Parties yet to seal a deal on Cabinet expansionPrime Minister Dahal claims no decision has been made to distribute money to disqualified Maoist combatants.
The 10-party ruling coalition of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has started discussions on power-sharing arrangements with Cabinet expansion top on the agenda.
According to coalition leaders, the Cabinet will get a full shape within the next five days.
On Wednesday evening, four major parties of the coalition—the Nepali Congress, Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party—met at the prime minister’s residence at Baluwatar.
After the CPN-UML, the Rastriya Swatantra Party and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party also quit the government in February-end, Prime Minister Dahal alone has been heading 16 ministries.
“We have agreed to expand the Cabinet as soon as possible,” Chief Whip of the Nepali Congress Ramesh Lekhak said. “But we are yet to agree on who will get what ministries.”
“We discussed contemporary issues and Cabinet expansion. All parties agree that the Cabinet should be expanded as soon as possible,” he said.
After the meeting, Deputy Secretary General of the Maoist Center Shakti Basnet said that the issue of the leadership of the provincial government and expansion of the federal Cabinet was discussed in a package.
“Federal and provincial power-sharing will be decided together. Wednesday's discussion is preliminary, everything will be settled in two to three days,” said Basnet.
Although it has been three weeks since the UML pulled out of the government and was replaced by the Nepali Congress, the new 10-party coalition has not been able to change government leadership in provinces.
The leaders have scheduled a follow-up meeting for Thursday when they plan to divide the ministerial portfolios.
Of the 16 vacant ministerial portfolios, the Nepali Congress wants eight to 10 ministries. At least five senior Congress leaders have expressed an interest in leading the party in the government.
After dozens of leaders and lawmakers started lobbying to become ministers, the Congress central work execution committee on March 19 decreed that the ministerial candidates would be chosen based on their contribution to the party and their individual competence.
“We will also ensure inclusivity and regional balance while picking ministers,” said a party leader.
The CPN (Unified Socialist) has formed a two-member task force to negotiate ministerial berths. Similarly, a meeting of the central working committee of the Janata Samajbadi Party on Wednesday called on the coalition to allocate ministries to the party so that the party could better prepare its ministerial candidates.
A Maoist Centre leader said the Nepali Congress has been demanding 10 ministers, the Maoist Centre is claiming four besides the prime minister, the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party are claiming three ministries each, and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Janamat Party each wants two ministries.
“The prime minister is not in a mood to include Baburam Bhattarai’s Nepal Samajbadi Party and Prabhu Shah’s Aam Janata Party in the Cabinet expansion process,” the leader said.
Ghanashyam Bhusal, general secretary of the CPN (Unified Socialist), said parties have been making their individual claims to ministries.
“Cabinet expansion will be completed in the next few days when the political parties come up with their respective positions on ministerial portfolios. After they do so, we will sit together and finalise a deal. We don’t think it is going to be a complicated issue,” Bhusal told the Post.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Dahal also said that no decision was taken to distribute Rs200,000 each to the disqualified Maoist combatants, unlike what had been reported in the media.
“The prime minister said that no decision had been made towards that end,” said Lekhak.
Yet a cabinet meeting held on Monday had decided to provide cash to ‘disqualified’ Maoist combatants once the Ministry of Home Affairs prepares guidelines on relief distribution.
But home ministry officials said that since the Cabinet has already decided to dole out the amount to the combatants disqualified in the UN verification process back in 2007, they are now waiting for a formal communication from the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers for implementing the decision.
“The cabinet has already decided to release Rs200,000 each to the disqualified combatants,” Jitendra Basnet, home ministry spokesperson said. “Once we receive a copy of the cabinet decision, we will start working on the guidelines,” Basnet added.