Quantity over qualityIt seems Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is earning a reputation for breaking records. Back in 1996, he broke the record for forming the largest Cabinet in Nepal’s history with the induction of 48 members.
It seems Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is earning a reputation for breaking records. Back in 1996, he broke the record for forming the largest Cabinet in Nepal’s history with the induction of 48 members. Now, he has surpassed himself by installing a 50-member strong Cabinet—once again the largest ever in Nepal’s history. Administering the oath of office to 15 ministers on Tuesday, Deuba expanded Cabinet for the fourth time in two months. In doing so, he has beaten his predecessors, who themselves headed considerably large Cabinets. Deuba comes in far ahead of the 40-member Cabinet formed by KP Sharma Oli; he also outstrips the number set by Oli’s successor Pushpa Kamal Dahal with a governing body comprised of 46 members. Deuba has even succeeded in beating Baburam Bhattarai, who headed a Cabinet of 49 ministers back in 2011.
Deuba may now head the largest Cabinet in Nepal’s history, but his expansion of Cabinet has yet to end. He is still in the possession of various portfolios including industry; forest and soil conservation; science and technology; and peace and reconstruction. He could very well dole these out in a bid to bring fringe parties on board the government. Under this scenario, Cabinet could reach a minimum of 55 members.
Expansion of Cabinet to such unprecedented numbers brings with it a host of problems. For one, the state will be hard pressed to accommodate the administrational needs of all members in the current Cabinet. Estimates peg state spending to rise by Rs100 million every month as a result of the past two expansions of Cabinet. There are also infrastructural difficulties to contend with. Buildings within Singha Durbar sustained considerable damage after the earthquake and the 31 ministries are currently hard put to find sufficient space within the premises, even without the further expansion of Cabinet. Furthermore, while there is no current prescribed limit to the number of Cabinet members, Article 76 of the constitution, prohibiting a Cabinet with more than 25 members will come into effect after the upcoming federal elections. With only 25 positions to spare, allocating ministerial positions in a coalition government will present considerable issues, especially considering this current trend of awarding MPs who back the coalition with ministerial positions.
The constitutional mandate of a 25-member Cabinet may not be in effect yet, however, PMs should at the very least try to adhere to this limit to some degree. Congress leader Prakash Sharan Mahat has said that expansion of the Cabinet is, to some extent, fueled by lawmakers “who wish to have some experience” in running the administration. The Council of Ministers is the main decision-making and legislative body in Nepal, and satisfying the desire of lawmakers by appointing them as ministers is not reason enough for its expansion. PM Deuba should not bow to the whims of political parties and lawmakers; justifiable reasons for inducting members is a must.