Reasons to worryThe current government has miserably failed to address the ongoing crises in the country
There are disturbing indications that the current government does not know or care about its priorities and lacks the capacity and vision to work for good governance. PM KP Oli has gone on record saying that load shedding will be a thing of the past by next year. He probably believes what he says and people would also like to see him live up to his words. But the functioning of his government does not give much ground for optimism.
It has been reported in the national press that the Minister of Energy and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) are not even in speaking terms and are determined to undermine each other. The Energy Ministry has annulled the appointment of Mukesh Kafle, the present CEO of NEA, and appointed a new one; but the Supreme Court has reinstated Kafle. So the NEA currently has two chief executives—one reinstated by the Court and the other appointed by the government. This anomalous situation has been going on for some time and yet no one seems to care. In the mean time, the whole episode makes a mockery of the government’s commitment to solve the load shedding problem. If ending the load shedding within one year is indeed a priority, shouldn’t the PM take the initiative to resolve this problem and monitor the progress of this sector? Furthermore, if the PM cannot even discipline his Energy Minister or the chief of the NEA, what is the point in telling the people that the government is serious about the load shedding problem?
Similarly, let us look at the progress of the post-earthquake reconstruction programme. People are gradually loosing hope that the government and the opposition in Parliament are serious about the plight of the quake victims. Eight months have passed since the quake and still the government and the opposition have not been able to appoint a CEO for the Reconstruction Authority. Millions of people are suffering in the harsh cold winter without adequate shelter and clothing and yet the ‘big three’ parties in Parliament have spent months haggling over who is going to head the entire operation.
At the same time, the press is filled with stories about government’s attempt to provide all kinds of facilities to high dignitaries who have already retired costing the national treasury over Rs 3 billion a year. The dignitaries include former presidents, prime ministers, chief justices, speakers of Parliament and so on. Since the average tenure of our prime ministers is around a year, Nepal probably has the largest number of ex-prime ministers in the world. Similarly, the mandatory retirement age for chief justices also assures that we have a large contingent of ex-chief justices. And all these retired personalities will surely live well above the average life expectancy of a common Nepali. So we now have a sizable number of ‘great’ personalities in the country eager to assert their claim on taxpayers’ money for their ‘contribution’ to the development of the nation.
For a common man who has to spend days waiting in the line for a few litres of petrol; an earthquake victim suffering from cold and near starvation in the hills in different parts of the country even after eight months of the disaster; thousands of young men unable to find jobs within the country and thus forced to migrate elsewhere; or a bewildered citizen who sees Nepal becoming the poorest country even in South Asia while promulgating one of the ‘best’ constitutions in the world, the attempt by the government to sustain a lavish living standard for all the important ex-officials of the different wings of the state is totally insensitive to the needs and aspirations of the masses. Many people have a simple question: should providing largesse to top officials be the priority of the nation today? Is this the new model of good governance in ‘New Nepal’?
Politically, the attitude of both the government and the opposition to solving the political disagreements with the Madhesi Morcha is not encouraging. The Constitution Amendment Bill prepared by the previous government was opposed by the Madhesi Morcha on the grounds that it was incomplete. After their sojourn to India, the Morcha leaders had already informally indicated that they might be willing to support the Bill if certain refinements are agreed upon. But this opportunity for consensus was not explored by the ruling parties and the opposition. The Nepali Congress seems to have been inspired by the idea that the passage of the Bill drafted by the former Nepali congress government without any alteration is the only way to regain its political clout in the Tarai. The UML, though reluctant initially, seems to have finally given into NC’s insistence. A more consensual approach would have been to discuss with the Madhesi Morcha and fine-tune the Bill so that the latter could own it and be part of the solution. However, this opportunity seems to have passed and the Morcha naturally thinks that the three parties are determined to ride roughshod over their interests without seeking an agreeable solution. While the ‘big three’ may be successful in the number’s game inside Parliament, it does not help in narrowing the trust gap that has deepened in the last few months between the Madhesi Nepalis and the power establishment in Kathmandu. This trend is not going to help restore normalcy in the country.
On India’s attitude towards Nepal, the emerging view among some sections of the Indian political establishment is that the Narendra Modi government is headed in the direction of ‘losing Nepal’ to China. While this may have softened India’s eagerness to ‘teach Nepal’ a lesson, the overall Indian thrust of coercive diplomacy shows no sign of change. The reported attempt by the Indian government to declare Nepal’s constitution as ‘incomplete’ in the India-Japan joint statement points in this direction. It is ironical that while India resents Nepal’s raising the issue of the unannounced blockade and the terrible sufferings of its citizens in international forums, it seems determined to internationalise the issue on its own by trying to criticise Nepal whenever possible in joint statements with different countries (for example Britain). Is this attitude towards Nepal consistent with the rishiman (the mind of a saint) that the Indian prime minister declared as being necessary for peace and stability when he was in Nepal over a year ago? I leave the readers to ponder over this question.
Lohani, a senior leader of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, is a former foreign minister