Constitutional Bodies Fair Recruitment A Must
The constitutional bodies and public oversight agencies like the Election Commission and Public Service Commission are very crucial for the functioning of a democratic polity. But in order for them to function effectively, these bodies need to be sufficiently staffed and adequately resourced. However, in Nepal the constitutional bodies have not been fully manned and equipped for a considerable length of time.
The constitutional bodies like the Election Commission, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), Auditor and Comptroller General, Public Service Commission are under-equipped in terms of facilities and human resources. As a result, their performance is not adequate and competent. This has jeopardised and impacted negatively on governance and institutional performance in the country.
The Election Commission is one of the vital institutions for sustenance of democracy and promotion of clean electoral process, but the body is compelled to operate without full strength of the election commissioners and other officials. The Election Commission has to be credited for having successfully undertaken the ambitious task of making the photo-based voter identity cards available to all the bonafide Nepalese citizens in the last CA elections. This has contributed in making the electoral process fair and clean to the larger extent.
Since the elections for three tiers of the government under the federal arrangement, according to the new constitution of Nepal, are round the corner, there is a need to add the institutional and infrastructural capacity of the constitutional bodies. Mention in this context must be made of the paralysed situation of the CIAA as its chief has been suspended following the impeachment motion registered in the national legislature. Apprehensions abound that the CIAA would go dysfunctional especially due to perceived political threats should it dare to act against the established political leaders and authority especially on the cases regarding the abuse of the authority.
Moreover, the most important part in making the constitutional commissions and bodies functional and competent is the way the commissioners and officials in these agencies are appointed and nominated. This point has been sought to be emphasised especially due to the fact that at least seven constitutional commissions are due to be manned with commissioners and members through appointments pursuant to the provision of the new constitution.
However, it is dismaying to note that the political affiliation and loyalty tend to count most in the appointment for the high level posts of the constitutional bodies, including the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, National Human Rights Commission and so on. Though the Constitutional Council comprising of the prime minister and leader of the opposition is in place according to the constitution to recommend to fill the vacant posts in the bodies, this has allegedly been reduced to a forum in which the ruling and the opposition parties tend to bargain over spoil sharing.
Similar provision had existed in the repealed Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 and the interim constitution 2007, but this was reduced to a farcical proposition due also to political bargaining and cartelisation of posts and recruitments. Similar story is repeated in this Republic era of Nepal.
However, there had been initiations taken to reverse the practices guided by favouritism and nepotism to select and appoint the commissioners and officials for the constitutional bodies and authorities. The public notices issued on behalf of the Constitutional Council soliciting submission from the potential aspirants for the posts of such constitutional bodies like the Public Service Commission, Election Commission, Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority and so on testify to this fact. The aspirants and potential candidates were also asked to provide the strategies that they would adopt and execute if they were selected in the vacated posts in the constitutional bodies. This move was novel and innovative as the selection process could be made expectedly free from political meddling. And the competent and independent persons will have an opportunity to man the responsible positions of the constitutional bodies.
However, the process has been halted and never pursued again as the politicians bent on using patron-clientele practices in such appointments could subvert and circumvent the tradition. It is a matter of utmost importance to take steps to fill the positions in the constitutional bodies in accordance with the due and judicious selection procedures so as to allow them to function in strengthening their oversight capacity to impart effectiveness in their performance. However, the political bickering especially guided and motivated by the partisan interests and motives do come on the way of finding consensus on the proposed names or tentative list of the persons to be appointed in the posts. It had occurred in the past that the leader of the opposition failed to attend the meeting of the Constitutional Council called to take decision on the appointments for the constitutional bodies.
The constitutional bodies should remain independent, and they should be provided with competent human and fiscal resources to exercise their authority to enforce checks and conduct vigilance over the functioning of the government . For example, if the Election Commission is not independent and competent, it is not possible to imagine the free and fair elections. Similarly, an independent Public Service Commission is required for the recruitment of merit-based civil bureaucracy. The government should commit to fill the posts in the constitutional bodies by following the fair and competitive procedure, and set new precedents to strengthen the capacity and credibility of the constitutional bodies.