The government is attempting to limit access to informationIt cannot hide behind ‘security reasons’ to make governance opaque
At a time when the government is facing widespread criticisms for attempting to curtail freedom of expression and the free press, and generally attempting to push through regulations and laws in an authoritarian manner, it has once again shown the same illiberal tendency in attempting to curtail the people’s access to Singha Durbar and the Prime Minister’s Office. Given the flak that the Oli administration has received for its penchant for making unilateral decisions, especially right at the top, this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is that the person responsible for the tightening of visitation privileges is Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, of the erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).
The Maoists waged a decade-long war with a Nepali state that they thought was not fulfilling and delivering the basic rights and services that every citizen should be receiving from a government. Later, having partnered with other parties during Jana Andolan II to overthrow the monarchy and bring back a democratic system, the Maoists championed the cause of federalism, promising to bring Singha Durbar—the symbol of governance and administration—to the people’s doorsteps. Thapa was with the Maoists for this entire journey. Yet, he seems to have forgotten the promises made of a government by the people, for the people—of democracy, service deliverance to every citizen, and of transparency.
In recent times, the home minister has been criticised repeatedly for various hardline and authoritarian statements and moves. In July 2018, he made statements against the holding of peaceful protests—supporting the government’s decision to curtail protests to specific areas of Kathmandu Valley that did not include the popular Maitighar Mandala or the area in front of Singha Durbar. More recently, he was lambasted by the opposition for calling the people killed in the recent Kathmandu bomb blasts—alleged cadres of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Maoist party—as not citizens, implying a decrease in the severity of the deaths due to their affiliation. And last week, Thapa defended the actions of the police when they used force against people that were peacefully protesting the Guthi Bill.
Now, Thapa has added restrictive measures to discourage visitors into Singha Durbar. While the government has been citing security as the reason for such measures, the application of these limits to access to all people—including journalists—shows that the true agenda behind Thapa’s directive is to curtail the people’s access to information. This democratically elected government cannot hide behind mentions of security to prevent the people’s right to access the governmental institutions housed in Singha Durbar, and it definitely cannot do so to block access to information. Transparency in governance is a must.