The Hearing Drama

(This article was published on Nepalnews.com)

Following successful People’s Movement in 2006 that has resulted in the emergence of a democratic republican Nepal, a new diplomatic practice has been in vogue. In Nepal we are smarter to copy the systems abroad but we show little or no interest to implement the same in due spirit. Because of our rush to be seen as a country that displays promptness in acceptance of any practice coupled with lack of determination to put promises into reality, Nepal’s credibility has often been questioned.

This tendency to imitate others without thorough research and preparation has compromised our efficiency significantly. While our resources are being invested to follow such copied practices, we have failed miserably in achieving the very objectives for which such practices are being enforced. Against this painful background we have been witness to numerous dramas in the name of conducting hearings for the country’s envoys by the Parliamentary Special Committee.

Foremost, the said committee is too bulky and its members hardly meet any relevant criteria in commensurate with committee’s purpose. As the name suggests it is a Special Parliamentary Hearings Committee meaning it has greater responsibilities to shoulder in performing the roles of experts who would be required to properly evaluate the potentialities as well as appropriateness of the nominees.

Unlike to many other countries where such hearings are conducted for constitutional appointments, in our case same category of lawmakers have been privileged to grill the appointees whether they are prospective judges or commissioners or ambassadors once the Constitutional Council recommends and the cabinet approves them. This adds a huge burden to the members of the hearings committee and consequently their delivery has been found poor in most of the cases.

Unfortunately, the committee’s composition is problematic. Worryingly, Nepal’s current parliament is  the largest viewed from the perspective of a least developed country. There are 601 members in our parliament and it is even larger than the biggest and the oldest democracies in the world. This reality gives birth to another challenge which is the number of political parties.

Cunningly, the Nepali politicians are unanimous if a decision is to be taken to promote their petty party interests. In order to take advantage of state-provided facilities, they have agreed to categorize any small party as the national party. Suffice it to say that the political party of incumbent Foreign Minister originally had 52 lawmakers, but now their number has been reduced to less than ten. None of us should get surprised if after one year the leader becomes the only member of the political party.

More parties more leaders and more facilities and unbearable liabilities on the transitional government have been the hallmark of Nepali politics, in particular, after republicanism. Those holding sway over state power have been exploiting the transition for personal benefits at the cost of poor countrymen.

This increment in the number of political parties has been clearly reflected in the nomination of members to various parliamentary committees. The Special Hearings Committee is no exception to this. There is no logic whatsoever to argue that all political parties should have representation in experts committee. In Nepal no one bothers for convincing explanation to justify one’s work. Little wonder that there are more than 70 members in the Special Hearings Committee to appease all political parties.

The existing regulations related to confirmation hearings are so drafted by the parliament that no appointee gets rejected once the cabinet recommends. The simple reason that such regulations are still in prevalence is that the coalition governments since 2006 have reached consensus on a sharing formula that applies to constitutional appointments increasingly focused on ambassadors to represent Nepal abroad. Probably, their emoluments have been attractive and political parties have utilized them as reliable sources of funding.

Because the political parties forming part of the government would decide among themselves first how many envoys and with countries specified would be allocated to them and naturally these parties would like to have their cronies, party workers and stooges even from among the bureaucracy confirmed for their nominated posts. To make sure that such hidden agenda is not obstructed the confirmation regulations demand that a nominee can be refused by the Parliamentary Special Committee only when all the members unanimously decide to oppose nomination. Everyone knows that this is not going to happen and therefore confirmation hearings are nothing but presentation of dramas by the so-called lawmakers, who are rubber stamps of their parties.

In the wake of foreign allowance tax scandal followed by the nomination of a few bureaucrats as ambassadors to some countries, the issue of confirmation hearings seems to have gained momentum. A few months prior one of the serving Nepali ambassadors showed his courage to speak his mind though he knew very well that his request to pay back government-imposed income tax on his foreign allowance would be made a laughing stock by his colleagues in Nepal’s Foreign Ministry.

The tax issue is not at all a subject of controversy though privileged personnel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have tirelessly and even shamefully lobbied to have exemption from tax when their own counterparts in other ministries have been constrained to pay the same every month. It is regretful to learn that the retired civil servants have been paying tax regularly on their meager pensions but those Nepali diplomats earning several hundred thousand rupees a month should be given exemption.

Interestingly, the Parliamentary Special Hearings Committee was seen proactive in investigating whether the sincere desire of a compliant ambassador to abide by the current financial regulations of the government was the primary reason prompting the Foreign Ministry to preemptively nominate a retired bureaucrat to succeed him several months before the termination of the assignment. It is not known what the findings have been in this regard but all Nepali citizens have the right to know why a law abiding person is harassed.

No less astonishing is the decision of the above committee to withhold confirmation hearings of a retiring bureaucrat who has maneuvered to get nominated in the country drawing the highest amount of foreign allowance. If the committee is really committed to see that only deserving nominees are confirmed now is the opportune time to revisit the prevailing regulations that require that nominations can be blocked only when all members of the committee oppose it. It is high time that our lawmakers realize the flaw inherent in regulations and hence amend the same accordingly to serve the purpose of confirmation hearings. Otherwise status quo will make the committee rudderless more than ever.

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