The lawmakers must take part in the discussion of all bills seriously, and tell the public about their requirement
The winter session of the Federal Parliament, which is also known as the bill session, was prorogued on Sunday, endorsing as many as 14 new bills. Both the Houses of the Federal Parliament, which commenced on December 26 last year, also made amendments to 160 old Acts under Some Nepal Acts Amendment Bills. Amendments to these laws were made as they contradicted the provisions in the new constitution. Both the Houses also scrapped six other laws that were redundant in the changed context. These laws had to be amended or scrapped by March 5 as per the constitutional provision, which has clearly stated that the laws that contradict the new constitution should be amended or scrapped within the constitutional deadline. With the amendments to some laws, the parliament has paved the way for the government to implement the new constitution in line with the federal structure.
However, the winter session has failed to pass some important bills, such as the Nepal Citizenship Bill, Peace and Security Bill, Federal Civil Servant Bill, Nepal Police and Provincial Bill, Provincial Public Service Commission Bill and Nepal Police Integration Bill. These six bills were crucial for restructuring the centralised bureaucracy and Nepal Police in line with the federal setup. The provincial governments had been calling on the federal government to enact these umbrella bills at the earliest so that they could also enact the laws accordingly. These bills have been forwarded to the concerned committees for further discussion. The Federal Parliament, however, passed the Civil Servant Adjustment Bill, which was brought by the previous government as an ordinance. The Lower House also discussed three motions of public importance related to increasing road accidents, health insurance and chhaudapdi practice.
The winter session has passed a record number of bills, which is a big achievement in implementing the constitution. This session has also set a precedence, under which the Prime Minister and ministers are required to furnish replies to the queries of the lawmakers. More laws could have been passed had there not been occasional disruptions in the House. The government also agreed to withdraw some immature bills at the request of the main opposition. This has set a good parliamentary practice. However, what is lacking of the lawmakers is that they are seldom found taking part in the discussion of the bills, although a handful of lawmakers do so regularly and seriously. The concerned political parties must have their lawmakers learn more about the pros and cons of the bills tabled by the government. The more the lawmakers discuss the bills, the more they can contribute to improving the content. A bill related to Secure and Peaceful Use of Nuclear and Radioactive Materials tabled at the House is a case in point. This bill has now been forwarded to the parliamentary Education and Health Committee for further consideration. The lawmakers from both the aisles either fully supported it or opposed it, not fully knowing about its fallout. In such a case, the lawmakers must take inputs from experts and stakeholders before reaching any conclusion. It would be better if the parliament had informed consent of the public in advance about the requirement of a particular bill.
Free higher education
A bill tabled at the Federal Parliament proposing free higher education for poor students is welcome. Any student who has no source of income to support him or herself, a Dalit or disabled is eligible for free higher education in the universities of the country and their constituent campuses. Higher education, especially in the technical fields, is becoming extremely expensive in Nepal, and so a lot of talented students can ill afford the exorbitant fees. Hence, should the bill, which proposes free higher education, be endorsed, it will provide the much-needed succour to such needy students.
Many countries in the West provide free education or education at subsidised fees to their citizens in college. However, the poor Nepali is having to pay hefty sums for the education of their siblings, starting right from nursery to university level. The poor students are, therefore, disadvantaged from getting a good education, especially in college. The bill should not be seen as a populist move of the parties and must be made practical. With so many students unable to pay for their education, it might be prudent to introduce soft loans so that more students benefit.
A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.