EDITORIAL: Whither accountability

Democracy presupposes equality and respect for law, but our lawmakers are involved in bending rules to their advantage

Nepal has come a long way, politically, since the country became a federal republic after overthrowing the centuries-old monarchy in 2008. A new constitution was born after severe pangs in September 2015. The first elections – for federal Parliament at the centre, provincial assemblies at seven provinces and local bodies at 753 units – were held under the new constitution. All these efforts were made with a forward-looking commitment to the common good of people. The entire political exercise in the last 10 years was directed towards creating a fairer and more egalitarian society, empowering people and ensure justice to them and maintain public accountability. But our lawmakers’ recent actions have made us look askance at them. On Saturday, a committee formed to prepare rules for the House of Representatives and the National Assembly finalised rules provisioning that lawmakers accused of crimes carrying jail terms of three years or more “would not face suspension”.

The rules say a lawmaker will be suspended only when s/he is convicted of a crime by the last tier of the court and sent to jail. The rules, however, call for stripping lawmakers accused of crimes of the facilities they are entitled to. They will also not be allowed to participate in the parliamentary proceedings. Lawmakers have argued that lawmakers should not face suspension if they are accused of any crime and sent to judicial custody, as they could be acquitted by the court later. They have also argued that the provision has simply “dropped” the word “suspension”, as other rules – stripping the accused of facilities and barring them from parliamentary proceedings -- mean as good as suspension.

These arguments, however, do not hold water. The existing provision for the government employees says that any government employ indicted on any criminal charge faces automatic suspension once a charge-sheet is filed against him or her. Interestingly, the earlier rules also had the provision that any lawmaker accused of crime would face suspension. It is strange that our lawmakers by bringing rules that put them “above the law” are moving backwards. Lawmakers are people’s representatives – they have been voted by the people to Parliament with full faith in them that they would work for their welfare. They are answerable to the people and their accountability is of paramount importance. This new provision by lawmakers in their own favour gives a sense that they are “above” the general public and “superior” to those who they are supposed to “serve”. Interestingly, this action of our lawmakers comes hot on the heels of their demand of Rs 100 million under the constituency development fund. Lawmakers seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that they have been elected to the hallowed chambers of Parliament to formulate laws -- not to spend taxpayers’ money for development purposes. Democracy presupposes respect for law. Parliament is the epitome of democracy and it can function at its best only when there is full transparency and total accountability. When parliamentarians need to lead by example, they seem to be involved in bending rules and shirking from their accountability. They must mend their ways.

Midwifery education

Nepal will produce the first batch of professional midwifes next year. The well-trained midwives will provide patient-centred care that a woman needs during pregnancy and after giving birth. The government has introduced a Bachelor’s degree course on Midwifery Science which is run by the National Academy of Medical Sciences and Kathmandu University. A total of 29 students will complete the course by the end of 2019. However, the country needs a recruitment, deployment and retention policy for midwives, according to Prof Kiran Bajracharya, president of Midwifery Society of Nepal.

Kristine Blokhus, deputy representative of the United Nations Population Fund, has said this  formal programme will help Nepal’s future midwives gain respect and credibility as public health professionals. Well-trained midwives can help save lives of women and newborns and contribute to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates. Reducing maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births is one of the key targets for Nepal. Midwives can contribute to achieving the national goal. According to Nepal Demographic and Health Survey 2016, Nepal’s maternal mortality rate was 239.