How many public holidays is too many?Nepal government often announces public holidays in an arbitrary and ad hoc fashion, adding to an already crowded calendar. Give us a break, say critics.
While addressing the meeting of Democracy Day’s main ceremony committee on February 7, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that the government needs to ‘sharply decrease’ the number of public holidays in the country. Holidays in Nepal were already too many, he said.
He further told attending officials that too many public holidays have affected service delivery and it is imperative to cut down their number to improve governance.
“We have discussed it in the Council of Ministers that the number of holidays should be reconsidered as they hamper the work efficiency of civil servants and create problems in service delivery,” Dahal said. “We should do serious homework regarding it.”
Before Dahal’s speech, the government had already formed a committee to revise the national public holidays. “Before the prime minister announced the plan at the meeting, the government had already started to work on the revision and had formed the revision committee,” Jitendra Basnet, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told the Post. “Though I do not remember the exact date when the revision committee was formed, it was days before the prime minister announced it publicly.”
But a week after Prime Minister Dahal’s statement, on Sunday, the government added one more public holiday in the already crowded calendar. It announced that starting this year, Falgun 1 will be a public holiday, dubbed as ‘People’s War Day’, commemorating the start of the ten-year Maoist insurgency.
The ten-year armed insurgency, which started on February 13, 1996, concluded after the Maoists signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the government on November 21, 2006.
Since then, the CPN (Maoist Centre), then known as CPN (Maoist), which waged the armed insurgency, has been marking what it calls the People’s War Day on the first day of the Nepali month of Falgun every year.
The Cabinet decision on Sunday to allocate a holiday has met with strong criticism from the general public, with many pointing out the apparent dissonance between Dahal’s words and actions.
Most of the commentators have said that adding one more public holiday to the calendar when it already has too many was not fit for Nepal’s reality. While some others questioned the very logic of commemorating ‘a violent, deadly insurgency launched by one particular political party’. Such a move would open the Pandora’s Box, inciting other political groups to demand the same, they say.
The government’s decision hasn’t sat well even within the ruling coalition. All three ministers from the right-wing, pro-monarchy Rastriya Prajatantra Party were conspicuously absent in the Cabinet meeting that took the decision.
Meanwhile, some victims of the Maoist insurgency and human rights activists have staged a protest, saying the holiday has hurt their sentiments. The insurgency claimed the lives of around 17 thousand people and left countless others injured.
Members of the public holiday revision committee have said they were unaware of the Cabinet decision. Khadga KC, a professor at Tribhuvan University who is a committee member, told the Post he was taken by surprise to know about Sunday’s decision.
“I was thrilled to be nominated on the committee as an expert but before the committee had even held a single meeting, the government added another holiday,” KC said. “Now I am a bit confused about whether to attend the committee meeting or not.”
A quick data on public holidays might illustrate Professor KC’s moral quandary. In the current fiscal year 2022-23, Nepal will have a total of 95 holidays, including 52 Saturdays and 43 designated public holidays, according to the Nepal Gazette published by the Ministry of Home Affairs. That will leave only 270 working days in a year for a cash-strapped country with sluggish bureaucracy. The ongoing month of Falgun [Feb 13-March 14] has a total of 10 holidays, including four Saturdays.
But given the Nepal government’s tendency to abruptly announce public holidays, as it did on Sunday, nobody can be certain about their number; there may be a few more as the year wears on. Yet another impromptu announcement came recently to declare Poush 27 [Jan 11] as a public holiday to mark ‘National Unity Day’, after King Prithvi Narayan Shah’s birth.
Though the Nepal Gazette had not mentioned the day as a holiday, the government made an ad hoc decision to appease one of its coalition partners, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. Another public holiday came quickly afterwards, on January 16, to mourn the tragic plane crash that took place the day before.
Professor KC laments that Nepal has so many public holidays and they are often announced out of the blue. “In a country like Nepal, which struggles for economic progress, working days should be increased in view of already too many holidays,” he said. “But it is just the opposite.”
It is not the first time the government has formed a committee to revise the number of holidays; several preceding governments have done that. However, the recommendation of such a committee seldom gets implemented.
In March 2018, the KP Sharma Oli government decided to reduce the number of public holidays by 15 days, citing the need to increase working days and smoothen the government’s service delivery.
But the Oli government didn’t stick to its decision. It had decided to scratch out the holidays for Maghi, Gyalbo Lhoshar and Sonam Lhoshar, but two years later, the Oli administration backtracked on its decision, keeping those holidays intact.
It is not only the federal government that courts controversy for announcing holidays at whim; local governments also frequently come under fire for announcing holidays that ‘defy logic’.
The ability of the public to anticipate government actions is one of the primary indicators of effective governance. At the end of every year, the government publishes in the gazette a list of public holidays that are announced in advance. Public holidays are included in the calendar based on the government’s decision. However, when the government suddenly decides to add holidays, it affects people’s lives, experts on bureaucratic affairs say.
“A proper study should be conducted before making a decision on national public holidays,” said Govinda Kusum, a former secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the line ministry that oversees the issues of public holidays. “They should not be announced arbitrarily as it happens in our country.”