Nepali Times Asian Paints
Kick start



It has been six months since Nepal was declared a federal republic but the work to draft the Constituent Assembly Rules and Procedures hasn't even started. Until that is ready, constitution writing cannot start. According to the Speaker Subash Nembang, these rules were supposed to be finalised on 31 October.

In the last six months the CA sat for 10 meetings. After the elections in April the parties started concentrating more on government-making and less on constitution-drafting. Nembang says that since the members of the legislative and the constituent assembly are the same, they are forming different regulations so that there is no confusion.

The CA Secretariat says the proposed rules and procedures will have 10 committees according to the subject and other four administrative committees. The former committee will establish the principle of the constitution and the latter will take it to the people.

The constitution has to be written within two years. Six months have flown by. It is imperative for the parties to let go of petty wrangling and prioritise constitution-writing. "The political parties need to let go of this obsession over power because that is the biggest obstacle in constitution building," says UML leader KP Oli. It is understood that one of the major reasons why the Rules and Procedures is stuck is because the parties can't decide whether the Speaker must obey his party's whip.

The reintegration of PLA in Nepal Army is also holding up the drafting of these the Rules and Procedures. The wrangling within the Maoist leadership, and opposition to army integration within the NC, UML and MJF is delaying the process. The meetings between these parties are often disrupted because they can't agree.

NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel says that the Maoists need to once and for all shed their warlike mentality: "If the Maoists continue to think that the fighters in the cantonments and their locked up weapons as their strength, the constitution will never be written."

The government also needs to pay due attention to:
* delays in implementation of agreements with groups representing women, Dalit, Janajati and other indigenous groups
* deal with the issues of compensation of victims of war, the internally displaced, disappeareds, the Badi
* ending the terror tactics of groups in the Tarai and east Nepal
* the need to create an environment for assistance from the international community, INGOs, and civil society

Restructuring of the state and the nature of federalism is another challenge that constitution will have to address. Poudel says, "Issues relating to language, ethnicity, caste, class are some of our biggest challenges. We need to discuss it, be inclusive and move forward."

Drafting committees

The various drafting committees can only be formed once the Rules and Procedures are agreed to and finalised. Only then can the process of drafting a new constitution begin.

The 601-member CA has been meeting at its rented premises at the international convention centre, but so far it has been engaged only in its parliamentary functions. None of the work on the constitution has started, even though there are now only 17 months to go. Even if the committees are finally decided upon, there will still be the issue of physical space. Besides the main plenary hall, the only other meeting room available is the Lhotse Hall. The rest of the complex is occupied by UNMIN and may be available only in January when its mandate expires.

In the past, parliamentary committees used three rooms in Singha Darbar but their capacity is no more than 80 people each. Speaker Nembang says the secretariat is talking to the government to make available at least ten new meeting rooms presently used by various ministries for committee meetings. Since the legislative assembly and constituent assembly will have different meetings they would need additional secretariat employees.

The rules and procedures states that the formation of the committees, drafting of the constitution and public hearings will have to follow is strict timeline. Nembang is confident that once the schedule is made, it will be followed and it will give the Nepali people the perception that work has begun. He assured us: "The new constitution will be ready on time but there has to be very good understanding between the political parties."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)