EDITORIAL: Avoid ordinance

It will not augur well for democracy and rule of law if the executive intends to run the administration through ordinance

However, Minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration Lal Babu Pandit chose to stay away from Wednesday’s meeting of the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, which some lawmakers suspect was because he wanted to avoid the possible grilling he would have faced over the government’s move to bring an ordinance to adjust civil servants in the three tiers of government. The ordinance, according to lawmakers, has proposed automatic promotion of the employees to the next level so that they can be “easily adjusted” in all levels of government. The government move has been condemned even by lawmakers of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), saying it would undermine sovereign parliament’s right to discuss a bill having far-reaching consequences. Adjusting civil servants through an ordinance is an autocratic move and it also violates the very spirit of federalism. It will be unfortunate if the government issues the ordinance bypassing the sovereign Parliament.In a functioning democracy, the executive is fully accountable to Parliament and its thematic committees which also act as mini-Parliament. Various thematic panels are created under the Parliament so that they can hold regular discussions on a number of issues of national importance even when the House is in recess. It is the parliamentary committees that keep lawmakers busy in their respective fields and make the government accountable to its works. Whatever issue is discussed at a committee meeting is the issue of public importance which draws media and public attentions. It is also the duty of prime minister, ministers, bureaucrats, security officials and even the general people to be present in a committee meeting and furnish replies to the queries raised by lawmakers and share views whenever they are summoned. Nobody can defy a parliamentary meeting in one or the other pretext.

At present there are a total of 125,792 civil service posts in all levels of government. Dinesh Thapaliya, secretary at the Ministry for Federal Affairs and General Administration, was present at the committee meeting but refused to share contents of the ordinance with lawmakers. He would only say that there was still a shortfall of 14,000 civil servants and that they would be hired through open competition. However, the government has no immediate plans of making up for the shortfal. The way the government is delaying in convening the winter session of Parliament is an indication that it first wants to adjust the existing employees through the ordinance and then call the House only in mid-January. By that time it will be too late to repeal or amend some laws that contradict the constitution. This is a deliberate move on the part of the government to bypass Parliament when it comes to dealing with civil servants. It is, therefore, imperative that the Speaker—and lawmakers from both side of the aisle — mount pressure on the prime minister for convening the House session at the earliest to prevent the executive from issuing the ordinance. It will not augur well for democracy if the executive intends to run the administration through ordinances or executive orders. The prime minister must pay heed to this.

Purposeless spending

This is one example how money from the state coffers is spent without any purpose. The zinc sheets could have been used to build temporary classrooms for thousands of children who were forced to endure the winter chill, monsoon rains and summer heat while studying. But the government seems to be oblivious to the sufferings of the children, or else it would have given the required instruction. Now the Salt Trading office is planning to auction the zinc sheets. What a waste of government money, as the needy continue to suffer.In the immediate aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, those people who lost their homes needed nothing but shelters. Thousands of people had no option than to make do with zinc sheets and tarpaulin. Since classrooms in thousands of numbers were also destroyed, zinc sheets were required to ensure that children could read. In August 2015, Salt Trading Corporation Limited Regional Office in Birgunj procured zinc sheets worth Rs 250 million from India. But they are gathering dust at Salt Trading’s office, as officials say there was no instruction “from the government” regarding their distribution.