Kathmandu, April 14: Life across the country is crippled from the global pandemic COVID-19. The Federal Parliament’s budget session is likely to be summoned.
During the time of crisis, lawmakers have raised voices to make the Federal Parliament and parliamentary committees more effective and systematic.
Against this backdrop, RSS reporters Ramesh Lamsal and Ashok Ghimire talked to Federal Parliament’s Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota on the roles of HoR and the related issues. Here is the excerpt;
What roles the people’s representative body should play during the time of rising threats of COVID-19?
Role of Federal Parliament as the apex people’s elected body is crucial in making policies and resolving the national and international problems. Giving high importance to its role, we already discussed the resolution motion of public importance on coronavirus in the House of Representative (HoR) meeting of the Federal Parliament.
We delivered the aspiration and message of national commitment. Expecting more discussions, we worked to ensure environment conducive in the day when the House meeting was held.
Likewise, we did our best possible efforts for discussions during the zero hour, special hour and other times of the House meeting.
As the Parliament was adjourned following the pandemic of the virus, we have expressed our readiness for the role of the Parliament and to troubleshoot the problems people facing through the video messages and press statement.
Appeals are made to make effective roles of the parliamentarians. Also, suggestions have been given to the government to effectively implement the announcements.
Frequent talks are held with the Coordinator of the High-Level Coordination Committee for the Prevention and Control of COVID-19.
We have told them to ensure travel pass to the parliamentarians in an accessible manner and so that it will be easier for the parliamentarians to travel to the districts after the decision from the High-Level Committee.
Similarly, we have worked on our own. We have been looking for what can be the roles of people’s representatives. In this context, I have talked to Speakers of all seven state assemblies.
They have shared the situation of their respective states. Encouraging feedback have been received to work together.
Currently, the House Session has ended and the budget session will begin. During this time, tasks of internal management, managing the secretariat, the ways to operate the meetings of the committees and some other could be done.
Some lawmakers have gone to the districts. But, we are thinking to conduct discussions on the bills that were already in the Committees. There are important bills on citizenship, civil service. The bills would have been passed in the Winter Session of the Federal Parliament. They could not proceed ahead due to many reasons and we have kept them in priority lists.
Now, I am doing homework through the Committee Chairpersons. I am doing homework to make the Committees effective and advance the important and others bills also through time management in the budget session. We are doing homework to make a calendar of the Federal Parliament. Maximum efforts are ongoing to make the House maximum systematic. I think all the days that we held meetings were fruitful.
You talked about parliament’s calendar. What things are being included in it?
We had released the calendar during the time of constitution making. It’s like the same. A general calendar prevails in the budget session. But, I my proposition is for the whole year or a single session. So, the Parliamentarians even from the remote districts will have a comfortable situation to work by visiting their constituencies. They would know that the House meeting will be held for a certain day and in a planned fashion.
Do you have any plan to mobilize the people’s representatives during the time of crisis?
Instantly, it is moving ahead by coordinating with the government and the High-Level Committee. Talks have been held to make comfortable environment to let the parliamentarians go to the districts, make their roles more specific and mobilize them in the disaster reduction. I have been talking to Committee Chairpersons and members.
Do you mean to conduct the Committee meetings during the favorable time and work to support the people during the crises?
Every job that the lawmakers do is formal. It is conducive to conduct the Committees’ meetings with better security management with the purpose to support the government decision. We expect such environment if possible.
Also, it can be facilitated to the federal government to troubleshoot the problems and take initiatives to resolve them by joining hands with the representatives of local and state governments at a time when the meeting of the Federal Parliament was over.
Are there any efforts to give concrete roles to the parliamentarians like the members of the then Constituent Assembly were mobilised to provide relief materials to the Gorkha Earthquake survivors?
There is a sea gap in the situation during the time of Gorkha Earthquake and now. Currently, we have to avoid crowds and maintain physical distance, which is just opposite to the time of earthquake. Since the situation is different, we have to have effective roles by applying constructive ways. People have developed psychological terror than that of the virus.
Lots of rumors have surrounded and they should be cracked down. So, the key need of the time is to assure the people that victory against coronavirus is possible. Assuring the people and winning their trust is the greatest thing. The main thing that the government and people’s representatives should do is to gain the people’s trust.
For this, people should be guaranteed with ideas, perspectives and physically too. This is the main task of the people’s representatives.
To what extent do you think you are successful in dealing with parliamentary business after your election to the post of Speaker?
We are moving ahead with success. I had received enthusiastic support from Business Advisory Committee, political parties' leadership and chief whips of the parties that helped me to smoothly take ahead the house business. The parliament session had to be postponed following COVID-19 outbreak across the nation.
A message had to be imparted that norms ad values should be established from federal parliament. Mainly, good-governance should be initiated from parliament as it is the place to formulate rule and laws.
We widely held discussion on every subject whether that be the proposal of public importance or other issues. We focused our attention on people’s problems in zero hour and special hour.
It seems that lawmakers did not pay any attention in the parliamentary meetings as it was reflected in the low attendance of the parliamentarians. How do you evaluate this situation?
Most of members of House of Representatives are leaders of different political parties. Naturally the number of lawmakers from ruling parties is high. They have to be busy in meetings, gathering and training. We have to respect people too. Our hard work in the parliament is to respect the people as well as our well wishers. First of all the Speaker should involve in such act of showing respect to the people.
We all- speaker, deputy speaker, lawmakers, general-secretary and other parliament staffs should work in unison to take ahead the parliamentary functions in a noble manner.
Particularly there are complaints that the government did not respond to the queries parliamentarians raised on the issues including disaster during zero hour. How do you experience this situation? What are future plans?
We made attempts to ensure effective response to the concerns raised in the deliberations during special hour and zero hour. The parliament also made attempt to get the concerns responded from ministers.
We also got the discussions with ministries of energy, water resource and energy as well as forest and environment. We are paying attention towards enabling environment of discussion between lawmakers and executives. We made a plan to engage parliamentarians and get it implemented.
There is a need of transformation in every sphere of the national life and it should be initiated from the parliament.
It means your emphasis is that there is the need of further efforts to make the parliament accountable to the people?
Of course we need to put big efforts. We can manage the efforts. Success of federal parliament means it has been a justice and impartiality to all. It has increased trust that we can achieve desired success If we can assure impartial treatment and justice to all employees in the parliament,
What are your plans to make the parliamentary committee further responsible?
The presidents of the parliamentary committees have already run the committee functioning for two years. The committee functions have gained momentum based on their experience and role. I am focused to cooperate with them to draw concrete conclusions from the meetings if they want to do so.
There are some important bills in the committees; we are centralized to continue discussion on them and come up with conclusion. Our role is on facilitation and also holding discussion with leaders of the parties on some crucial issues. We have set a plan to discuss with top leaders and committees' presidents if further unfavourable situation emerges.
What is your say on the comments that the parliamentary meetings did not go effective in the past?
The comment may be generic. The selection of the speaker also got delayed. Problems also emerged even after taking the office. Maybe the comment on effectiveness was made due to functions during pandemic. I do not take such comments negatively.
The parliamentary meetings were effective during the time when there was business. Very useful discussions were made in favour of country and people. Eight bills were endorsed. It did not function as expected due to unfavourable situation.
It may be illogical and incomplete to say that the House of Representative did not only function well in the time of emergency. But I think the success, failure and achievements should be evaluated in a holistic manner during such time.
What kind of support you are getting from the main opposition in course of operating the House?
I am much excited. Chief whips and whips of all political parties in the parliament have supported well in the operation of House proceedings. I am very happy over the roles they are playing in the parliament. The unanimous election of mine to the post of Speaker inspired me to work hard and I have realised that I have to do more to further enhance the image and dignity of the House.
What efforts have you made to get connected with the people in your constituency who had send you to the center as their representative during this crisis.
Face-to-face meeting with them has not been possible at the moments. But I am taking their updates and challenges they are facing in the crisis through telephone conversations with local representatives: municipalities/rural municipalities' mayors, deputy mayors and chairs, vice chairs and ward chairs.
The realisation of mine is that the significance of federalism have become a further clear nowadays .As I guess, federalism has been further cultivated and it has further spread its roots. The crisis has helped reach federalism to people's doorsteps amidst adversities. As the House Speaker, I am responsible for the issues of entire country, again as the representative of a particular electoral constituency; I am working for the cause of them.
You called for fighting against the coronavirus pandemic through audio-video clips and urged lawmakers to get involved in the people's service and what types of interactions you got after that?
Responses are inspiring and positive. It is also our responsibility to make the people aware at times of disasters, motivate them to resist adversities and assist the government in its activities, though major duty lies in the policy making area. Security people and medical workers are on the front-line to fight against the virus and we do also hold the responsibility to inspire people to contribute from their respective sides in this battle.
What the roles expected from lawmakers in the House winter session?
We are in adverse situation at present. Seeking better ways to combat the virus continues. Amidst this, House of Representatives (HoR) members have reached among the people. The responsibility of people's representatives at present is to concentrate on preventive and control measures to win over the virus.
Suggestions from people's representatives seem necessary to determine the nature of upcoming budget. I urge them to collect people's suggestions in regard with the budget and come with all required preparations. I again call on all lawmakers to help build supporting atmosphere for the government and nation.
Would you like add anything in the end?
In this adverse time, informers and researchers in the world have made us much aware. The time demands all to support from their respective quarters to take the situation under control. We should remain safe ourselves and make others safe as well. The government decisions towards the combat of the virus should be fully implemented.
Government advice should be followed with discipline. This is time for practicing self-discipline. Human beings face a big challenge. Self discipline is the biggest weapon to fight against the virus at this time. We should be optimistic and corona will be defeated soon.
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