Friday 17th of January 2020

Power to prime minister to deploy Army causes unease in national defence force

Kathamandu, March 24-The government’s bid to further empower the prime minister by giving him the “sole authority” to mobilise the Army has not gone down well with the national defence force.

Multiple sources claimed that Nepal Army officials have expressed discontent at the government’s attempt to vest power to deploy the force without holding a meeting of the National Security Council.
The government on March 13 registered the Bill on Work, Responsibility and Rights of the National Security Council.

While Sub-clause 2 of Clause 6 states the constitutional provision on Army deployment, Sub-clause 3 says irrespective of what is mentioned in Sub-clause 2, the chairman [of the Security Council] can recommend the government deployment of the Army if there is a serious national crisis–or such crisis could happen if the Army is not deployed–in the event a meeting of the National Security Council is not possible.

The constitutional provision in Article 267 (6) says: “The President shall, on recommendation of the National Security Council and pursuant to a decision of the government of Nepal, Council of Ministers, declare the mobilisation of the Nepal Army in cases where a grave emergency arises with regard to the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Nepal or the security of any part thereof, by war, external aggression, armed rebellion or extreme economic disarray. A declaration of the mobilisation of the Army must be ratified by the House of Representatives within one month after the date of such declaration.”

The prime minister chairs the National Security Council while the ministers for defence, home, foreign and finance as well as the chief secretary and the Army chief are its members.

“We are for moving ahead with the existing constitutional provisions,” a senior Army official told the Post requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the media.

The composition of the council was changed after a strong lobby from the Army. Earlier there was no role for the Army chief in the Security Council.

The Interim Constitution of Nepal 2007 did not have the Army chief in the council and it had only ministers as its members. The defence force had expressed discontent at that in the past. The provision of having the Army chief as a member was included in the new constitution.

When the new bill envisions empowering the prime minister to deploy the Army without holding the security council’s meeting, observers say it could mean bypassing the Army chief–or the entire defence force for that matter.

They have also raised alarm over a few important issues regarding Army mobilisation.

As per the constitutional provision, a declaration of the mobilisation of the Army must be ratified by the House of Representatives within one month after the date of such declaration.

“This government has a majority [in Parliament] but what if a minority government makes such a move without consulting the National Security Council and Parliament rejects it?” Binoj Basnyat, a retired Nepal Army major general, asked. “Army mobilisation also has diplomatic aspects; there is international community which also is constantly watching us,” Basnyat told the Post.

Some observers have also raised concern saying what if the Army refuses to cooperate–under any pretext–after the chairman (prime minister) of the security council decides to deploy it without holding a council meeting.

“The government should follow the existing constitutional provisions. It must create an environment conducive to the Army to complete its work effectively on the ground,” said Basnyat.

The main opposition, Nepali Congress, has vehemently objected to the provision of giving the prime minister power to deploy the Army.

NC lawmaker Bhimsen Das Pradhan, a former defence minister, said not only his party but some senior Army officials have also expressed discontent at the legal provision that the prime minister will have the “sole authority” to deploy the Army.

The bill seeking to further empower the prime minister comes in a series of decisions the KP Sharma Oli government has made in the last one year to centralise power.

Since assuming office in February last year, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has brought scores of government agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office, which many say will not only allow him to have his way in decision-making but also pose a threat to checks and balances.

On February 23, the government brought the National Investigation Department, the Department of Revenue Investigation and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation under the PM’s Office by amending the Nepal Government Business Rules. That meant the PMO would have more say in issues of foreign policy, national security and financial and economic crimes.

Unlike in the past when the PMO took updates and monitored the issues, the new business rules mean the office not only receives information and coordinates on political, economic, social, administrative, diplomatic and national security matters but also intervenes whenever necessary.

Analysts say a situation of grave national crisis demands political consensus but the way the bill aims to vest power to deploy Army in the prime minister should be interpreted through the intent rather than method.
“I have learned there are some concerns from the Army brass over the government’s bid to control the national defence force,” Sanjay Kumar Gautam, a Congress lawmaker and former minister, told the Post.

When asked, Brigadier General Yam Dhakal, spokesperson for the Nepal Army, said the defence force has not made any official opinion on the bill.

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