Constitution writing in disarray


KATHMANDU, July 21: The promulgation of a new constitution will be materialized on May 10, 2010, only if things move on the right track. But all is not well with the Constituent Assembly (CA), the body entrusted with the task of constitution-writing.

With just 10 months away and the major issues remaining unresolved, constitutional experts doubt that the world´s newest republic will see a new constitution on time.“It is high time we made a review of the CA´s work and found out what went amiss,” says lawmaker Nilambar Acharya. He says lack of interest on the part of the political parties has marred the constitution writing process.

On Tuesday, the CA postponed its meeting indefinitely. The reason: The CA committees failed to prepare concept papers and preliminary drafts within the deadline.

The CA discussed the reports of the Committee to determine the constitutional bodies, but several issues remained unresolved including the committee´s decision to adopt 11 constitutional bodies. Some CA members were strongly opposed to adopting 11 constitutional bodies arguing that the formation of so many constitutional bodies would infringe upon the jurisdictions of the executive, while others suggested formation of new ones.

The debate should be resolved in the Constitutional Committee (CC), but the CC itself has remained without its chairman since May 23 after Madhav Kumar Nepal who was the chairman elevated to the post of the prime minister. The committee has only met once since then. Besides collecting the reports from the 10 thematic committees and fine-turning them, the CC is entrusted with writing the preamble and the emergency provisions, among other important things, but the committee has hit roadblock since May 23.

After the CA finished discussions on the reports of the committee to determine the constitutional bodies, next committee to present its report is the Committee to Determine Legislative Form of the government, but the committee has been hobbled by differences among NC, UML and the Maoists.

NC and UML have proposed bicameral legislature while the Maoists have pressed for single legislature. Similarly, the Maoists have floated the provision of recalling the lawmakers while the NC and UML have denied it. Differences have also surfaced among the parties over naming the legislature. The Maoists have demanded that it be named People´s Assembly while the NC and UML want it to be named House of Representatives. Likewise, the Maoists have argued that lawmakers should take the oath of office in the name of people while the NC and UML are for taking oath in the name of God. “We have had difficulties as the Maoists changed their stance,” said UML lawmaker Mahendra Dhoj GC, who is also the member of that committee.

Most of the issues in the committee to restructure the state and the committee to determine the form of governance – which are regarded the most important committees for constitution writing –have remained unresolved. “We are trying to resolve the differences through informal meetings at higher levels,” said lawmaker Pushpa Bhusal, who is a member in the committee which determines the form of governance. The committee has not met for a week. Similarly, the State Restructuring Committee has not met for the last two weeks. The committee has held over six dozen meetings, but it is yet to begin its work on the major issues — number and delineation of provinces, political privileges to ethnic groups and distribution of powers among the governments at central, provincial and local levels.

Similarly, the Committee on the Division of Natural Resources, Financial Rights and Public Revenue has also deferred its meeting, due to “busy schedule” of its members. The committee has at its hands many complex issues — land reforms and revenue collections– to deal with.

Just 10 months have remained to promulgate the new constitution. CA officials say the constitution will not see the light of the day if the CA moves ahead with the current pace. “The committee members have spent the valuable time beating about the bush, rather than devoting theit time on the constitution writing,” says a CA official on the condition of anonymity.

CA member Nilambar Acharya slammed the top political leaders for the sorry state of affairs. “But we can still promulgate the constitution if we garner the political will,” he said.

Published on 2009-07-21 21:56:47