Some bills, including the Information Technology Bill, Media Council Bill and Nepal Special Service Bill that the government has recently brought are opposed not just by opposition parties and civil society members but also some ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leaders. NCP leader Raghuji Panta is among the ruling party leaders who oppose these bills’ restrictive contents. Ram Kumar Kamat of The Himalayan Times caught up with Panta to know his views on these controversial bills. Excerpts:
How do you look at the provisions of the Information Technology Bill?
We need the Information Technology Bill as we need provisions to regulate information technology, but that does not mean the bill should curtail freedom of expression. This bill proposes to slap a jail term of up to 15 years for writing ‘defamatory’ content on social networking sites, including Facebook. Some provisions of the bill are aimed at restricting people’s freedom of expression. Although the parliamentary panel has passed this bill, the Parliament should rectify its flaws as that is why people are opposing this bill. The best option for the government will be to take the opposition parties on board. This is not a budget bill that the government needs to pass within a certain timeframe. Therefore, the government needs to thoroughly debate the bill before passing it.
What are your views on Media Council Bill?
The Media Council Bill proposes to change Nepal Press Council into Media Council. This is also a flawed bill because I think Media Council should just be a body to enforce journalists’ code of conduct. However, this bill proposes to make Media Council a punitive body. This bill should be improved to remove the Media Council’s role in categorising media outlets because that is primarily the job of the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Nepal Press Council is a dignified body that should work to enhance the quality of journalism. Now, the NPC is categorising media outlets into A, B and C categories. I think it is wrong for NPC to categorise media outlets. This is not the job of this body. In other parts of the world, categorisation of media outlets is done by the Audit Bureau of Circulation and the same should happen here too.
How do you view Nepal Special Service Bill that the government recently registered in the Parliament?
This is again a restrictive bill. The government cannot tap phones of any individual without any legal grounds for the same. Wire tapping is an undemocratic and dictatorial act. It is also against the spirit of the constitution that guarantees the right to privacy. The government cannot tap phones of any individuals without fulfilling certain criteria, which may include the court’s permission. As mobile phones are increasingly being used by criminals these days, the government may need to tap phones of criminals, but that does not mean the government can arbitrarily tap phones of individuals.
If the government is given unrestrictive powers to intercept individuals’ communications, then the government may target its opponents. Those that are in the government today should understand that a ruling party is not always the ruling party and those that are in the government today may not be in the government indefinitely. Those that are in the government today may be in the opposition bench tomorrow. So, leaders who want to make laws today must take all these things into account.
Why has your party failed to select candidate for speaker until now?
The strongest body in our party is the Central Committee, but the meeting of this body has not been convened for the last two years. The Standing Committee meeting could be convened only after a gap of one year. The party has not formed the politburo yet. It seems that the Secretariat of the party is stronger than the Standing Committee and the two co-chairpersons are stronger than the Standing Committee. This should not have happened. However, because of these reasons, our party has not been able to take decisions in a democratic manner. The issue of the speaker has not been brought to the party secretariat meeting yet.
Do you think your party’s present style of functioning is harming the party’s interests?
Yes, the way the party is functioning currently has harmed the party’s interests. The former CPN-UML did everything democratically no matter how difficult the situation was. The erstwhile UML held general conventions, district committee conventions and conventions of all chapters regularly on time, but now all these conventions have been put on hold. Our party is like a mammoth that does not move at all. Some of the party’s wings have not been formed. Our politburo has not been formed and as a result of all this, the party has not been able to function properly. If you look at the recent example, the party fixed the Central Committee meeting, but postponed it. This means the party has not been able to function in a democratic manner. It is the party that tells the public about the good work accomplished by the government and when the party does not function properly, the party cannot tell the public what the government has achieved.
Why are party leaders like you not putting pressure on the party leadership to ensure democratic process within the party?
We cannot go to the street to criticise the party. We have raised our concerns at party meetings. We have given our suggestions to the government on how it should function and we have also criticised the government for its wrong handling of affairs. Our leaders have conveyed the feelings of party cadres and the public to our leaders, but the party leaders are not heeding those suggestions.
How do you evaluate the government’s performance?
The government has taken some key decisions that could enable the country to take independent decisions. The government’s decisions will also enable it to take independent decisions on foreign policy issues. We will have to wait to see the impact of those key decisions.
What are those key decisions of the government?
Signing of trade and transit treaty with China is one such key decision. We will have to wait for some time to see the full impact of this decision. We hear talk of railway service between Nepal and China and tunnel construction on the northern border. But I must say the government did not take concrete decisions to improve the daily lives of people. The government did not do much to improve health and education sectors. The government must pay attention to these things.
Don’t you think the government is tilting towards China in the name of balancing the country’s relations with neighbours? Recently, your party leaders were oriented by Chinese ruling party leaders on Xi Jinping thought.
When we were associated with the CPN-ML, we removed Mao thought from our party’s guidelines in 1990. We may study all the political ideologies, but the bottomline is we cannot imitate any thought. We should follow our own model.
A version of this article appears in print on January 13, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.