Ram Kumari Jhakri entered politics as a student leader. She is now a federal lawmaker and a member of the Finance Committee of the Federal Parliament. As a first-time lawmaker from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), she is learning the ropes on her own. She says experienced lawmakers rarely come to the aid of first-time lawmakers like her. Jagdishor Panday of The Himalayan Times talked to Jhakri about hurdles newcomers like her face in the Parliament and the government’s performance. Excerpts:
How different is the role of a student leader from that of a federal lawmaker?
As a student leader, I was always making college students aware about values, principles and ideologies of our student organisation and the political party we were affiliated to. The awareness that we generated helped us garner the support of students to end direct and undemocratic rule of the then king Gyanendra in 2006. But my work in the Parliament is totally different. Parliamentary work is all about process. I thought I would become the voice of the marginalised, backward and voiceless after becoming a lawmaker, but there are limitations that prevent lawmakers like me from pursuing our goals.
What kind of limitations are you talking about?
For example, we are not given adequate time to speak. A fresh lawmaker gets only three minutes to speak during the special hour of House sessions, whereas senior leaders are given more time. What’s more, there is nobody to guide junior lawmakers and we have to learn the ropes ourselves. So, senior leaders with experience of parliamentary affairs get all the attention. I thought I would do so many things after becoming a lawmaker, but things have not moved ahead as per my expectations. However, I’m not complaining. I think I have been doing my best to make my voice heard.
Haven’t you reported this to your party?
The problem with the NCP (NCP) is that it does not hold parliamentary party meetings regularly. Those that have been held so far were for the sake of formality. The NCP (NCP) has held three parliamentary party meetings in the last one year. In these meetings, only the parliamentary party leader spoke while the deputy parliamentary party leader delivered opening remarks. This has deprived ruling party lawmakers of opportunities to discuss the content of bills registered in the Parliament. Everyone knows laws related to fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution were passed without holding much discussion. In fact, many lawmakers did not even know those laws were being drafted. Lawmakers should at least be informed about bills that are being drafted.
As you said, laws related to fundamental rights were passed without following proper process. Is that how the Parliament should pass the bills?
The government registered those bills in the Parliament quite late. Since those bills had to be endorsed within the deadline stipulated by the constitution, lawmakers agreed to suspend some of the legal provisions and rushed to pass them without going through them properly. There are other laws too that have been passed in the same manner. The parliamentary party should hold discussion on the stance that we should take on bills. But such discussions are not held. This has created lots of confusion among ruling party lawmakers.
Civil society and some political leaders have raised concerns about the Parliament’s poor performance in executing tasks in an unbiased manner. How do you view this issue?
There should be evidence to back this claim. Parliament never functioned properly in the past as well. So, before we draw conclusions, we must compare the work and achievements of previous parliaments with those of this one.
Opposition leaders have said the Parliament is under the government’s control. Is this true?
The legislative is a separate branch of the state and it should not come under influence of the other two branches, the executive and the judiciary. Here, the role of lawmakers is crucial. For example, if the government tries to shove a bill through the Parliament, lawmakers of respective parliamentary committees that review the legislative documents should make the Speaker aware of this. But many lawmakers are not aware of their duties and responsibilities. This is the reason why the capacity of lawmakers, especially newcomers, should be enhanced.
Student leaders today are not as bold as those in the past. Why is that?
Many join politics these days to earn money and for social prestige. Political candidates are picked up on the basis of financial contribution they can make. History of those candidates and their contribution to the party are barely taken into account. Most of these candidates toe the line of leaders who appoint them.
How do you evaluate the government’s performance?
This is one of the strongest governments in Nepal’s recent history. But it has not been able to meet people’s expectations. The government should focus on good governance, economic development and effective and efficient service delivery. This government has much potential but it has not been able to perform. Just look at the trend of capital spending. The government has not been able to spend even 40 per cent of the capital budget even though nine months of this fiscal have passed. This government also has not been able to control corruption.
How can the government improve its performance?
The government must expedite implementation of national priority projects. The government has promised to build waterways and railways. But it has not presented a concrete plan on construction of these projects. Most of the projects in Nepal are designed in an ad-hoc manner without proper research and planning. This practice should end. And the prime minister and ministers should stop making promises they can’t keep. They should learn how to walk the talk.
Lastly, your party’s General Secretary Bishnu Poudel has been linked with land grab case in Baluwatar. What do you have to say about this?
PM Oli and the government’s Spokesperson and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota have said action will be taken against anyone found guilty in the case. It’s sad to hear our general secretary has been linked to this case.
A version of this article appears in print on April 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.