‘Are we really non-aligned, or there is some tilt?’ Rastriya Sabha Chairman, Ganesh Prasad Timilsina

Ganesh Timilsina, chairman of the Rastriya Sabha, undertook an official visit to Russia last month. His visit coincided with the Russian government dispatching an official letter to Nepal government through its embassy in Kathmandu offering to support fourteen different sectors on April 27 with a request for response by May 16.

Timilsina is firmly in favour of Nepal strengthening its ties with the Russian Federation and is not too happy with the government for not responding to their offer.

He spoke at length with Prakash Dhakal of Desh Sanchar about his visit, and the prospects of bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

Q: What does holding an important position as that of Rastriya Sabha chairperson mean?
This is an everyday job, and that entails major responsibilities. We are involved in managing the House meetings while sessions are underway. Apart from that, as a politician who focuses on the county’s development, I am also concerned about how to work so that the goal we have set is achieved without much gap between the promise and delivery to peoples satisfaction.

Q: As a person overseeing an important law making body, what do you feel are the major challenges you face?
Our lawmaking process is quite cumbersome and time taking. It takes quite long even for the drafted legislation to get into the process. Once the bill is sent to the thematic committees, there comes in between the deliberation process involving members of the committees along with (political) parties, and sometimes even president.

Parliaments do not freely air their views yet as their stand may be different from their respective parties. I hope the belief and conscience of the members are not suppressed by the restrictions imposed by the Party. Despite Nepal going through huge political changes, and even paradigm shift, our thinking and work pattern
has not moved differently from what it used to be earlier.

Q: Do the members of  the Rastriya Sabha complain about the House of Representatives getting more attention?
In the bicameral system that we follow, both houses have well defined roles, and both have their importance.  All the bills except the finance bills can originate in either House. The bills originating in the Rastriya Sabha are sent to the House of Representatives (HoR) and vice versa. But few important bills sent to the HoR in 2075 BS have not yet been returned to us. That has a delaying impact in legislative process and our efforts go waste. Similarly, some of the bills are time bound, and they get annulled with the announcement of elections and expiry of the HoR term. Five such bills got annulled when the elections were declared in November and the lower House ceased to exist.

If the bills are important, the government must follow it up, and if they are not necessary, they must not be introduced.

Q: Is an amicable relation between the chairs of the two houses a guarantee for smooth coordination between the two sides?
It  is not about personal relations or any kind of association with past or particular politics. But personal relations or animosity should not derail the functioning or the coordination between the two Houses that need to act in responsible manner, that should keep the ‘Maryada’ (decorum) uppermost in mind.

Q: Do you feel constrained about what the Rastriya Sabha has not been able to do- especially in rectifying or reforming the bills sent through the HoR?
You can find such a role accomplished by the Rastriya Sabha. The Rastriya Sabha carries out distinguished deliberation on the bills. We put a big effort to build consensus over disputed issues. Most of the bills in the Rastriya Sabha have been passed with consensus.

Yes, sometimes, the seemingly necessary corrections or reforms may not have taken place. Despite our efforts, such acts cannot be done without the government’s cooperation. After all, the government enjoys majority in both Houses at present. But we must find a way out in the days to come and the Rastriya Sabha must demonstrate maturity during complex situation.

Q: As Chairperson of the Rastriya Sabha, you are an ex-officio member of  the Constitutional Council (CC) like the Speaker of the HoR. You
both recommended the name of new Chief Justice for House hearing when you both know that the law regarding this is inadequate and there is a move to reform it. Is it fair?

Yes, we did recommend the new CJ’s appointment. Despite the move to ‘reform’ the law regarding CC, the current position is ‘if there is not dispute among the existing members, decisions can be made’, and as there was no difference of opinion on this among the existing members, the recommendation was made.

Q: Of late, you visited Russian federation at the invitation of Valentina Matvienki, the chair of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation? Can you share some outcomes of the visit?
It was a significant visit, and we were given high importance by the hosts which I am sure was the respect given to our nation.

Q: Did any economic agreement take place during your visit?
I cannot do any official agreement in that regard with another country as that falls under the domain of the executive. But the hosts (Russians) were keen to make the visit effective. They were conscious about the fact that Russia has not done enough for Nepal although they were keen for it.

As part of the preparations for my visit, They had offered to supply fertilizers and food grains to Nepal if needed, which I forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Prime Minister. Both liked the idea and accordingly I positively raised it during my visit.

An agreement on Inter-parliamentary cooperation was signed during my visit.

They had some grievances as they stated that Nepal was giving less importance to Russia. And I said Russia has not done as much as it could do for Nepal, and far less compared to what it had done in the past and reminded them of the support offered in the past. They were responsive to our views and they offered to work more intensely and extend more cooperation than during the Soviet Union era.

Shall I have the permission of the civil servants raising issues of national interest during my official visit abroad? The discussion was focused on promotion of mutual interest and enhanced investment in Nepal, seeking increase in the number of Russian tourists and more quota for Nepali students to study in the Soviet

It is certainly the responsibility of the government to go into details and nitty-gritty now in a formal way.

Q: Was your visit fully official?
My visit (to Russia) has been depicted as personal by a section of the media, and worse, it was attributed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is both objectionable and condemnable, but I expect the ministry of foreign affairs to clarify the issue officially.

What happened during my visit there was a great achievement, but it would have been lauded and hailed if the same had happened during the Prime Minister or
any minister’s visit.

Q: But is Nepal and Russia relations at a comfortable phase?
The government’s official position is that it favors a fair and balanced relationship with the neighbors and friends.

But the government has to clarify if at all it is tilted towards one or the other global power. Any impression that we will take support from one side, and reject from the other is objectionable. The invitation I have sent to my counterpart in Russia is still pending with the authorities in the Foreign ministry here. I have my strong objection to that.

Q: You visited Russia at a time when it has been condemned by most countries around the world over Ukraine aggression. If we are to cooperate with them, will we be treated differently?

The world is not just the USA and Europe. India, China, and other countries including Nepal are also part of it. Where does larger part of the globe and population belong? What does our foreign policy of non-alignment tell us? If we incline and follow others, it would not be a nonaligned policy.

India is buying crude oil from Russia and selling it for profit to some European countries. They are conducting their business with Russia in the current circumstances. Why should Nepal not appreciate the Russian offer? The government of Nepal must be clear about this, and officially state its position.