Document to ‘assist’ the government is nothing but a farce, observers sayThe ruling alliance has spent more than three weeks on the common minimum programme, making it a prerequisite for Cabinet expansion.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has not been able to give the full shape to his government even after three weeks in office, already receiving criticism for his bad start after he took over the reins from KP Sharma Oli.
Deuba may get the benefit of the doubt for leading a coalition government, where the prime minister faces a host of challenges from the partners. And to make things easy, the ruling alliance was working on a common minimum programme.
The seven-member task force on Friday submitted a document titled “the Coalition Government’s Common Policy and Programme” to Prime Minister Deuba. But questions have arisen whether such a document indeed was needed and whether this would really facilitate governance.
Bimal Koirala, a former chief secretary, says such programmes have become a formality and do not hold significance, as they reiterate what is already known or laid out by the constitution or law or policies.
“There is no point in preparing a whole list of issues that almost everyone knows,” Koirala told the Post. “I don’t see any relevance of what they call the common minimum programme.”
The common minimum programme is a practice usually followed by coalition governments. It usually outlines the minimum objectives of a coalition government. The practice got prominence when coalition governments had become the norm in Nepal.
Since different parties go to the elections with their own agendas and commitments, as partners of a coalition government, they are not in a position to translate those promises into actions. Hence the partners outline some minimum common objectives.
Deuba, however, returned to lead a coalition government by accident, largely due to KP Oli’s misadventures, fuelled by infighting within his own party. As a coalition prime minister, he is now under pressure from his partners, especially the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre). Deuba’s other coalition partner is Janata Samajbadi Party.
The common minimum programme is a demand of the Maoist Centre, which has also been calling for an all-party mechanism to “facilitate” governance.
Experts on bureaucracy, governance and law say preparing the common minimum programme is a fashion in Nepal, rather than a need.
“You need to work differently for different results,” said Koirala. “As almost all governments in Nepal have the same working style, we cannot expect a different result. It hardly matters how many policy documents like the common minimum programme are prepared.”
Even if Deuba leads the government until the periodic elections, in November-December next year, he has just around a year and a half. As he himself had outlined vaccines as his top priority, his government should use all its might to get Nepalis vaccinated against Covid-19.
“The top leadership is currently studying the report and it will be made public on Sunday,” Purna Bahadur Khadka, a Nepali Congress leader who led the task force that prepared the document, told the Post. “This will open the door for Cabinet expansion as well.”
The task force led by Khadka has Ramesh Lekhak and Minendra Rijal from the Congress, Dev Gurung and Barsha Man Pun from CPN (Maoist Centre) and Rajendra Shrestha and Mahendra Raya Yadav from Janata Samajbadi Party as members.
Even though Deuba won the House confidence with an overwhelming number of votes, he will face a tough time when it comes to securing a majority in Parliament for some bills it wants to introduce. As many as 22 lawmakers from the CPN-UML had voted for him. Of them, 14 were from the Madhav Nepal faction, and it has not made it clear whether it will follow the party line or side with the government when it comes to voting for some bills.
The Deuba government either has to continue with the budget that the Oli government brought through an ordinance or introduce a new budget or revise the same budget. For revising the budget, Deuba will need numbers in Parliament.
If he gives continuuity to the Oli government’s programmes and policies, he will have just four t0 five months to execute his own government’s plans. But by that time, the election season will start.
A government for just one and a half years should have rather focused on basic governance. Vaccinating all at the earliest, reviving the economy, bringing the constitution back on track and holding elections on schedule should have been the priority, according to experts. Since a government has to function under the constitution, laws, rules and policies, a common minimum programme is nothing but a farce, political and constitutional experts say.
The ruling alliance’s common minimum programme is yet to be made public but some parts have been leaked to the media. The document even talks about concluding the peace process, which does not need iteration, as it has been continuing for years without any concrete progress.
It also talks about national consensus on foreign policy, which experts say is desirable but difficult to achieve. The document also outlines the need for a political mechanism not only at the federal level but also at the provincial level, which has raised many an eyebrow.
Insiders say though Dueba is not too keen on forming such a mechanism, he is under pressure from the Maoist Centre.
“An all-party mechanism is a must to oversee the functioning of the government,” Giriraj Mani Pokharel, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist party, had said in the House of Representatives last week. “I also demand that the ruling alliance make public the minimum common programme without delay and focus on governance accordingly.”
But many see the idea of an all-party mechanism as unconstitutional, as in parliamentary democracy, the government is accountable to Parliament and it keeps checks on the executive.
The Maoist Centre’s insistence on having such a mechanism to “oversee” the government functioning is believed to be party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s desire to exercise influence on the government.
“The accountability of the government will be divided if such a mechanism is created,” said Bipin Adhikari, former dean at Kathmandu University School of Law. “This will make the government vulnerable.”
On Saturday, Madhu Raman Acharya, a former bureaucrat and diplomat, put it succinctly. Though he did not refer to the 11-point common minimum programme, his reference was clear.
“We will vaccinate all. We will revive the economy ravaged by the pandemic. We will keep the constitution on track. We will hold elections after the House tenure is over. We will improve foreing relations. We will try to ensure good governance. We won’t get into any new ‘scandal’,” Acharya wrote on Twitter. “They should have said just that. [But] they have spun a pretty long yarn.”