Room for whom?Public properties are owned by people, not by those at the helm of affairs
The Social Welfare Council in Lainchaur was set up during the monarchy to deal with donor agencies. Today, it heads both national and international non-governmental organisations and is staffed by over a hundred officials. A Cabinet decision taken on September 18, however, seeks to turn this stately old building into an office and residence for Vice-President Nanda Bahadur Pun. The decision was made after concluding that the current vice-presidential premises are congested and therefore unfit for high office.
The Gorkha earthquake heavily damaged Bahadur Bhawan, the office of the Vice President, with cracks on the ceilings and walls. Making an alternate arrangement for Pun is a legitimate concern. The president and vice-president need a residence and working space that befits their office. However, both the president and vice-president are ceremonial officials, not executive office-bearers. The Cabinet’s assessment that the current premises are crowded and unfit for office must be critically assessed.
What are the current arrangements and why is there a need for another residence or an expansion when the duties of the president and vice-president include ceremonial stamps and welcoming heads of state and government? And even if the vice president needs to move out of Bahadur Bhawan, are the Social Welfare Council premises, a fully functioning office, the only space available for relocation?
Public properties are owned collectively by the people, not by those at the helm of affairs. An institution like the Social Welfare Council needs a well-functioning office; it cannot be shunted off simply to make way for the vice-president. Finding a building large enough to accommodate its many staff will be a herculean task.
The same goes for the decision to expand Sheetal Niwas by shifting the police academy. At the moment, the building is on 193 ropanis of land, owned and maintained by the Nepal Police Training Academy, a vibrant institution. The government’s decision to shift this academy, the only centre with full training infrastructure solely because the presidential residence needs to be expanded is futile. The government has made plans to shift the academy to Panauti, where new infrastructure will need to be built from scratch, an endeavour that is assumed to take at least 10-15 years.
Those who exercise public power must work for the public. Instead of spending its resources and time on expanding the residences of ceremonial heads of the country, the government should invest more effort into formulating the laws and policies that the country desperately needs. While heads of state deserve residence and offices that are worthy of their stature, these should not come at the cost of functioning public entities. The decision to relocate the offices has already been made. It is now up to the government to ensure that this relocation will not affect the work of the institutions that they are displacing.