Deuba under fire— from a section of Congress, and oppositionUML charges prime minister with failing in governance. Congress group questions party president’s performance.
Just days ahead of the completion of his one year into office, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has come under fire for misgovernance.
While the leader of the main opposition, KP Sharma Oli, on Monday came down heavily on the government, a section of Deuba’s own party, the Nepali Congress, posed a dozen questions before him.
Oli, the chair of the CPN-UML, at an interaction with editors on Monday in Kathmandu said that the current coalition government is dead and that continuing with it would be a disaster for the country.
“This government has lost its relevance,” Oli said.
He also warned that Nepal could head the Sri Lanka way if the current activities of the government are anything to go by.
“Businessmen’s representatives are included in budget-making. We are hearing about arms purchase,” said Oli. “There’s certainly support from some people [in the government] in these activities. We need to be careful on time.”
The Deuba government, formed on July 13 last year, has been facing charges of failing to act despite allegations that Janardan Sharma, as finance minister, had invited two outsiders to tweak tax rates on the night of May 28, hours before he presented the budget in Parliament. There was quite an uproar in Parliament. But Deuba not only maintained silence, he also made no efforts to remove Sharma.
After the formation of a parliamentary probe committee, Sharma resigned last Wednesday. Deuba has not appointed a new finance minister and has kept the portfolio with himself.
Now the Deuba government has run into another controversy by introducing a bill in the National Assembly to amend the Constitutional Council Act so as to make it easier for the commencement of the council meeting and take decisions. Deuba’s Congress party had vehemently opposed a similar move by the erstwhile Oli government, calling it an attack on the constitution and rule of law.
The rival camp in the Congress led by Shekhar Koirala on Monday raised questions about the intention of bringing the bill.
The rival camp also questioned Deuba’s performance in the last six months as party president.
At the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting, Koirala said that because of the alliance with the communist parties, the Congress faced deterioration of its ideology and principle and could not select the right candidates in the local elections.
“Lessons must be learnt as we head to general and provincial elections,” he said.
Deuba is constantly facing the wrath of the Koirala faction backed by party vice president Dhanraj Gurung and General Secretary Gagan Thapa.
In a sign of growing frustrations in the Congress, earlier on Monday, Deuba faced protests from the party’s sister wings at the gate of the party headquarters in Sanepa when he reached there to attend the CWC meeting. The protesting members of the sister wings vented ire against Deuba for failing to convene the general convention of the Nepal Student Union, the student wing of the party.
At the meeting, some party leaders including chiefs of seven provinces voiced their concerns about the objective and purpose as well as rationale behind the alliance with parties that have completely opposing ideologies.
Most of them, according to party leaders, said that since the Nepali Congress could not get enough vote transfers in the local elections, the party should review the alliance with CPN (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist).
Ahead of the CWC meeting, the Koirala camp held a separate meeting to chart out its strategy. Koirala also brought up the issue of not holding the general convention of ten various sister organisations of the party and failing to constitute various party departments.
“At a time when coalition partners are expressing their anger and spreading negativity about the Congress for not cooperating in the local elections, why is the party leadership silent?” questioned Koirala.
Two more CWC members, Guru Baral and Dinesh Koirala, also raised similar kinds of concerns regarding the alliance.
Dinesh Koirala from Chitwan said that the Nepali Congress was capable of winning the elections in the Bharatpur Metropolitan City.
“But we were forced to support the Maoist candidate. Now who is going to take the responsibility for losing the Bharatpur Metropolitan City?” he said.
There were also calls for withdrawing action against the party leaders for not abiding by the party decision on candidate selection.
One of the issues the Shekhar Koirala group has raised is why the government has not scrapped the Oli administration’s decision to bring the National Investigation Department, the Department of Revenue Investigation and the Department of Anti-money Laundering under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The Oli government in 2018 had brought these three offices under the PMO and the Nepali Congress had protested the decision, saying it was an attempt to centralise power.
But the Deuba government has continued to have them under the PMO.
The rival camp also reminded Deuba of the promises the party made as the opposition and questioned him about the recent controversies.
“What is the status of various corruption cases that the party had promised to investigate? What is the urgency of introducing the new bill related to the Constitutional Council? When Oli did the same thing, we opposed it. Now what prompted us to introduce the bill?” the rival camp said.
Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the two general secretaries, have already rallied against the bill to amend the Constitutional Council Act.
The rival camp also said that the weakness of the government was exposed when the Nepal Rastra Bank governor was suspended.
“It sent a wrong message to the public that the government's move was wrong when the Supreme Court told the governor to return to work,” Koirala said as he read out charges against Deuba.
Then finance minister Sharma had constituted a committee to probe Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari, leading to suspension of the latter. Prime Minister Deuba, however, took no action despite a grave move by his finance minister against the chief of the central bank, the government’s financial counsel, at a time when the country was showing signs of falling into a deep economic crisis.
The rival group also accused the government of not taking any concrete steps to curb rising market prices.
“The media, public intellectuals and the general public are questioning the rising inflation and unemployment but what is the government doing?” Koirala said.
On Monday, the central bank said that the year-on-year inflation reached 8.56 percent in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year ended mid-June.
Koirala also brought up the issue of breaching the budgetary discipline by Sharma and resignation from the post only after an uproar from different quarters.
“That is not enough,” said Koirala.
He also drew the attention of the prime minister to the country’s economy, degrading confidence of the private sector and growing indiscipline in the financial sector.
Another CWC member Pradip Paudel also read out 18 different issues and posed several questions to Deuba.
“As elections are just round the corner, the party president should exhibit a liberal approach and create an environment where everyone can feel they have a space in the party,” said Paudel.
He also said that the government should make public the status of the economy and come up with concrete plans to address the current economic situation.
“Moreover, the government should tame inflation, ensure fertilisers for farmers and textbooks for students,” he said. “The issues related to the livelihoods of the people must get more attention. Ahead of the elections, the party should come up with a clear position on social issues like education, health, employment and public transportation.”
Amid misgovernance charges, Deuba is facing accusations if “outsiders” are running the government, with Deuba too busy appeasing his coalition partners. He is also accused of promoting cronyism.
On Monday, just as the rival section of the Congress turned the heat up on their party president, Oli, the opposition leader took a jibe at Deuba.
“It seems the government is being run by outsiders,” Oli said during the interaction. “Who is running the government? Is it sir or madam, sister or bother?”