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Pravin Rajbahak: Directionless Voyage Of The Govt.

Directionless Voyage Of The Government

By Dr Pravin Rajbahak

The minister of the new government and some MPs have publicly started saying that they are above "law" and higher than the constitution. Reinstatement of the parliament itself was an unconstitutional decision but to proclaim oneself as being above the constitution is a dangerous sign that could have severe repercussions to the security and safety of the Nepali state. Those in the government that never fail to harp on democratic values and principles sit together on both sides of the benches of the parliament. In which parliament in the world do government ministers sit both in the treasury and the opposition benches?

The Constitution of 1990 says that the Lower House, the Upper House and the King form what is called the "parliament" but the session of the Upper House has not been convened. On the very first session of the House, the tradition of bringing the crown representing the unifying figure of the country was abandoned at the start of parliamentary proceedings due to pressure from the left parties. Its debates are only centering around changing the name of the Royal Nepal Army, changing the national anthem and transforming "His Majesty's Government" to "Nepal Government". As if there is no other crucial issues before the Nepali people, the House has been exerting itself into peripheral issues and blowing those out of proportion so as to make it populist. The name of the Air Force of Britain is the Royal Air Force but that doesn't make it "pro-regression." The national anthem of Britain is "Long Live the Queen" but that doesn't need to be changed even if Britain is the mother of democracy and the Thais still call their government "Royal Thai Government" but that doesn't stop them from being one of the booming economies of east Asia. So what's in a name that they are making such a big fuss?

The municipal elections held on February 8 this year has been declared null and void by sacking all elected office bearers. Shouldn't the government say something to the people that cast their ballot that day and elected those officials even if that was a small number? Can't the elected officials get a chance to petition a writ in the court? The government has likewise decided to recall all ambassadors from almost all our embassies around the world including important ones such as in Delhi, Washington, London, Beijing, etc. Everyone remembers that the embassies were left vacant by successive multi-party governments prior to October 2002 that were gradually filled up. Our embassy in Myanmar was vacant for a full 4 years and Bangkok was vacant for three years. Embassies in Moscow, London, Washington, Islamabad were also unfilled for a long time. Now nobody knows how long it is going to take the coalition of 7 parties to decide on ambassadorial appointments when they have not been able to fill even their own important ministerial posts.

Our ambassador in Moscow, a former Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Lower House, in just about a year made a name for his energetic works and very active pro-Nepal lobbying in Moscow. Who can the government possibly find a better equivalent than Hiranya Lal Shrestha or comparable others in other capitals? Our embassy in Riyadh has only 4 people to look after 4 lakh Nepalese workers and yet not even a single official is a Muslim. The current Muslim ambassador will return home but who and when will he assume his responsibilities? The agremo' of our Ambassador in Bangkok came after 4 months of sending his name from Kathmandu. Now, that he has been recalled again in such a short time, one doesn't know how long the Thais are going to take to accept the name of our new envoy. Not even a single ambassador has completed his full tenure in Washington D.C. since 1987; does that exhibit any credibility of our nation amidst the community of nations? The Executive Director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs Nischal Pandey has been discharged despite an excellent performance. Who else can articulate Nepal's point of view in 'The Times of India' and the 'Harvard University Journal' and annually bring about half a dozen books on Nepal's foreign relations? Sambhujit Baskota, the father of Nepali pop music has been removed from Nepal Television but who has the government found to replace him? True, a change in the government does get some heads rolling but that doesn't mean that we need to massacre the entire cream of Nepali bureaucracy and keep proficiency on hold till a wrangling bunch of seven political parties decide on which leader's near and dear ones are to fill which position in the distant future. Who knows that by the time the 45-days notice for the ambassadors to return home expires, the present government itself may be dissolved as the Maoists have been demanding.

Removing all top managers, directors and executives appointed after October 2002 was another sweeping decision that is going to take its own toll. Most of them were simply promoted from the same offices and not hand-picked from the street yet the yardstick was different to different people as if anarchy and not the rule of law that is at work in our country. Almost all government offices, corporations, authorities, commissions, companies and departments are currently headless with not more than lowly officers running them. Is this what good governance is about? How long is it going to take to fill hundreds of these positions and how long do Nepalese need to suffer for their works not executed on time? Some important ordinances like the civil service ordinance and the labor ordinance are also on the verge of annulling by the new government. These were brought into effect because some of the stakeholders and donors themselves were demanding them. Nepal has likewise decided to join the WTO and BIMST-EC since 2002, are we in this "democracy" frenzy going to reverse those decisions also?

The cabinet has withdrawn the red corner notice, terrorist tag on Maoist leaders and released some prominent Maoists in Nepalese prisons. The Lower House has in the same way passed a resolution to go ahead with constituent assembly elections. Doesn't this Constitution need to be abrogated prior to heading off for a constituent assembly? Have the Maoists shown any willingness to lay down their arms before such far-reaching decisions were taken? And if the Maoists don't show any willingness to lay down their arms, why does this nation need to experiment one constitution to another without anything concrete to gain? Or, are the Maoists already on the driving seat with the parties just mimicking their dictates and commandments?

In this atmosphere of chaos, some MPs have not even spared the Supreme Court and its chief justice. They have warned of sacking him too if the court doesn't follow the wishes of the reinstated parliament. How can the legislature of any democratic polity intimidate another important wing of the state such as the judiciary? This is going against the spirit and principle of 'separation of power'. Only in a dictatorship of the proletariat does one single wing of the state dictate over all the other independent edifices. If pandemonium and madness is going to have its say in the name of a "democratic republic" then very soon the people may start demanding a "people's republic" which again is the hidden aim of some of the constituents of the SPA.

On Friday, the government in recommendation of the Rayamajhi Commission arrested five former ministers of the Royal cabinet. The next day it was telecast by Nepal Television that the members of the said Commission have "started discussing the ToR given to them by the government." A Commission that has just begun to discuss its ToR, has gone ahead and already arrested former ministers! Where on earth do we see such abuse of authority? The Asian Forum Human Rights rightly condemned this as "a misuse of the public safety act." One does not now why some ministers have been arrested while others are not. Moreover, among the five ministers arrested, there is one assistant minister for Health and the Foreign Minister who have had nothing to do with giving directions to the security services during the people's movement. What is even more hilarious is that the foreign minister has been accused of spending huge amounts in dinners given to diplomats stationed in Kathmandu. It will not be surprising if the judicial commission set-up to probe into atrocities committed during the people's movement will begin calling ambassadors of various countries based in Kathmandu for having dinners at Shital Niwas.

Therefore, it is increasingly becoming a revenge-taking scheme for the present government ministers who would like to call themselves "democrats." It seems inevitable that in this anti-monarchy mud-slinging, it is the monarchy that will ultimately get all the public sympathy and very soon the people will begin saying "after all it was not so bad during the King's direct rule." Here, one must see the politics of Tamil Nadu where power swifts between Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi precisely because of the sympathy that the leader out of power gets because of the blame-game and arrests conducted by the other while in power.

Knowing this directionless flight of the new government and the muddle that it has succeeded to create in such a remarkable short span of time, the U.S., and India are silent on which course to take. Despite verbally supporting the new government of all its active assistance, India hasn't given anything concrete. There is only tall talk of "huge economic package" and "resuming military assistance" but nothing tangible in material aid.

The U.S. possibly has already sensed a Maoist takeover by default in this whole adventure and is exercising extreme caution.


(Dr. Rajbahak is a pediatrician )

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