Heed public opinion

Public suggestions should be analyzed for possible incorporation into the constitution and any sound advice should be seriously considered

The collection of public opinion on the contents of the preliminary draft constitution has reached its highest point with the most intense public hearings set yesterday and today (July 20-21) and the public suggestions for changes to the contents are to be submitted to the Constituent Assembly on Thursday. The process has been going on smoothly in most parts of the country, except for sporadic disturbances created by some disgruntled groups in some areas, including the tearing or burning of copies of the draft, by activists of some Madhes-centric parties. Some Madhes-centric parties, some other smaller parties, groups and individuals have, for example, insisted that the new Constitution be promulgated only after delineating the boundaries of the eight provinces.

Some institutional suggestions for changes to the draft constitution have been received, too, for example, from the Supreme Court, the Nepali Army, and constitutional bodies, such as the Election Commission, the CIAA, and the Public Service Commission. The SC’s objection to the system of public hearings prior to appointment of the SC judges and to the formation of a parliamentary committee for monitoring the conduct of the SC judges are hard to defend, because these provisions do not in any way weaken the independence of the apex court. The Army’s suggestion to include its chief in the National Defence Council is reasonable to safeguard national interests, to prepare national security and defence strategy and its mobilization, control and management in an effective manner.

Three of the EC’s suggestions are powerful as they contribute to strengthening democracy—putting in place a three per cent threshold for proportional representation, giving it the powers to declare the local elections, and fixing the dates for federal and provincial elections in the constitution itself. The PSC has also recommended that a regulatory body be formed to maintain the principles, standards and norms of the three tiers of public service commissions at federal, provincial and local levels and to enforce corrective action in case of anomalies. This suggestion deserves serious consideration. The CIAA’s jurisdiction should be limited to investigation of cases of corruption and abuse of authority and prosecution of the accused, not to all cases of right or wrong executive action. As for suggestions from the general public, most of them seem to clash with some of the provisions of the draft constitution, such as their strong opposition to making Nepal a secular state; to the provision of proportional representation; to indirect election of the chief executive; they have also shown doubts about federalism. They have stood in favour of peace and stability and harmony among the people of all castes, ethnic groups, religions, and areas of the country; a smaller number of provinces carved in the north-south direction. The public suggestions should be summarized and analyzed for possible incorporation into the constitution and any sound advice should be seriously considered. Otherwise, the very purpose of collecting public opinion on the draft constitution would lose much of its meaning.

Access to justice

That only five per cent of the Nepali people have access to judicial service is indeed very appalling. Therefore, now confronting the nation is providing this service to all the people. The recently appointed Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha says he is concerned about timely justice. It appears that the district and appellate courts are doing well by deciding the cases within one year. Only a few cases are 18 to 24 months old in the lower courts. However, there is a huge backlog of cases numbering more than 22,000 in the Supreme Court. The CJ attributes this to the inadequate number of judges. The process of appointing the judges is a long and laborious process.

Meanwhile, the press and the judiciary should supplement each other. The press should bring to light mistakes of the judiciary but should not go against the independence of the judiciary. The ties between these two entities must be professional respecting the principle of justice. This would serve to further enhance democracy. Meanwhile, the needful should be done to access all the people to judicial service in the larger interest of justice.