Bizmen in Parliament
Preventing the Conflict of Interest

As more than a dozen businessmen get ready to take roles as parliamentarians, questions have been raised about whether they could misuse their presence to influence laws and policies in their favor.

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After serving two terms as a parliamentarian under the proportional representation (PR) category, Binod Chaudhary, Nepal’s only Forbes billionaire realized his dream of becoming a directly elected member of the House of Representatives (HoR) after securing victory in the recently held general elections. Chaudhary, who has not hidden his political ambitions, put everything into his election campaign to get elected from Nawalparashi West defeating the seasoned politician Hridayesh Tripathi.

After suffering a defeat against CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the 2017 elections, Bikram Pandey, the owner of Nepal’s leading construction company Kalika Construction and a leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has made it to the parliament this time after securing a big victory from Chitwan-3.

Along with Chaudhary and Pandey, 13 other businessmen have been elected from the first-past-the-post (FPTP) category. Interestingly, of the 15, eight are contractors. Of them, five are from Nepali Congress, two from CPN (Unified Socialist), and one each from Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Prajatantra Party.

Mohan Acharya, owner of Rasuwa Construction, and Purna Bahadur Tamang, owner of Kanchharam Construction Company Ltd have been elected as Nepali Congress lawmakers.

Rajendra Bajgain, who won from Gorkha-1 on the Nepali Congress ticket, has interests in the hospitality sector. Another businessman elected from NC is Dr. Sunil Kumar Sharma, who owns multiple medical colleges and has a controversial past.

Former minister and contractor Krishna Kumar Shrestha (Kisan) won the lower house seat from Bara-4 on a CPN (Unified Socialist) ticket. Likewise, Dhan Bahadur Budha Magar, another contractor, has been elected to the lower house from Dolpa on a CPN (Unified Socialist) ticket. Birendra Mahato, a newly elected member of parliament on the JSP ticket, has investments in the banking and telecom sectors.

While it is legally and politically not unusual for businessmen to take roles as lawmakers of the country, questions have been raised from different quarters of society about whether they will work for the greater good of their electorate and the country or for their own business interests. And, these questions have some merit also.
In the previous two parliaments, it was seen that some MPs from business backgrounds attempted to influence the lawmaking process. Instead of contributing according to their experience and expertise, the businessmen who’ve reached the parliament, tend to sit in ministries or committees that are compatible with their business, interfere in law-making, and influence monitoring, inviting conflict of interest.

“When businessmen and contractors enter politics, decisions are made according to them. Decisions are made so that it benefits their own business or contracts,” said Mukunda Bahadur Pradhan, General Secretary of Transparency International Nepal.

The way they interfered with the Bill on the Banks and Financial Institutions in their favor and thwarted the then-government plan to convert all private schools into trusts through an amendment to the Education Act in 2016 clearly shows that businessmen-turned-parliamentarians always put their interest first.

In 2016, when the government registered a bill on the Banks and Financial Institutions Act (BAFIA) with a provision barring those holding constitutional posts from becoming directors of banks and financial institutions (BFIs), a group of lawmakers came together to water down this provision. Lawmakers including Umesh Shrestha, Ichchha Raj Tamang and Baburam Pokharel registered an amendment proposal demanding only chiefs and members of constitutional bodies be barred from holding positions in the boards of BFIs.

The same year, when the government planned to convert private schools into non-profit earning trusts by amendments in the Education Act, lawmakers who were also promotors of schools foiled the government’s efforts.

A number of contractors were nominated to the Development and Technology Committee of the erstwhile House of Representatives in 2018. Contractor lawmakers Jip Chhiring Lama, Bahadur Singh Lama and Hari Narayan Rauniyar were among the members of the parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring development projects.

The frequent amendments to the public procurement regulations in the last few years, according to former senior officials who worked in the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport were done at the behest of contractors.

The regulations were changed twice within three months this year as the government made the 12th amendment to the public procurement regulation, giving domestic construction companies the upper hand over foreign companies when it comes to larger public contracts. The amendment barred foreign firms from bidding for construction works valued below Rs 5 billion.

Analysts say the political-business nexus began during the post-Panchayat era which further got deep-rooted after the 2008 first Constituent Assembly elections. As Nepal was chartering into a new political direction after the second Peoples’ Movement, the apprehensive private sector lobbied with political parties to have their representation in the Constituent Assembly. And, this inter-dependency between business and politics continued in subsequent elections.

Anti-corruption activists say industrialists and businessmen who became MPs in the past had been found involved in many conflicts of interest issues, and this needs to be checked. They suggest making a parliamentary regulation before the parliamentary committees are formed to control the issue of conflict of interest.

According to them, one way in this regard is by making lawmakers with a business background declare that they would not be involved in policymaking in a way that conflicts with their roles as MPs and their own business interests. The other option, they should be members of committees that do not deal with businesses.

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