5-11 May 2017 #857

Deuba’s fall from grace

Ameet Dhakal in www.setopati.com, 1 May

The manner in which the impeachment motion was registered against Chief Justice Sushila Karki, and the kinds of charges levelled against her, show just how ridiculous those in power can become.

The legislature is empowered to use the impeachment process against the judiciary and constitutional bodies as a last resort, if they cause demonstrable harm to the nation by overstepping their mandates or abusing their authority. But it is imperative that an informed debate take place before the legislature does so.

An impeachment motion was also filed against ex-CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki last year. In his case, the motion was preceded by adequate informed debate about his involvement in the abuse of authority and whether he should be stripped of power.

The media had exposed a slew of evidence about the CIAA chief’s abuse of power to run a parallel government in defiance of the legislative and judiciary. When the impeachment motion was finally filed against him, it was a justified move, one appreciated by the public.

In Chief Justice Karki’s case, necessary public debate was missing. While some people have doubted her legal and constitutional expertise, no one has ever questioned her integrity.

The charges levelled against the Chief Justice are so baseless and frivolous that they only expose the malicious intent of the government. The prime accusation is that she interfered in the executive’s right to choose the police chief. But her verdict clearly states that the government can appoint the police chief only if it follows its own guidelines. It is the court’s duty to judge whether the executive’s decisions are in tune with the Constitution and other laws.

In her verdict on the petition against the Maoist-NC government’s decision to appoint Jaya Bahadur Chand (who had lower performance scores than his competitors) as police chief, Karki was merely fulfilling her duty as Chief Justice. Former justice Balram KC has never been the Chief Justice’s admirer. But he has publicly defended her verdict against Chand’s appointment, arguing that either the best performing officer must be appointed as police chief or the guidelines must be revised.

How did that verdict infringe on the rights of the executive? None of the MPs who signed the impeachment motion have dared to explain it in public. And it was a bench of five justices that unanimously nullified Chand’s appointment. Why was the impeachment motion not filed against four other justices?

Other accusations against the Chief Justice are weak and ridiculous. For example, she has been accused of discriminating against justices while assigning them responsibilities. It is a Chief Justice’s basic right to decide which justices will hear which cases: she does not need to consult the government for that. Neither Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal nor NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba has the right to grill Chief Justice Karki about this.

Why did Dahal and Deuba gang up on her? Details of their joint conspiracy will surely come out. At this moment, it looks like they were afraid that the Chief Justice could also nullify Prakash Aryal’s appointment (as the new police chief after Chand’s promotion was overturned by the apex court).

In his second tenure as Prime Minister, Dahal had partially restored his reputation. But he has now lost it all in one fell swoop. The conspiracy to impeach the Chief Justice will be even more counter-productive for Deuba. In his past three tenures as Prime Minister, he has disgraced himself and his party many a time. But this will be his biggest shame.

Now the question: how will the NC shed the dishonour brought upon it by Deuba? Two-thirds of the MPs who signed the impeachment against the Chief Justice are from that party, so the NC will have to take the biggest share of the blame.

This impeachment motion is bound to fail, but it has already suspended the Chief Justice. Deuba has deliberately misused the constitutional provision of impeachment and it has set a seriously bad precedent. 

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