Thursday, 25 April, 2024

The State Of Constitutional Commissions

Kushal Pokharel


While the nation marked the 4th constitution day on Friday, there are few things to rejoice but many to contemplate. This day can be taken as an opportunity to reflect upon the accomplishments made so far and the future direction that needs to be taken to institutionalise federalism. First, the pace of implementing the constitution has remained rather sluggish. Second, the question of political ownership of the new constitution has started to emerge in the public discourse. Third, controversies surrounding the functioning of the newly formed three levels of government have appeared. For instance, the issue of jurisdiction of Federal, Provincial and Local government has become a major bone of contention though the constitution has categorically laid out the rights and responsibilities of all the three tiers.
Undoubtedly, drafting a constitution through the constituent assembly is a great accomplishment in the history of Nepal’s civil and political movement. Having said that, public expectations to see the constitutional provisions translated into action has not been adequately addressed.
Among the various progressive provisions in the Federal Democratic Republican Constitution of Nepal, 2015, the establishment of separate commissions to promote the welfare of the socio-economically marginalised and disadvantaged communities received much appreciation. Perhaps, the expectation was that social justice would be promoted through the work of these commissions in the new political setup and none of the community members would feel discriminated. Even the fundamental rights section of the constitution clearly mentions Right to Social Justice, Right to Social Security, Right of Women, Right of Dalit for empowering the socio-economically backward and marginalised communities.
The significance of granting a constitutional status to this commission indicates the priority of the nation to address the pertinent issues of social inclusion and justice. However, four years after the promulgation of a new constitution, the process of establishing these commissions has remained sluggish. While some of them haven’t been formed yet, even those already formed are also not in full shape. In fact, some commissions have only got chairperson but not other members. Sadly, a few chiefs of the commissions have already stepped down citing various reasons. Hence, the overall scenario looks pretty dismal though such commissions were envisioned as a instrument of uprooting structural discrimination prevailing in Nepal for ages.
As per Part 27 of the constitution, 7 Constitutional Commissions ( CCs) (most of them are new) to be formed include: National Women Commission, National Dalit Commission, National Inclusion Commission, Madhesi Commission, Tharu Commission, Muslim Commission and Indigenous and Ethnic Commission. These commissions are primarily mandated to undertake study on the pertinent issues being faced by the particular ethnic group including gender. However, in the absence of adequate human resources as well as financial constraints, the CCs have become almost non-functional.
Provisioning adequate resources for the effective functioning of CCs have not remained in the priority. As a matter of fact, even the government officials are least interested to get transferred to the office of CCs where there is very limited or almost no business at the moment. In this way, the original idea with which CCs were conceptualised has not been materialised. Without the correction of this course, CCs cannot deliver the tasks as provided in the constitution.
Political interference in appointment of key posts for such commissions has emerged as a grave problem. As stated above, even those who got selected have cited the lack of a conducive environment to perform and stepped down which is indeed an unfortunate situation. The issue has also surfaced in case of other important commissions like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission of Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons. An inadvertent delay in the appointment of officials in these commissions has been observed. Consequently, the task of logically concluding the much hailed Nepal’s peace process has remained unfinished.
It is high time that the Government of Nepal expedite the process of setting up these commissions. In doing so, abiding by the principle of merit and transparency needs to be strictly followed. Similarly, the functional autonomy of the CCs ought to be guaranteed. Based on the recommendation of the CCs, the government should plan strategic intervention in the required areas to uproot the exploitative and divisive tendencies.
Equally crucial will be to disseminate publicly the progress of these commissions. In fact, many people still don’t know of the arrangements pertaining to the CCs in the new constitution. Hence, making the public understand the role of these bodies and openly communicating the progress made will be useful for attaining the desired objectives. During this entire journey, other civil society organisations also need to be consulted for taking feedback to perform better.
(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS College.)