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How to make Upper House strong, inclusive?

How to make Upper House strong, inclusive?

During the drafting of the Constitution of Nepal, there was a comprehensive debate about what should be the substance and structure of the National Assembly of the Federal Parliament. That time, there were two schools of thought. One opinion was that the National Assembly should be the subsidiary or subordinate to the House of Representative (Lower House). But the second opinion was fundamentally different. The second opinion was that the National Assembly must be powerful, inclusive and of good quality. But numerically, the first opinion had the majority. So finally, the National Assembly was created in line with the first opinion. Hence our National Assembly was constitutionally made weak and subordinate to the Lower House. Same people have/had the control and influence in Lower House right after Constitution promulgation in two big parties in Nepal. So, they made the National Assembly deliberately weak legally too and made it subordinate to the Lower House while drafting the House Regulations.

When we look upon the content and structure of the Upper House in India, UK and other bi-cameral Houses, we see that the making and breaking of the government is the sole right and responsibility of the Lower House. Presentation of fiscal budget (Finance Bill) is also always done in the Lower House. These two rights, everywhere, are exclusively always reserved for the Lower House. But except these two, all other rights and responsibilities are almost equally divided between the two Houses. This world standard, though, does not comply or match in the context of Nepal. Our Federal Parliament was exclusively made with the main focus on the Lower House and it was deliberate and intentional.

In India, legislative, executive, judicial, electoral, amendment rights and even some special powers were constitutionally given to the Upper House. India is a model of how the Upper House is functioning in a parliamentary democratic country.  In the UK, the Upper House scrutinizes legislation, holds the government to account, and considers and reports upon public policy. Peers may also seek to introduce legislation or propose amendments to Bills.

Where are the faults and weaknesses?

 In Constitution:  Article 111 of the present Constitution creates discrimination and inequality between the two Houses with regard to passing the Bills.

Basically, sub-article (2), (4), (5) and (10) are discriminatory. Sub-article (2) only gives 15 days’ mandatory time to the National Assembly for discussion and sending it back to the Lower House with regard to the Finance Bill.

Sub-article (4) gives the discretionary right to the Lower House and says if the National Assembly does not send it back to the Lower House within 15 days, the Lower House can send this Bill to the Head of State for authentication.

Sub-article (5) gives mandatory two months to the National Assembly to send it back to the Lower House in case of all other normal Bills passed by the Lower House. But it is not vice-versa. Here, the Lower House has the monopoly. The Lower House does not have a time limit. It is an extremely discriminatory provision for the National Assembly.

Sub-article (10) also gives the upper hand to the Lower House. It says if any Bill is under consideration in any House and the Lower House has dissolved or ended its tenure, the Bill will be passive. These are the discriminatory provisions in the Constitution, which need immediate amendment.

Faults and discrimination in the regulation: Clause (6) of the Joint Regulation of the Federal Parliament says that the Speaker will preside over the meetings of the joint House. The Chairman of the National Assembly can only preside over the session if the Speaker is absent. This is not respectful and just to the National Assembly’s Chair. It has to be turn by turn.

Clause (25) of the Joint Regulation is also extremely discriminatory and unjust. It is about the Parliamentary Hearing Committee. There is the provision of a 15-member Committee. There are 12 members from the Lower House and only 3 members from the National Assembly. This is not fair, not representative, not inclusive and undermines the respect, dignity and image of the National Assembly. There has to be at least 5 members from the National Assembly.

 There are two Joint Committees in the Federal Parliament. One is the Parliamentary Hearing Committee and the other is the State’s Directive Principles, Policies and Liability Implementation, Supervision and Evaluation Committee. In eight years of Constitution implementation, members of the National Assembly never got a chance to become the Chair of either committee. This is also a discrimination and domination of the Lower House.

Sub-clause 33(4) of the same regulation is also not fair. It states about the number-ratio of other Joint Committees. The ratio is 1:5—one from the National Assembly but five from the Lower House. The point is that the ratio is unjust.

Sub-clause (44) of the same regulation is also unfair and dominating. It says that, whatever mentioned in the Joint Regulation, all activities take place accordingly. But whatever is not mentioned, will be done as per the provision of Lower House’s Regulation. This has established the supremacy of the Lower House over the National Assembly.

First and foremost, the mindset of political leadership, government and media should be changed in regard to the National Assembly. They do not pay much attention and importance to the National Assembly. The reason is that it has no role in making or breaking a government. They have only a little knowledge about the role and responsibilities of the Upper Houses of other countries. Parties are also sending cadres to the National Assembly, who are less qualified and less competent.

In conclusion, Nepal's National Assembly faces challenges rooted in its constitutional framework and parliamentary regulations, leading to a subordinate status compared to the Lower House. Discriminatory provisions in the Constitution and Joint Regulation undermine the role and representation of the National Assembly. To address these issues, there's a need for constitutional amendments to ensure equality between the two houses and a shift in mindset among political leaders, government, and media to recognize and respect the importance of the National Assembly in the country's governance. This would promote a more balanced and effective bicameral system in Nepal. Hence to make our National Assembly more powerful, inclusive, democratic, effective and of better quality and of world standards, we have to amend the Constitution, change the House Regulations as well as the mindset.