Nepali Times
State Of The State
Bringing the House down


The Supreme Court has decreed that the sovereign parliament of this country has no right to grant an allowance to its former members. The court's interpretation of Clause 67 of the Constitution in effect bars sitting MPs from taking any interest in the welfare of their predecessors. The court decision was greeted with howls of applause from all and sundry. Let's face it, our four-wheel drive lawmakers are not exactly very popular. So it was a very populist thing to do, to cast our honourable members to the wolves.

At risk of being called a knee-jerk contrarian, let me beg to disagree. An important lesson here is that parliament should get into the habit of consulting competent constitutional lawyers whenever it is in the process of formulating law. Such a step will save lawmakers from the embar-rassment of having their decisions thwarted by the Supreme Court at a later stage.

In declaring the pension allowance granted to former MPs illegal, the court has resorted to a technical point, it hasn't questioned the motive of lawmakers. "Former members aren't members anymore," said the court, as if it was revealing the wisdom of the ages. But just because they are not sitting parliamentarians, there was really no need to forfeit privileges granted to them by the legislature.

The reaction of the capital's middle class to the court's decision was quite predictable: an indignant serves-them-right. The Pajero scandal, male MPs filing maternity bills, all that got a lot of publicity. And we tarred all MPs with the same brush, dismissing them all as crooks. Being a deeply despotic society, we find it hard to accept that someone not born to power can acquire it through democratic means. This is the reason behind our disdain for politicians. No wonder the chattering class of the capital love to hate commoner law-makers. Almost no one seemed to care for the impact this decision will have on the life of some of the committed, honest and accountable former law-makers of which (believe it or not) there are quite a few.

For independently-wealthy MPs with Panchayat pasts, the allowance was small change in deep pockets. It is unlikely that Arjun Narsingh KC or Kamal Thapa will miss it. When Sharad Singh Bhandari ceases to be an MP, he is unlikely to care that he will not get an MP's pension. Then there are MPs who made fortunes in the horse-trading that went on during the hung parliament days when honourable members switched sides for a premium. When five prime ministers in four years tried all possible permutations and combinations to clobber together governments, fence-sitting MPs with fluid loyalties cashed in. Others sold their duty-free Pajeros for huge profits. In short, our lawmakers worked assiduously to build up their own private pension funds.

But what of the honest former MPs-the ones who didn't sell their souls several times over? They had no ancestral property to fall back on, they came to Kathmandu wearing chappals and went back to their districts in chappals. They walked to the gates of Singha Durbar from their deras, like the ordinary people they represented. Is this the way we repay their integrity, by cutting off the little allowance they had? I'd hate to think of socialist-thinker Ram Chandra Tiwari, firebrand farm-leader Mahendra Madhukar or political organiser Mahendra Roy not even getting a pension after their terms are over.

Kathmandu's urban middle-class PLUs (People Like Us) love to hate politicians. "Politicians have wrecked the nation" is a common refrain at parties and receptions. The politics of being above politics is a clever ploy to divert attention from our own devious money-making ways. But for every PLU that you can show me paying his taxes, I can show you at least ten political activists working for the downtrodden at the grassroots. I am not aware of even one public servant, civil or military, who can hold a lamp to the sincerity of purpose of a Maheshwar Prasad Singh or a Shankar Pandey.

Members of Parliaments are the most important constituents of a vibrant democracy. If we aren't getting the best possible people there, let's start electing more deserving candidates in greater numbers. But lumping all MPs in the same cesspool hurts democracy. And that goes for the prime minister, who recently said the parliament is dominated by smugglers, but did nothing to haul up his own colleagues. Considering the money we lavish on sending officials to the Olympics, why grudge the small pension allowance for former law-makers? We have a lot at stake in the formation of a confident, secure and self-assured political class that will not turn to influence-peddling when it retires from parliament. We owe it to them, and we owe it to our democracy.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)