Nepal | July 09, 2020

Editorial: Enact umbrella laws

The Himalayan Times
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The umbrella laws required for the creation of provincial structures, including the Provincial Judicial Service Commission, should be enacted as early as possible

Delay in enacting legislation to facilitate the formation of the Provincial Judicial Service Commission threatens to pit the centre against the provinces yet once again, raising questions about whether the government is really serious about strengthening federalism in the country. Though a record number of 14 bills were passed by the winter session, or bill session, of the Federal Parliament, it failed to enact quite a number of umbrella laws that would have given federalism a much-needed fillip. They include such bills as the Peace and Security Bill, Federal Civil Servant Bill, Nepal Police and Province Bill and Provincial Public Service Commission Bill. As for the formation of the Provincial Judicial Service Commission, the umbrella bill governing it is still being drafted by Nepal Law Commission, which has been assigned by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs with the task.

Nepal’s judiciary is unitary in nature, but Article 156 of the constitution has given powers to the provinces to form their own Judicial Service Commission, allowing them to recruit employees upto a certain level in the district and high courts under their jurisdiction. But the ministry is unable to decide how much power to give to the provinces on this issue, thus delaying the drafting of the bill and eventually its registration in the parliament. The lack of clarity in the umbrella law could invite trouble in the days ahead. Employees of the Provincial Chief Attorney’s Office, for example, are now recruited by the Office of the Attorney General, which curtails the autonomy of the provincial  office. The Provincial Chief Attorney has also not been given the right to prosecution by the constitution and can only hold consultation with the Chief Minister on legal matters. His role is not clear in the event of an interstate dispute. The umbrella law being drafted should clarify all these confusions.

The constitution has given the provinces the right to form their own Public Service and Judicial Commissions largely to address concerns about inclusion in the state organs. So they have been demanding that they be allowed to recruit employees at the provincial level without interference from the centre. Many of the bills that are crucial for advancing federalism are stuck in the Federal Parliament following much hue and cry from the provincial governments, who decry the centre’s bid to poke its nose in the affairs of the provinces. This does not bode well for the functioning of federalism in the country. The government is seen largely as wanting to concentrate
power at the centre under one pretext or the other as in the old unitary system. Now that Nepal has gone for a federal set up, it would be in the interest of the country to devolve as much power to the provinces as possible so that they become accountable to their people. For this, the umbrella laws required for the creation of provincial structures, including the Provincial Judicial Service Commission, should be enacted as early as possible. They must also be acceptable to the provinces.

Kids’ future at stake

A total of 7,923 community schools were damaged in 32 districts in the 2015 earthquake. The government has so far rebuilt 4,216 schools in the past four years and the remaining 3,707 (46.78 per cent) have yet to be rebuilt. Government records show that 2,032 community schools are under construction while the rebuilding process of 398 of them has not even started. The government has decided not to rebuild 370 schools due to their merger with others or closure for lack of adequate number of the students.

Earlier in 2016, the post-disaster recovery plan had envisaged rebuilding all the damaged schools within three years. The Central Level Project Implementation Unit under the Ministry of Education is the line agency for rebuilding the damaged schools. It means that almost half of the students enrolled in the public schools are studying at Temporary Learning Centres (TLCs). It reflects the government’s utter negligence towards the plight faced by the school children. Had the government been serious about their hardships, it would have given top priority to rebuilding them within the deadline. There are still 1.45 million children studying in 12,000 TLCs. The future of these kids is at stake due to the state’s laxity.

A version of this article appears in print on April 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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