Oli fails to punish non-performing ministersAlthough Oli is not pleased with ministers' performance, he has hesitated to reshuffle Cabinet due to party dynamics.
In almost every Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli warns his ministers that they will be judged based on their performance and that he won’t hesitate to replace those who don’t perform. But in the 19 months since taking office, Oli has yet to punish any of his ministers, despite loud criticism from the public, the opposition and within the ruling party itself of the government’s failure to deliver on its promises.
Bureaucrats and party leaders believe that though Oli might want to take action against his ministers, the ruling party’s internal dynamics are preventing him from pursuing any drastic measures.
“Though the Oli administration has a two-thirds majority, it is more like a coalition government as the ministers represent factions in the party and he is afraid of shuffling them,” said Bhim Upadhyay, a former secretary. “If he had dared to change his ministers, people might have had hope in the Oli government, but now, nobody believes he will deliver.”
Time and again, there have been rumours that the prime minister would reshuffle the Cabinet by swapping out inefficient ministers, but after discussions with Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Oli has not dared to make a change, according to party insiders.
Oli recently appointed popular youth leader Yogesh Bhattarai as minister for tourism, culture and civil aviation. The berth had remained vacant since the death of Rabindra Adhikari in a helicopter crash on February 27. Party leaders were expecting more changes in the Cabinet when Bhattarai was inducted but that never happened.
Oli has even signed work performance agreements with all of his ministers, who in turn have signed similar agreements with their secretaries. Despite the measures, the government’s performance has remained lacklustre. Instead, a number of the government’s moves has invited controversy, as with the Guthi Bill and the Media Council Bill, both of which were widely opposed by the public.
Oli might appear strong as the leader of a government with a comfortable two-thirds majority in Parliament but within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), he is weak, according to party leaders. This is the reason Oli has not discussed the government’s performance in the party’s committees, as even ruling party leaders are not satisfied with the government.
“How can we learn about the government’s performance as it has not been discussed within the party committees yet,” said Beduram Bhusal, an NCP standing committee member. “Everyone knows that people are not happy with the government.”
Leaders like Bhusal have long been urging the party leadership to hold a separate meeting of the committee to discuss the government’s performance, but that has not happened.
On the other hand, Oli’s ministers, too, are not happy with the way the prime minister steers the government. Many ministers are upset with the fact that their secretaries have been asked to report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. A number of secretaries have been appointed directly by the PM’s Office, causing friction within the ministry, according to a personal assistant to a minister representing the former Maoists.
“How can a minister work properly when the prime minister and his advisors take briefings directly from the secretaries,” he said.
Despite the government’s continuing performance, Co-chair Dahal has suddenly appeared more amenable to Oli. Dahal has now started defending the government’s activities. On Thursday, he urged people not to spread negative messages as the Oli government has just been at the helm for a year and a half.
“Let’s be patient. It takes time to clean the garbage of 250 years. We have led the government just for a year and a half so let’s not spread negativity,” Dahal said at a programme in Butwal.
With things calming down between the two ruling party co-chairs, a Cabinet reshuffle is not the focus anymore, as the party is busy with other pressing matters.
“We are on the eve of the festival season, the party is finalising the unity process and work divisions to all leaders, and the government is eagerly waiting to welcome the Chinese president to the country,” said Leela Mani Pokhrel, another standing committee member. “Once these three things are concluded, a Cabinet reshuffle could happen.”
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