EDITORIAL: Wrong practice

The ordinance has given the PM sweeping powers to appoint persons in the constitutional bodies without consulting others

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari on Tuesday issued an ordinance to make the first amendment to the Constitutional Council (CC) Act, giving the Prime Minister a free rein in appointing persons of his choice in the constitutional bodies, which are said to function independently of the executive. As per the ordinance, majority of the council members can take decisions to make appointments in the constitutional bodies. The CC is chaired by the Prime Minister, and the Chief Justice, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chairperson of the National Assembly and main opposition leader are its ex-officio members. The post of Deputy Speaker has remained vacant for almost a year since then deputy speaker, Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe, stepped down on January 19, one week before the election of the Speaker. The PM has recommended to the President the same ordinance which was issued seven months ago. But the President had to withdraw it three days later after receiving much flak from all walks of life, including leaders of the ruling CPN. The existing law stipulates that the CC shall have its quorum only when its four ex-officio members attend the meeting called by its chair. Now the majority of the CC can take a decision to fill the vacant posts in these bodies.

Following the issuance of the ordinance, even the President has landed into controversy over her role.

Many, including legal experts, have accused her of acting as a ‘rubber stamp’ of the PM, and not acting as the custodian of the constitution. It would have been better if she had waited till the start of the winter session of parliament, which should be called within a fortnight from now. This ordinance has given the PM sweeping powers to appoint anyone in the constitutional bodies without having to reach consensus with the main opposition leader and others. But this is easier said than done. Even if the PM nominates the persons of his choice in the constitutional bodies, it will still be a hard nut to crack when his appointees face the Parliamentary Hearing Committee, where the opposition and majority of the ruling lawmakers are sure to go against his cherry-picks.

As the CC chair, PM Oli has not been able to fill most of the vacant posts in the constitutional bodies since his election to the office. There are more than 45 vacant posts in various constitutional bodies. The CC meeting often gets cancelled due to lack of quorum, mainly due to non-cooperation from the main opposition and the Speaker, Agni Sapkota, who is close to NCP Co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is hell-bent on unseating the PM. This all has happened because of the top-notch leaders’ high stake in the CIAA and the Election Commission. The PM alone should not be blamed for what has gone wrong with the CC. The main opposition leader, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the Speaker are equally responsible for the CC’s failure to take decisions on the constitutional bodies. Both of them have deviated from their constitutional obligation by skipping the CC meeting under one pretext or the other. But it is a wrong practice on the part of the PM to issue the ordinance to serve his personal interest simply because he had failed to rope in other CC members.

Enhance women’s safety

Despite the many efforts at the government and civil society level, there seems to be no let up in the ever increasing cases of rape in the country. In Banke district alone, 21 cases of rape have been reported since the country went into a lockdown in March. More than 2,100 rape cases were reported in the country last year, and it is likely that many incidents didn’t get reported for fear of more harm from the perpetrator or because it would bring ridicule and shame to the girl and the family. It looks like rape and other forms of sexual assault on women and girls are here to stay.

Until recently, settling rape cases through reconciliation was quite common, which promoted the culture of impunity. But such out-of-court settlements through reconciliation now carry a heavy penalty and have encouraged the victims to file reports at the police office. Can something be done to enhance the safety and security of women in Nepal? In view of the number of gruesome sexual crimes in the country, there have been voices clamouring even for the death penalty to the rape victim.

But since it has been abolished by Nepal’s constitution, one will need to think of a fate that is worse than death to act as a deterrent.