Arbitrary awarding of Constitution Day honours draws widespread flakWriters who praised the prime minister and the driver of the chief secretary among 594 awarded for contributing to national life in the past year.
Writers who wrote paeans for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the driver of Chief Secretary Lok Darshan Regmi were found to have made “outstanding contribution to various walks of national life” in the past year.
They were among the 594 individuals recognised with titles and honours, decorations and medals on the occasion of Constitution Day on Saturday.
According to the Decoration Act 2007, honours and titles, decorations and medals on behalf of the country can be awarded by the state to any citizen of Nepal who has rendered special contribution to the political, economic, social, cultural and research aspects of national life as well as other walks or international sectors.
The decision to award them was made by a nine-member decoration committee, which is led by the deputy prime minister and includes the home minister and six members nominated by the Cabinet—at least one of them a woman, with the home secretary as the member secretary of the committee.
“With some 600 people awarded per year, Nepal will become the country having the highest number of awardees per 10 million population,” said former Supreme Court Justice Balaram KC.
But the government’s move to decorate a large number of people has drawn criticism from various sections of the society claiming that the indiscriminate selection of the individuals for the decorations has diminished its value instead.
The existing regulation related to decorations drafted two years ago was amended by the Home Ministry on July 6, limiting the number to 200 individuals.
“But that did not last for more than a month and the ministry again removed the provision to incorporate their near ones,” said an under-secretary at the Home Ministry on condition of anonymity. “We also feel that awarding so many people and people having not much contribution to the society has rather diminished the weight of the decoration itself. But what can we do?”
There had even been a Supreme Court ruling to bring some prestige to the Constitution Day, which is also the National Day, awards.
“I had issued an order when I was justice of the Supreme Court that the government should justify that the awardees must have outstanding contribution to the nation,” KC told the Post.
Among the awardees was Dr Sandak Ruit, the internationally renowned eye surgeon and winner of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award, also called the Asian Nobel, in 2006. In 2018 India awarded him the Padma Shri, a civilian award.
Around 150 medical workers were also honoured at a time when the country is facing the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to an official at the home ministry, the decorations cost at least Rs50 million each year.
Leaders and analysts, however, have criticised the attitude of the government to award people close to the ruling party and those loyal to its leaders—especially Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
Such random decisions of the government have only promoted the practice of the previous autocratic regimes of monarchy during which such awards were distributed to those loyal to the rulers, said a ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) leader who did not want to be named.
“Oli basically intends to increase his hold on all sections of the state including the administration and the security bodies,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator. “The mindset of the rulers has not risen above that of the Rana regime or the monarchy during which loyalty used to be the only criteria to get positions or awards.”
Even the journalists and social workers selected for the awards were close confidantes of the prime minister, according to a ruling party leader who did not want to be named.
“These are new kings and they follow what monarchy used to do just in a new form,” said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a central committee member and ruling party lawmaker. “This is nothing but an award ceremony of the prime minister and his people for their loyalists.”
The prime minister has long been trying to take all the organs of the state into confidence and therefore, according to experts, all his appointments are made on the basis of loyalty and not competence.
There are some powerful individuals who have also been awarded.
While Dinesh Thapaliya, who currently leads the Election Committee, has been a frequent receiver but was not awarded honours this year, Nabin Kumar Ghimire, who recently retired as the chief of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, Shailendra Khanal, inspector general of the Armed Police Force, were repeat awardees.
“Democracy wants the rulers to consider what people think of their actions,” said Maharjan.
When Pushpa Kamal Dahal was the prime minister for the second term in 2017, his personal secretary and son Prakash Dahal, who died later, had also been given honours, attracting widespread criticism.
Last year, the government had decided to award 634 individuals on Constitution Day.
According to an officer at the Home Ministry, Chief Secretary Lokdarshan Regmi not only received the awards twice in the last five years, he also awarded his father Laxmi Kanta Regmi in 2016 when he was the home secretary and therefore the member secretary of the Decoration Committee.
“This is devaluation of the awards and misuse of authority,” KC said. “Had the government abided by the Supreme Court rulings, there wouldn’t have been any controversy.”