KATHMANDU, July 14: Lawmakers were surprised at the meeting of the Parliamentary Hearings Special Committee (PHSC) on Friday morning when officials informed them that not a single complaint had been registered at the committee secretariat against Chief Justice-designate Gopal Parajuli.
The committee didn't receive a single complaint against Parajuli during the 10 days provided for the purpose in a public notice appearing in newspapers and other media. The committee had received 21 complaints against Parajuli when he was recommended for the post of Supreme Court justice three years ago.
“We were expecting a lot of complaints against him because the highest number of complaints were registered against him when he was recommended for Supreme Court justice,” said Ganesh Man Gurung, a member of the committee.
As not a single complaint has been received, the hearings committee is likely to endorse Parajuli as Chief Justice on Sunday.
This is just one instance. The number of complaints against candidates recommended for various constitutional and ambassadorial posts has shown a steady decline, and this has triggered a debate within the committee about the need to change the hearings process itself.
“Of late, people are no longer interested in filing complaints at the committee because they feel that the committee will not act on those complaints and will simply endorse the candidates anyhow,” said Gurung.
The debate on making the committee more effective is, however, nothing new. The new constitution has down-sized the 75-member committee to 15 members with a view to making it more effective.
“The committee's new working procedures allow it to form a sub-committee to probe the candidates recommended and also hold public hearings to entertain complaints and views from the public as well,” said Duruba Ghimire, secretary of the committee.
But the committee has so far not exercised these powers even when some of the candidates were from controversial backgrounds and the government came under wide criticism for recommending such individuals for various constitutional and ambassadorial posts.
For example, three complaints including a serious one were registered at the committee in March against ambassador-designate Sharmila Parajuli . But the committee endorsed the recommendation without adequatgely deliberating on the complaints.
The committee received 40 complaints last year against 35 various candidates recommended for posts such as chief justice, justices, chief election commissioner and ambassador. “The committee didn't investigate any of the complaints seriously. Moreover, there were lawmakers lobbying in favor of the candidates on the basis of the preferences of their respective political parties,” said an official at the parliament secretariat.
As a result of such instances, the public has lost faith in the committee and the number of complaints filed with it has declined at each successive hearing. The committee received just one complaint when it held hearings for the election commissioners earlier this year.
Experts also point to constitutional flaws for the declining number of complaints. “The constitution has stated that any nomination can be rejected only by a two-thirds majority of the committee, and this is practically impossible,” said an official at the parliament secretariat. The committee hearings have just become a ritual because such recommendations are made by the Constitutional Council, which has representation from both the ruling and major opposition parties.
Realizing the need for some improvements in the hearings process, the committee recently formed a five-member sub-committee tasked with revising the committee's working procedures. Ananda Dhungana of Nepali Congress, Ganesh Man Gurung of CPN-UML, Hit Raj Pandey of CPN (Maoist Centre), Saindra Bantawa of Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Yogendra Chaudhary of Nepal Loktantrik Forum are members of the committee and they are entrusted with the task of offering suggestions for changes.