The parties are ruining the integrity of the constitutional commissions which are expected to check the government when it breaches its jurisdiction.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
When Nabin Kumar Ghimire retired as the chief commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse Authority in the second week of September he was bade farewell with negative remarks. He was blamed for protecting the ‘big fishes’—large corruption cases --on the behest of the ruling party and focusing on the petty cases, some of which dealt with sums as low as Rs 1,000.
Former government secretary Ghimire, considered to be close with the former CPN-UML entered the constitutional anti-graft watchdog in 2015 and went on to become the chief commissioner in August 2018. Different alleged corruption cases amounting to billions of rupees were reported during his tenure as the chief of the commission. The commission under Ghimire’s leadership failed to take concrete steps towards probing the alleged corruption in the procurement of the two wide body aircraft for the Nepal Airlines Corporation.
Similarly, the commission took no significant steps to investigate the alleged involvement of former Minister for Information Technology and Information Gokul Prasad Banskota in bargaining millions of rupees in return for awarding contracts to procure the security press. The cases related to corruption charges in awarding Omi Business Corporate International to import testing kits, reagents and protective gears to combat Covid-19 and other high-profile corruption cases didn’t see any progress in investigation during Ghimire’s tenure.
The constitutional bodies like CIAA are supposed to be independent and fair state agencies that work as per constitutional responsibility to check if there has been some misuse of authority by the people in power. Now Ghimire has retired and serves as an example as to how far and to what extent the constitutional commissions can become biased when the political lineage of a person is counted over his/her expertise and competency.
Different commissions have been envisioned in the Constitution of Nepal which primarily are bestowed with the authority to keep the executive at check. However, such constitutional positions now have become tools for power sharing within the ruling party and mending relationships with the opposition.
In the last few months Prime Minister KP Sharma and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba have had several rounds of meetings to decide on the sharing of the constitutional commissions. Oli is said to have assured Deuba for a respectable share in different constitutional bodies with over three dozen positions to be fulfilled.
The leader of the opposition is more concerned about getting a share in the constitutional antigraft body and the Election Commission. It is expecting at least one member each in both the constitutional bodies. Getting to fit the party's yes man in the CIAA would provide a possible safeguard against any corruption cases.
The dissident factions within the ruling Nepal Communist Party, too, are eying to set their people in different constitutional commissions. Making appointments in the constitutional bodies after setting proper criteria is one of the suggestions the six-member taskforce in the ruling party gave to bridge the months-long differences in the party.
At least three dozen positions in the constitutional commissions are awaiting fulfillment. The CIAA has three positions vacant including a chairperson while the Election Commission is short of two members.
Among the seven commissions given constitutional status by the constitution, Nepal Women, Dalit and Indigenous Nationalities Commissions are fully vacant. The Madhesi, Tharu and Muslim have chairpersons but the positions for four members haven’t been filled. Similarly, the Inclusive Commission only has a member with no chairperson after Shanta Raj Subedi resigned from the post on July 28 last year within a few months of his appointment.
The National Resource and Fiscal Management Commission has a chairperson but no members while the National Language Commission, too, lacks a full set of leaders. The entire team of the National Human Rights Commission, constitutionally the most powerful commission, too, is becoming vacant in two weeks.
The seven-member Constitutional Council headed by the prime minister recommends the names for the constitutional commissions to be appointed after getting through a parliamentary hearing. The council is designed so that all the organs of the state are its members. While it is led by the executive head, the chief justice, speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy and chairperson of the National Assembly are its members. Similarly, the constitution envisages the inclusion of the leader of the opposition to vet the names the prime minister proposes to ensure an independent candidate is selected in the constitutional bodies.
However, instead of performing the job of vetting, Deuba is looking to share in the appointments. The constitutional experts say forging a deal for the sharing of the constitutional positions among the ruling and the opposition party is condemnable. They say those handpicked by the party leaders won’t be loyal to their institutions but to their political masters who recommended their names.
Senior advocate Bhimarjun Acharya, a constitutional expert, says the parties are ruining the integrity of the constitutional commissions which are expected to check the government when it breaches its jurisdiction. “But those getting appointed on the behest of the party leaders will serve the political leadership not the institution,” he said. It was on March 25 last year when the meeting of the council was held when Dinesh Thapaliya was recommended as the chief commissioner of the Election Commission and Bishnu Maya Ojha as a member of the Inclusive Commission.
As Oli and Deuba have neared a deal on the sharing of appointments, the council meeting is likely to be held very soon. The experts say forging a prior deal will not just undermine the role of the council but also lose the people’s faith in the constitutional commission. For instance, they say, the human rights commission is responsible to investigate the cases of human rights violations mostly by the state agencies. However, if people with political lineage instead of independent candidates get entry in it there will be an obvious doubt if the commission has performed its duty independently.
Experts say the Parliamentary Hearing Committee could have a role in the vetting process, however, never in the past has it performed its duty independently leaving too much room to expect them to reject undeserving candidates from getting entry in the commissions.