the people’s aspirations.

How does the NC view the issue of government land-grab?

Government land has long been grabbed by the public. There should be a fair investigation. We can’t blame anyone without proper investigation.

The budget session is starting on April 29, what is your suggestion to the government regarding preparation for the new budget and the government’s programmes and policies?

The government hasn’t run long-term development projects initiated by previous governments effectively. Many projects are still in limbo due to lack of budget. The government must work more and talk less. Priority should be given to the development sector. The nation’s development will be a far cry if we only spend the remittance sent by Nepali migrant workers from the Gulf to import goods from India and China.As there is a need to reduce dependency, the government should frame plans and policies accordingly to support our economy.

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