Oli's large-scale secretary transfers in lead-up to elections come into questionMore transfers of bureaucrats as well as of police officers are on the cards, officials say. Past experience shows that officials have a role in influencing elections.
The Supreme Court is yet to decide whether the midterm polls announced for April 30 and May 10 can go ahead. And even if it does, whether elections can actually take place is another question.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in his addresses at mass meetings across the country, including one in Butwal on Saturday, has, however, been saying that the House of Representatives will not be restored and elections will definitely take place.
As if in preparation for elections, the Cabinet meeting on Thursday decided to transfer over a dozen secretaries.
The most notable of the transfers was of Suresh Adhikari, from the Commission for Investigation for Abuse of Authority to the Election Commission.
Some of the secretaries have been given new responsibilities in as little as three months including Toya Narayan Gywali from the prime minister’s office to the Public Service Commission, Gopinath Mainali from the Ministry of Education to the Public Procurement Monitoring Office, Arjun Prasad Pokharel from the Public Service Commission to the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies and Kedar Neupane form the Office of the Vice President to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, according to a secretary who did not want to be named.
Frequent transfers of top bureaucrats have an adverse impact on governance as the top bureaucrats are sent to another office before they get a chance to be familiar with the matters at a ministry.
The Oli government, in the last two and a half years of its rule, has already transferred secretaries over a dozen times but Thursday’s was a major reshuffle, according to officials at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Some secretaries, during their service of three to four years, are getting transferred to eight different ministries, said the secretary.
But Thursday’s decision, made after the election dates have been announced, has come under severe criticism.
Former chief election commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said it is inappropriate to transfer senior officials at a time when the election date is announced.
“If the government needs to transfer officials, it should take prior consent from the Election Commission,” said Yadav.
The election code of conduct is yet to be implemented although elections are about two and a half months away and will be implemented only after discussions with political parties. The Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Madav Kumar Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party has refused to participate in any discussions related to poll preparations and instead has told the commission to halt its preparations.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali confirmed that over one dozen secretaries were transferred but said the move was not aimed at influencing the elections.
“The decision to transfer secretaries has made the bureaucracy more result-oriented. We have not transferred key secretaries like Home and Finance,” Gyawali told the Post. “This transfer is a regular one as some posts were vacant, some secretaries retired and some have completed one year in the provinces.”
Another minister, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, however, said the finance and home ministries may yet get new secretaries.
“Some names are likely to be adjusted later,” the minister said. “In the next round, probably secretaries like those of home and finance ministries may get transferred.”
A secretary who got frequent transfers told the Post that several top bureaucrats are harassed to make certain decisions, often questionable, and if they do not comply, they end up getting transferred but no one dares to speak up fearing that they may not be given any responsibility.
Meanwhile, morale among the bureaucrats is low, according to former bureaucrats.
“The performance and results of bureaucracy have hit bottom low but no one cares,” Shyam Parsad Mainali, another former secretary, said. “Therefore, resistance from the bureaucracy against government decisions has been weakening.”
But Thursday’s decision with an eye on the elections is not only against the interests of good governance but also healthy democratic practice.
Former home secretary Chandi Prasad Shrestha said that transfer of top bureaucrats, chief district officers and top police officers in the run up to elections is an old phenomenon in Nepali politics.
“Politicians think that bureaucrats and police officers are instrumental in winning or losing elections,” Shrestha said. “Even in the last local elections, in some districts, with the help of local administrations, some politicians won the elections under mysterious circumstances.”
Yadav agrees that concerns about transfer to government and police officials ahead of the polls in Nepal are valid.
There are different ways bureaucrats and security officials can work in favour of one candidate and against another.
“Bureaucrats and security officials can favour one particular candidate in elections by relaxing election code of conduct in matters related to publicity, expenditure of funds, gathering of people, distribution of money and other stuff during elections and influencing voters as well as making security arrangements,” said a senior official at the poll body on condition of anonymity. “Vote counting can be influenced as well.”
Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said more transfers will happen in various layers of bureaucracy involving chief district officers as well as a large number of police officers, if the Supreme Court upholds Oli’s decision to dissolve the House and hold elections.
Former senior bureaucrats say that the transfer of huge numbers of secretaries and other officials ahead of the elections has to stop.
“Winning the elections with the help of newly transferred police officers and bureaucrats is a wrong tendency,” said Shrestha. “This should have ended.”
Meanwhile, popular decisions to influence the elections are on the cards, a senior official at the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“These include an increase in allowances for senior citizens, procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine to inoculate the rest of the population from India and China,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“Oli is preparing to come up with some attractive slogans and agendas for the elections,” said Mainali. “That is why he needs to carry out other preparations to hold elections including large-scale transfer of secretaries.”
However, according to former chief election commissioner Yadav, not all bureaucrats influence elections all the time.
There should be mechanisms whereby officials who are activists or associated with political parties and trade unions are barred from key positions, according to Yadav.
“If we can bring about changes in these areas, we can revamp the election process,” Yadav said.