EDITORIAL: Ambassadors’ oath

Any public post holder when takes oath, it is to the constitution, rule of law and the country and the people, not to the government of the day

The government on Monday nominated Neel Kantha Uprety, former chief election commissioner, and Uday Raj Pandey, former ambassador to Saudia Arabia, as ambassadors to India and Malaysia respectively as per the new eligibility criteria set for the envoys. The Ambassador Nomination Criteria was recently approved by the Cabinet. As per the criteria, an ambassador’s main responsibility will be “working to protect and promote national interest, rising above personal interest.” While briefing the media on the Cabinet decision about the ambassadorial nominees and the criteria, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali also said that ambassadors now onwards have to take oath from the prime minister. This new provision is a departure from the existing practice. As per the tradition, an ambassadorial nominee goes through the parliamentary hearing, just as the government sends the name to the concerned country for the agreemo. Once the agreemo is accepted, the President appoints him/her as the ambassador.

The new provision of oath from the prime minister, however, has raised some questions. Earlier during the Panchayat regime, ambassadors used to take oath from the chief justice in the presence of the king, as ambassadorial posts were then considered constitutional posts. The practice continued even after the restoration of democracy in 1990 when the country adopted constitutional monarchy. But in the recent past, the oath of ambassadors was not in practice. Whether this new provision of oath for an ambassador from the prime minister is necessary hence begs the question. Foreign Minister Gyawali says since the appointment is made by the President, the prime minister will administer the oath to the ambassadors and that the new provision’s only aim is to seek the appointees’ commitment to the country. There is nothing wrong with this intent.

But at times, the past actions can help gauge the intent. Since KP Oli returned to power in February to become the most powerful prime minister in the last more than two and a half decades, he has been in a bid to centralise power. Oli’s move of bringing around 10 different agencies, including the Office of the Attorney General which is a constitutional body, under the Prime Minister’s Office does speak volumes. The intent here is clear: assigning sweeping powers to the PMO. Recent actions of some ministers in the Oli Cabinet have also been criticised for wielding power in an authoritative way. Now this move of administering the oath to an ambassador by the prime minister seems to be an extension of the plan to exercise all-out authority. Even if there is a need to administer the oath to an ambassador, the President can do so. An ambassador, after all, has to pledge loyalty to the country and its people and he or she can do so before the President as well in the form of oath. Any public post holder when takes the oath, it is to the constitution, rule of law and the country and the people – not to the government of the day. There is not much to read when it comes to a simple process of oath taking, but elected officials will do well if they take informed decisions and come up with a better rationale.

Pay through banks

From the beginning of fiscal 2018-19, employers are required to pay monthly salaries to their staffers through the banking channel. A Cabinet meeting held on Monday amended the Labour Act 2017 and its Labour Bylaw 2018 which state that all kinds of employment agencies, companies or individuals engaged in any sector have to compulsorily pay salaries of their staffers through the banking system. It requires that even the domestic workers not categorised as the organised sector will also have to be paid through banking channel before January 14, 2020.

This provision will result in transparency in economic transactions and ensure that all workers are paid as per their employment contract. This will also help the monitoring authorities to cross-check whether or not the minimum wages fixed by the government are paid to the workers in all sectors. There is a tendency in the organised or unorganised sectors that the employees are paid less than what has been stated in the appointment or contract letter. Recently, the Minimum Wage Fixation Commission has recommended Rs 13,450 as a minimum salary to a worker besides other allowances.