Congress shadow government to probe corruption but not many are optimisticThe Nepali Congress’ failure to act as an effective opposition stems from their fears that their criticism of the government could boomerang on them, say analysts.
But on the heels of a corruption scandal that has engulfed the ruling party, the Nepali Congress finally swung into action, and held a meeting of its shadow government, the first since the Congress team was constituted 10 months ago.
Sunday’s meeting, however, was largely a reaction, rather than an attempt to chart out a proper course for the opposition, say party leaders.
“We discussed what measures can be taken to stop corruption and [party president Sher Bahadur] Deuba instructed us to dig out the policy decisions of the [KP Sharma] Oli administration that have fuelled corruption,” said Surendra Pandey, a party member. “The party will then launch a separate investigation.”
Deuba’s instruction follows the resignation of Gokul Baskota, the communication and information technology minister in the Oli Cabinet, after an audio recording was leaked in which he was heard negotiating a Rs700 million “commission”.
But few are convinced that the Nepali Congress will be able to make anything out of the numerous scandals that the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is dealing with.
Despite the shadow government consisting of senior party leaders, including Narayan Khadka (foreign affairs), Gagan Thapa (health), Dilendra Badu (home) and Minendra Rijal (finance), it has largely failed to achieve anything substantial.
“The shadow government itself has been overshadowed,” Balkrishna Khand, chief whip of the Nepali Congress, remarked, according to a leader who was present at the meeting. “It has failed to deliver on what it aimed or promised.”
Party insiders said the role of shadow ministers has been ineffective as there have been few discussions on the content of proposed bills, financial irregularities and corruption. A hastily convened meeting after months is not going to help, they said.
Analysts and Congress watchers say the party seems to have lost the plot and this shadow government meeting is nothing but party president Deuba’s desire to show his “political presence” in the lead-up to the 14th general convention.
Since its debacle in the 2017 elections, the Congress has not been able to get back on its feet. Its actions have largely met with criticism. A recent case in point was its decision to obstruct House proceedings over the Baluwatar land grab scam. Instead of raising the issue in the House, the Congress’ obstruction sent the message that it was trying to protect its leader, Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, one of three former ministers charged with corruption at the Special Court.
Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst who has followed the Congress politics for decades, said that the primary opposition has, by and large, failed.
“Did anyone even realise the existence of a shadow government?” said Acharya. “The Congress is bracing for its general convention and Deuba is just trying to show his political presence.”
In the two years since the formation of the Oli government, Deuba, who is a four-time prime minister, has not held a single press conference. While a handful of leaders are vocal in Parliament, others are largely absent from the political landscape.
Many say that the Congress party’s reluctance to raise its voice against corruption is because it is afraid of the move boomeranging on it, as its leaders, like Gachhadar, are also accused of corruption.
But a number of shadow ministers say they have been unable to play an effective role because they have failed to act as a collective unit.
The bureaucracy is also hindering their work as they struggle to get accurate information, said Dila Sangraula, the shadow minister for labour, employment and social security. But that failure rests on the shoulders of the shadow ministers too.
“Several shadow ministers alleged that ministers in the Oli government are deeply involved in corruption and financial irregularities, but they’ve failed to provide accurate facts, figures and evidence,” said Sangraula.
The Congress decided to form a team of 21 senior members led by Deuba in May last year to hold the Oli government to account, check any wrongdoing, and keep a watch on its controversial decisions.
The concept of a shadow government came from the British parliamentary system, where opposition members are regularly assigned to ‘shadow’ ministers and assist in governance while maintaining an additional layer of checks and balances.