In ruling party game of one-upmanship, the only loser is general publicAs the Oli government has failed to fight the pandemic and ensure governance amid party infighting, experts say there’s a danger of systemic failure.
The grim reporting continues every day. Covid-19 cases continue to grow every day. The number of lives the disease claims, similarly, continues unabated.
It is the same story the world over. But other governments are, at least, making serious efforts to contain the spread, with the war against the virus often headed by the head of the government.
On Wednesday, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was fighting a different war—one to save his chair fending off accusations by detractors within his own Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
And as if to show that it was looking ahead, the Cabinet recommended an ordinance to amend an Act that would make it easier to procure the vaccine. Reports however say that large scale production of any vaccine against the coronavirus—so that Nepal would be able to procure it—is at least a year away.
Meanwhile, the country’s economy has suffered a loss worth billions. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs. Millions of students have not been able to take part in the teaching learning process. There are worrying signs that the pandemic could take away the gains Nepal has made in the health sectors all these years.
But, proverbially speaking, Nero fiddles while Rome burns.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his party show they are least concerned about the suffering of the country and its people. Oli, who should be working to formulate a strategy to cope with the crisis, is busy designing one game plan after another to tire dissenters within his ruling party and increasing the length of his stay in government, experts say.
“The real test of leadership is during a crisis,” former chief secretary Bimal Koirala told the Post. “Oli has neither succeeded in running the government nor has he been able to manage his party.”
It was in a generation that Nepal had finally seen a government with a majority in parliament—since the first democratically elected government in 1991—when Oli came to power in 2017.
Experts on governance and politics say the way the Oli government is functioning shows that a majority government doesn’t mean a stable government. They say Oli and his party have shattered the dream of the millions of Nepalis who voted for the electoral alliance of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) in the 2017 general elections. The two parties unified in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party with an almost two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Nepali people had hoped that a stable government would result in prosperity.
However, the Oli government has not even been able to run the daily administration efficiently, making prosperity a far-fetched dream.
Hari Roka, a political economist and commentator, says there’s growing pessimism and frustration among the general public due to job losses and declining economic activities but that hasn’t affected the Oli government a bit.
“Capital expenditure in the first quarter of fiscal year stands at merely 8 percent,” said Roka.
A recent assessment by the National Planning Commission showed the country suffered a loss of Rs 198 billion in gross domestic product due to Covid-19 in the last fiscal year. The figure is for just over four months—from last week of March to mid-July—of this calendar year.
The report says at least 1.56 million people lost their jobs during the period while an additional 1.2 million people were pushed below the poverty line.
A separate report by Nepal Rastra Bank published in August showed that only 35 percent of businesses operated partially while a mere 4 percent operated fully during the lockdown period from March 24 to July 21.
The central bank study found that 22.5 percent of employees were laid off by businesses in the formal sector—that includes manufacturing and service sectors. Two-thirds of the laid-off employees were either working on a contract basis or had been hired temporarily.
“Nobody had imagined that the stable government would be indifferent towards the people to this extent,” Roka told the Post. “The ongoing turn of events in the last few months shows the only motive of the Oli government is to stick to power to enjoy the state benefits for him and his people.”
Political stability doesn’t only mean having the numbers in parliament, it means stability in the vision and programme and will power and capacity to execute that. “The Oli government has failed miserably when the country is in crisis,” he said.
Over 8.1 million students have been deprived of lessons as virtual learning hasn’t been effective and 116,000 teachers from private schools haven’t got their salaries, according to the commission’s report.
The World Bank predicts the GDP growth will be 0.6 percent this fiscal year and could be as little as 0.1 percent should Covid-19 persist, disruptions on the economic activities continue and weak subnational capacity to implement relief spending further weaken.
Government revenue is down, meaning it has no option but to continue borrowing.
The Finance Ministry, meanwhile, proudly says the government managed to garner foreign aid pledges totalling Rs84.07 billion in the first two months of the current fiscal year 2020-21, a near seven-fold increase year on year. During the same period last fiscal year, aid commitments amounted to Rs12.35 billion.
On Wednesday the Ministry of Finance signed an agreement with the World Bank for Rs 42 billion for urban development and reinforcement of the economic sector.
Experts say this is the time the government should have been interacting with the people to know what they want and act accordingly. “The main objective of the government is to address the suffering of the people,” said Koirala. “Failing to do so is the failure of the government.”
Amid the ongoing crisis, the different factions within the ruling party are busy in internal feud and blame game. Ruling party leaders are blaming the Oli government for failing to function. In his bombshell political paper, the party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had accused Oli of promoting corruption, failing to curb anarchy and not being able to ensure governance.
The blame game within the ruling party has emboldened the voice of the opposition to pour vitriol on the Oli administration for having failed in governance.
Releasing a statement through Twitter Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa said the dispute within the ruling party has taken a toll on governance.
“Allegations of Pushpa Kamal Dahal in his political paper about protection for corruption and failure in governance aren’t new and nor are they wrong,” Thapa stated.
Political experts have said the never ending dispute within the ruling party might not result in its split but is taking the country on the regressive path. Taking to Twitter, political scientist Lok Raj Baral wrote, “The Nepal Communist Party neither unites nor splits. But, that is hurting the nation.”
Experts say while the failure of the government is a worrying sign, its severe consequences could be the failure of the political system the country embraced just five years ago.
“I am worried that the failure of the Oli government could lead towards systemic failure, that is a failure of the present political system of federal republicanism,” said Roka.