Our Constituent Assembly is playing two roles. It is writing a constitution and performing legislative, budgetary and other tasks of a Legislature-Parliament. The 601-member parliament is now based on a single House. The position of a parliamentarian is considered very responsible. MPs are addressed as honorable because they are the reflection of the people who elected them as their representatives to put their aspirations and views in the parliament. At present, some problems have appeared in maintaining discipline and order in the House. This has made the parliamentary authorities spare time thinking how to get rid of this problem.
In this context, this write-up mainly touches on problems of disorder, parliament's glory, privilege and parliamentarian's responsibility and accountability. It will also seek to refer to code of conduct and discipline to be obeyed by the parliamentarians and some examples of the sanctions followed by some countries before drawing a conclusion.
Some weeks ago, a parliamentarian wanted to speak in the House about the assassination of a dalit in Kalikot district. As a parliamentary practice, the MP would need an approval from the related parliamentary party. For not following such a process, he could not get the permission to speak. Enraged, he smashed some mikes, just after the House closed. After verifying the incident and calculating the loss of property, the Speaker suspended him for 10 days and ordered that he compensate for the loss.
Similarly, some months ago, a parliamentarian threw a chair from the fourth story of Parliament Building, where the Constitutional Committee's meeting was taking place.
At the same time, four parliamentarians representing of indigenous and dalits created obstacles to the parliamentary business for many days and finally they were suspended for 7 days. Similar cases had occurred last year when the budget speech was going to be presented. The briefcase containing the budget statement was snatched and smashed by the main opposition but no action was taken against the members. Lately, the House is facing the problem of not reaching the quorum. These types of incidents are occurring in our parliament from time to time.
Parliament's glory, privilege and parliamentarian's responsibilities and accountabilities are closely associated. Parliament has the glory because it is the symbol of representation of the people. In ancient Greece, there used to be very small counties based on the population of 5 to 10 thousands. While a state needed to take any decision, formulating policies or laws, people used to gather and put their opinions directly. When the big states replaced the small ones; it was not possible to collect people's opinions directly. Then the theory of representatives came into practice and recognized from the very beginning by the eminent figures like Aristotle, Jean Jack Rousseau, and James Madison.
To preserve the glory of the House, the Interim Constitution has provided the privileges to the House and parliamentarians. They are freedom of speech in the House, not to be seized, and kept in detention, not to be questioned in any court and charged of any accusation because of expressing such opinions in the House. Similarly, the publication and publicity are prohibited from different sense than spoken by parliamentarians. The regularization of internal procedures of House only lies in the parliament. Violation of such privileges is deemed the contempt of the House and the House can take action against the wrongdoers.
Another side of privilege is the responsibility and accountability of parliamentarians. The responsibilities pointed out by the House Rules are to obey the House Rules, to behave according to social norms and values, to regularly participate in parliamentary business and voting, to stand always for public issues and not to take part in the issues of their vested interests, not to disclose and misuse the secrecy associated with their position. To disobey these provisions, norms and values is to escape from their responsibilities. It is against the glory of the House and they must be accountable to the people.
To maintain order and discipline in the House, all countries of the world have arranged the provisions of sanctions in their Parliamentary Rules. For example, the Speaker of the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of India warns an undisciplined member for the first time; a member defying the warning can be expelled from the House. He can also be suspended from the remaining part of the session of the House.
Similarly in Singapore, the Speaker can suspend such members from the remaining part of the session or put into prison for the same period. He can also be imposed a fine up to 50 thousand Singapore Dollars.
In Nepal, the Speaker initially warns an undisciplined member and then he can expel the member from the House for 3 days and, for repeated behavior of that type, for 15 days by passing a motion. Besides this, if someone shows an act of vandalism, the Speaker can suspend him or her directly for 10 days under his special authority. These provisions look very simple to regulate the House and control the wrong doers' behaviors and can't be actually compared with the sanctions followed by other countries.
Behind this scheme of loose sanctions, our Interim Constitution has pointed out certain qualifications to be elected as a parliamentarian. After being elected and after taking oath as a member of such a glorious position, the House presumes him/her as a patient, sober and highly moral personality. There is security arrangement in the House, but without Speaker's order, no security personnel can apply any defensive measure. So, our system seems very liberal.
In conclusion, undisciplined parliamentarians must be accountable to their indiscipline. The fact is that based on our recent population data, each of the 601 members of the parliament represents about 42 thousand people. To put such large number of people's voice in the House, parliamentarians must follow various legal measures as pointed out by the Parliamentary Rules instead of violating them. Such provisions are Zero Hour, Questions, Special Time, Motion of Public Importance, Motion of Resolution, Motion to Draw Attention and the potentiality of forming Parliamentary Committees as required. Parliamentarians must keep in their minds that people who elected them are deprived of their representations due to their undisciplined behaviors or irresponsibility. To be absent or suspended is unsuitable for their position. The Parliamentary Authorities also must think about devising more effective measures to maintain order in the House if the existing ones are insufficient.
Buddhatholi is Under Secretary at Constituent Assembly Secretariat