Government takes decisions unrelated to Covid-19, drawing criticism from all quartersThe government's decision to form a commission to distribute land to the landless and appoint a top official at Nepal Airlines shows its misplaced priorities, say critics.
After the medical equipment purchase fiasco earlier this month, the KP Sharma Oli administration decided to terminate a deal with a private company and bring in the Nepal Army to do the job.
It has been two weeks since the national defence force was entrusted with the task of signing a government-to-government deal to import medical equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government has so far dispatched letters to five countries asking them for their interest in supplying medical equipment but only China and India have responded so far.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali has held two rounds of telephonic conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and requested that China provide the necessary equipment. But there has been no tangible progress as of now.
The Oli administration, which is facing criticism for its lackadaisical approach and poor handling of the Covid-19 situation, is now drawing flak for its misplaced priorities, as it has been taking a number of non-essential decisions.
These decisions include the formation of a new commission to distribute land to landless people and the appointment of an official at the Nepal Airlines Corporation.
The primary opposition Nepali Congress on Thursday issued a statement, censuring the government for what it called "misplaced priorities".
“At this moment, we need medical equipment. Focus should be on controlling a possible outbreak and providing proper treatment for those who have been infected,” reads the statement issued by the Congress Parliamentary Party. “The opposition party, civil society and all sections of Nepali society have extended support to the government in this time of crisis, but the government does not seem to be working seriously to contain the disease.”
The government on Monday formed the commission and appointed Sushil Ghimire, a former tourism secretary, as executive chairman of Nepal Airlines, a post that had been vacant since January.
Tourism ministry officials have also objected to the Nepal Airlines appointment, saying the government ignored recommendations from various reform committees that the post be filled through open competition.
The government has also moved ahead with its plan to set up a defence university, another decision that many are calling ill-timed.
Finance Minister Yubraj Khatiwada, who is also the government spokesperson, made an announcement regarding the defence university on Monday while making public Cabinet decisions.
“The government has failed to set its priorities right,” said Govinda Raj Pokhrel, former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission who led the preparation of the Post Disaster Needs Assessment after the 2015 earthquakes.
“This is not the time to form a commission or fill vacant posts to appease party loyalists. The government should instead pull out all the stops to fight the pandemic," he said. "Treatment, medical supplies and the plight of the poor should be the focus.”
Pokhrel also questioned the government for failing to address the concerns of thousands of Nepali citizens who have been forced to either stay hungry in Kathmandu or walk hundreds of kilometres home.
“Ministers are lazing around in their quarters after imposing the lockdown and people are off to their homes on foot without food and water,” said Pokhrel. “The government has not done any homework on how it is going to address the problems faced by formal and informal service sectors. Instead of the commission for the landless, it should have formed a high-level committee to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the national economy.”
The government decision to form a commission to distribute land to the landless people at this time of crisis has received criticism also because of past incidents where politicians exploited such institutions to provide land to party loyalists and their near and dear ones.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been censured also for appointing Devi Gyawali, a party loyalist, as the commission chair. Gyawali, a candidate from the then CPN-UML, had lost the Bharatpur mayoral election to Renu Dahal, a Maoist Centre candidate, in 2017. The two parties were then at each other’s throats over the vote count. The two parties merged in May 2018.
Former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai has also criticised the decision to form the new commission, terming it a waste of time and resources.
“I fail to understand why the government is wasting its time and state coffers by forming a new commission,” Bhattarai wrote on Twitter. “If we have to do scientific land reform [which we must do], work plans presented by the Bhim Gautam commission, which was formed during my tenure to implement the recommendations of the commissions led by Haribol Gjurel and Ghanendra Basnet, can be amended and implemented.”
Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, however, defended the government decisions.
“Some of the decisions regarding the formation of the [land distribution] commission and appointment at the Nepal Airlines were already in the pipeline,” said Surya Thapa, press advisor to Prime Minister Oli. “As far as people walking home is concerned, the government has told everyone to remain where they are.”
Thapa even criticised those who are trying to reach their homes.
“Who told them to defy the lockdown?” said Thapa. “I don’t think that any Nepali is dying from hunger due to the lockdown. They should stop defying the lockdown. The federal government and other tiers of government will take care of them.”