The present government has 40 ministers but rarely do they spare any time to attend parliamentary meetings.
They remain absent even when the House secretariat schedules business related to their ministries and seeks their presence during the House procedings.
Lawmakers were furious on Monday when the ministers once again showed their indifference toward parliament.
Speaker Onsari Gharti called out the names of three ministers but one after another of them turned out to be absent. Ministers for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Agni Kharel had to represent Minister for Education Girirajmani Pokhrel and Health Minister Ramjanam Chaudhari. Likewise, State Minister for Finance Damodar Bhandari presented two proposals on behalf of Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel as the latter was absent.
Minister Paudel was attending an annual general meeting of the Stockbrokers Association of Nepal and he also remained busy with meetings at the ministry. In his absence, the state minister tabled two proposals for forwarding the Banking Crime and Offences bill and the Banks and Financial Institutions bill to the finance committee of parliament.
Education Minister Pokhrel is on a visit to the eastern districts as part of the constitution education campaign even though parliament had already finalized the schedule for tabling a proposal to forward the bills to the House committee.
Similarly, Health Minister Chaudhari was in Pokhara to inspect infrastructure for the to-be-established Pokhara Health Science Institution while parliament was endorsing a bill related to vaccination. Law and Justice Minister Kharel had to answer lawmakers’ querries about the bill. “I had urged Minister Kharel to represent me in parliament as my trip to Pokhara had been fixed earlier,” Chaudhari told Republica.
Officials at the parliament secretariat said that ministers often ask other ministers to represent them in the House when there is a minor role for them. “But it isn’t common to assign a proxy minister when a departmental minister is required to answer lawmakers’ queries on an important bill,” said an official.
As none of the three ministers were present at the meeting on Monday, main opposition party lawmaker Ramhari Khatiwada demanded that Speaker Onsari Gharti issue a ruling to the government to send the responsible ministers to parliament. “Even with 40 ministers in the government one minister has to substitute for another in parliament. I urge the speaker to issue a ruling to the government to send the ministers concerned,” said Khatiwada.
However, Speaker Onsari Gharti did not issue any ruling as the interim regulations of parliament allow the represention of one minister by another member of the cabinet. “The concern raised by lawmaker Khatiwada is legitimate. I wouldn’t have been answering all these questions had the concerned minister been here,” said Minister Kharel from the rostrum.
Monday was not the first time parliament witnessed a scarcity of ministers present.
Last Thursday, staff at the parliament secretariat had a hard time finding a minister to attend the House meeting as not a single one was present at the parliament even through there was important business at hand.
According to parliamentary regulations, the House cannot run in the total absence of ministers. “Two staffers were entrusted to manage the presence of a minister for the meeting after NC’s Dhyan Govinda Ranjit pointed out that there was not a single minister around even as parliamentary proceedings were underway,” said a staffer at the secretariat. The meeting did not have to stall as Minister for Environment Biswendra Paswan managed to put in an appearance while the opposition lawmaker was raising the issue.