If the Nepali Congress hadn\'t indulged in one its periodic attacks of self-flagellation this month, the 18th session of Parliament might have gone down in the history books as the most productive application of democracy in Nepal so far.
But, as it turned out, the government felt so shaky after the power struggle between the Bhattarai and Koirala factions that it didn\'t want to risk continuing the session.
Another two weeks, and all the important pending bills could have been passed. A handful of conscientious MPs had tried putting national interest above narrow party concerns, although the fact that this was not always possible was illustrated by the fracas that broke out when members physically assaulted each other in the aftermath of the resignation of State Minister of Forests, Aftab Alam.
You could say that wrangling and dissent are a part of democracy, but look at what was achieved:
The Kamaiyas were freed.
The Human Rights Commission was set up, because the MPs demanded it.
The budget was passed before the fiscal year for the first time.
The controversial Citizenship Bill was passed.
There are, of course, questions about all of the above. The Kamaiyas are free, but they have been evicted by landlords and many are camping in the main outside Dhangadi. The budget was passed on time, but the bureaucratic machinery is doing the traditional thing of waiting for the rains to stop before disbursing any of it. The Human Rights Commission hasn\'t got much to show for itself nor does it have enough money to do what all expect out of it.
Even the Citizenship Bill didn\'t go smoothly. The Valley suffered a bandh on 6 August, the UML chickened out despite earlier support, and there are strong questions about whether the safeguards can work at the local level.
Koirala came to power with a three-point agenda: corruption control, law and order (read: Maoists), and governance. An important part of corruption control was the muscular Anti-Corruption Bill which would have shifted the burden of proof to the accused. In effect, officials would be presumed guilty of corruption until they could prove their own innocence. Such a severe law is needed because rarely is there actual proof of graft.
Curiously, the draft of the Anti-Corruption Bill exempts the Prime Minister from investigation. The Bill, however, does give more teeth to the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) and the Special Police can investigate petty day-to-day graft in the machinery of government.
The watered-down Political Parties Bill was passed by the Lower House, but will have to wait for the next session before it reaches the Upper House. The Bill has provisions that will force the audit of party accounts and make public names of those who make donations of more than Rs 25,000. But the MPs rejected state funding and also a clause that would have enabled the Election Commission to force them to abide by its codes.
Other bills that have gone back into the freezer are:
The Judicial Administration Bill which will allow a different Bench to hear appeals on rulings by the Supreme Court.
The Education Bill which would streamline rules about private schools, and enforce a tax on them to support government schools.
The Kamaiya Freedom Bill which would make provisions for the rehabilitation of free Kamaiyas.
What never came were perhaps the most important bills that would have addressed reform in the banking sector and also given the central bank more supervisory powers.
One of the most positive trends for the future is that the Parliament\'s committees are functioning as they should. The Public Accounts Committee, under MPs Subhas Nemwang, N.P. Sawad, Hridayesh Tripathi and others, blocked the Army\'s questionable RJ100 deal, asked pointed questions about alleged misappropriation of Rs 50 million in the Mahakali Irrigation Scheme.
The State Affairs Committee, under Homnath Dahal, Pradeep Gyawali and others have issued a powerful report on long-overdue civil administration reform. It was this committee that also approved the citizenship bill through consensus. Som Prasad Pandey, Romi Gauchan and Lila Mani Pokhrel of the Foreign Relations and Human Rights Committee were at the forefront of raising the Laxmanpur Barrage issue before the Prime Minister\'s visit to India. They did go overboard by calling for a demolition of the barrage, though.
What the functioning of the committees in this session showed was that they can rise above party lines and tackle issues of vital national importance head on. If this trend continues, future sessions of the House could finally start showing that democracy can deliver development. But for that to happen MPs must avoid the temptation for populist grandstanding over petty partisan issues.