Besides playing an impartial role, the Speaker should also give enough time to the opposition to air its views in the House
The row over who – the Prime Minister or the main opposition leader – should have first addressed the House of Representatives (HoR) on Tuesday could have been easily resolved had Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara held serious talks with members of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) he chairs. The BAC is a body represented by the chief whips of all the political parties in the HoR. A HoR business of the day is determined unanimously by this body, which ultimately helps the Speaker run his business in the House without any obstruction. Should there be no unanimity in the BAC meeting, the Speaker lands in difficulty in running that day’s business, and, he/she also knows in advance that the main opposition or any other party in the opposition bench is preparing to obstruct the House over issues in which the BAC members have stuck to their guns. It is quite natural for the main opposition to resort to House obstruction if its major concern is not addressed at the BAC meeting. Therefore, the Speaker must always play an impartial role to bring the ruling and opposition parties together.
Tuesday’s House proceeding could have gone smoothly had the Speaker allowed the main opposition leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to address the House before Prime Minister KP Oli. PM Oli wanted to address the House first. This row could have been resolved amicably at the BAC meeting. But the Speaker did not discuss this issue with the NC chief whip at the BAC meeting and hastily convened the House proceeding, only to be adjourned till Wednesday following the NC’s obstruction. Now, both the ruling and opposition are exchanging barbs against each other for not respecting the parliamentary norms and values. In a parliamentary democracy, the opposition leader should be given ample time to air his/her views in the House. The PM also should have let the opposition leader express his views first and, then, furnished his replies. The main opposition leader, Deuba, was scheduled to raise the controversial Guthi Bill that has stirred the people across the country. PM Oli was out of the country when the people of the Capital took to the streets in protest against the Bill.
Following the people’s fierce protests from the streets, the government has withdrawn the Bill, which was tabled in the National Assembly on April 30. According to the stakeholders and experts on culture, religion and tradition, the Bill will curtail their right to practise their religion, culture, traditions and rituals as guthi property, held in the name of the temples, shrines, monasteries and mosques since time immemorial, will come under the Guthi Authority to be handled by government-appointed employees, who may not have any cultural, religious or traditional knowledge about their functioning. The Raj Guthis, public guthis and private ones have been confronting many problems since the government started operating them under the Guthi Corporation Act, 1976. As the Bill has now been withheld, it would be better if the government holds fresh talks with all the stakeholders, guthi tenants, trustees and experts from across the country. We cannot preserv the guthis without overhauling the existing Act.
Use the stick
The use of the stick is expediting road construction in Dolakha to Kathmandu’s north-east. The Division Road Office, Dolakha, decided to fine the contractors of two road sections — 25-km Khadichaur-Mude stretch and 30-km Mude-Charikot stretch – after their construction could not be completed even after allotting double the time initially agreed upon. The roads should have been completed by May and April this year respectively.
One of the reasons behind the perpetual delay in finishing any project in Nepal is because of the leniency shown by the government towards the contractors, extending the construction period time and again. It is rare for the government to terminate the contract or fine the contractors, especially if they are foreigners. Project delay means cost overruns, which must be borne by the government. Many of Nepal’s projects have cost the government dear due to such laxity on the part of the contractors. Cost overruns apart, what such delay does is, it diminishes the people’s trust in the government to complete any project within the deadline. Let the Dolakha case serve as a warning to others.
A version of this article appears in print on June 20, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.