Atrocious assumption

With the nomination of Bhojraj Pokharel being cleared by the parliamentary Hearing Committee (HC), the formal announcement of his appointment as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is just a matter of days. The same committee is set to vet two other persons for the post of Election Commissioner — Dr Nilkantha Uprety and Usha Nepal. As in the case of CEC, the HC gave a three-day deadline to the public to come up with any complaints they might have against the nominees, but the public did not respond at all. Earlier, four persons had jointly filed a dissent note against the nomination of Pokharel but the HC did not deem their case to be strong enough. This vetting process, newly introduced in the country, also exists in some democratic countries such as the US as a filter against the possibility of the government’s mistakes.

This system considerably helps maintain competence, efficiency and morality in public life provided that its implementation is not perfunctory. The minimum criteria for the above-mentioned posts are the possession of a Bachelor’s Degree, non-membership of any political party at the time of the appointment, and completion of 45 years of age. Accordingly, tens of thousands of Nepali citizens meet this minimum eligibility test. Given that the Constitution does not make experience as a bureaucrat an essential qualification, the fact that all the three nominees are former bureaucrats make many wonder whether there are no other equally or better qualified candidates in other fields, such as the academia or the legal profession. The Constitutional Council (CC) has not made clear why it has judged them to be the best — independence, impartiality, proven competence, financial integrity, wealth details, payment of tax, their closeness to any political party or leader, or any other factor, if any, or a combination of any or all of these factors? Nor has the HC, which has approved Pokharel, explained its decision.

The current nominees may or may not be ideal choices. But neither the CC nor the HC went through the entire process thoroughly to satisfy doubters’ queries. Three days’ time for complaint is too short a period. Secondly, the lack of criteria for qualification or disqualification explains the poor public response. Added to it is the bar to anonymous complaints as most people do not want to incur the enmity of influential people. Its timing in the midst of the Dashain-Tihar festivities had a role, too. Moreover, the fact that the HC approved Pokharel’s nomination in three sittings of short intervals means that it hardly undertook any investigation of its own into his antecedents. Whether the HC’s approval or disapproval would be binding on the executive is another matter of great importance that can make or mar this confirmation system. Of no less importance is the public perception of such nominees’ impartiality and independence and their perceived boldness to take decisions which might rile the high and mighty — all the more so for aspiring judges, chiefs of constitutional organs and their members. They must be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion.