Nepal: Weak Prime Minister Of Strong Government
Nepal: Weak Prime Minister Of Strong
Government By Siddhi B Ranjitkar
September 3, 2014
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has many things to do as a prime minister but he has been very slow. He is the prime minister of a two-thirds majority coalition government. His major task is to expedite the crafting of a new constitution. In fact, he was elected to complete the crafting of a new constitution, to complete the peace process, and then to put the country on the track of Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. He also has to facilitate the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission, and a commission on enforced disappearance. The victims of the enforced disappearance and their families needed to get justice a long time ago; so, the prime minister needed to take this issue immediately as part of the constitution crafting. He has other businesses such as filling out the vacant positions in the constituent assembly (CA), helping the victims of the natural disaster, and bringing the CPN-Maoist in a fold of the mainstream politics: the most challenging one. He has to manage the opposition blocking the parliament demanding to enforce the four-point deal the four parties such as NC, CPN-UML, UCPN-Maoist, and the Madhesi parties had reached. He also needed to enforce the agreement he had reached with his coalition partner CPN-UML.
Apparently, the Committee on Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus has been working smoothly. It has resolved many issues in dispute. It has the deadline ofSeptember 6, 2014 for completing everything concerning the crafting of a new constitution. Chairman of this committee Dr Baburam Bhattarai has said that the major contentious issues such as a number of provinces, delineation of provinces, a governance system, judicial and electoral models have not be done with, yet.
Most probably, the ruling partners such as NC and CPN-UML have been thinking that they could take these issues to the CA, and resolve those issues by the two-thirds majority votes. Some leaders of these parties have publicly said that they have the two-thirds majority in the CA; so, they would resolve the contentious issues by votes in the CA. It was true and it might be the only one solution but it could provoke the opposition into launching a protest. This might be even an excuse to the ethnic and Madhesi Nepalis to demand separate provinces, and they would fight for that. This means Nepal is again heading to the political turmoil.
UCPN-Maoist, the Madhesi political parties and some ethnic parties have already declared that the constitution promulgated by the two-thirds majority votes in the CA would unacceptable to them. They said that a new constitution should be a consensus document rather than forced by the two-thirds majority. Another political party that did not believe in the CA crafting a new constitution was CPN-Maoist: the breakaway party of UCPN-Maoist; so, it did not participate in the elections to a new CA held in November 2013. Its leader Mohan Vaidhya had clearly said that a new constitution should be acceptable to all the people. His party wouldn’t accept the constitution unacceptable to all the people. So, Prime Minister Koirala needed not only to work on satisfying the opposition in the parliament but also he needed to make a new constitution acceptable to the CPN-Maoist. It wanted to have an all-party round table conference to craft a new constitution. The prime minister has not much time for talking to all the political leaders and convincing them of completing a new constitution within a year the time limit he himself had set for. Outsiders did not see that Prime Minister had been doing any things seriously to build a consensus on all the disputed matters concerning a new constitution.
Currently, the opposition parties such as UCPN-Maoist, and Madhesi parties have been blocking the businesses of the parliament demanding to set up a high level political committee (HLPC) comprising major political parties such as NC, CPN-UML, UCPN-Maoist and the Madhesi political parties following the deal reached on December 24, 2013. Why the prime minister signed off the deal if he were not to enforce it but the Nepalese media had been blaming the CPN-UML for not setting it up, as the CPN-UML was not for including the Madhesis on the HLPC. Whether any political party liked it or not if the deal had been done it should be enforced. That is the rule of law. CPN-UML itself had been complaining that the NC was not for enforcing the seven-point deal it had reached with the NC before forming a current coalition government. Would this kind of working style of the political parties lead Nepal to a political stability?
UCPN-Maoist and Madhesis have other concerns, too. They are concerned with the budgetary allocation, slow and inadequate distribution of relief materials to the landslide victims, unfair approach to the nomination of 26 members of the Constituent Assembly and the ongoing sit-in by truck operators in Kathmandu. These were what Chairman of UCPN-Maoist Prachanda told in the parliament on August 29, 2014 before blocking the House proceedings. The opposition lawmakers had continued to block the House. Prime Minister Koirala had urged the opposition lawmakers not to do so. He needed to understand that a simple request for letting the House running its business smoothly would certainly not work. For this, Prime Minister Koirala needed to talk to them and sort out the problems.
Political instability has been in the horizon as the deadline for completing the crafting of a new constitution close in. To avoid a political chaos and to survive, the two Maoist parties such as UCPN-Maoist and CPN-Maoist needed to go together. The only way of survival of the UCPN-Maoist was to launch a protest against the NC and CPN-UML that have been annulling the achievements of the people’s movements, and to put back the things it had slipped out of its hands while going along with the NC and CPN-UML. It had even reached the stage of saying it was not for the identity-based federalism. So, it was not surprise it lost the CA elections. It needed to walk on the right path if it were to survive in the political arena. CPN-Maoist also would not be able to survive going back to the path of the revolution. Its only way to survive might be going along with the UCPN-Maoist. They should know that ‘survival of fittest’ is applicable in the politics, too. Both these parties needed to go together with the Madhesi and ethnic political parties to institutionalize the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
Nepalis have been very generous to put money on the relief fund Prime Minister Koirala set up for providing relief materials to and rehabilitation of the victims of the natural disaster. The fund has already reached more than Rs 263 millions. The prime minister could use it immediately for providing homeless people with shelter and foods, as the landslides had buried their houses with their belongings. Some people had been living with the perpetual fear of landslides that might bury their homes and them, too. However, the prime minister had been sitting on the fund, and not providing them with necessary relief materials and rehabilitation of the displaced people.
The huge landslide in the Sindhupalchok district in July had blocked the Sunkoshi River causing a dam of three kilometers long, 300 meters wide and 90 meters deep, and the landslide had buried a long stretch of the highway linking the Tatopani at the Tibetan border with Kathmandu. Hundreds of loaded trucks had been stranded on the both sides of the border. However, the prime minister had been sitting as if nothing had happened. So, the concerned people themselves had taken initiative and took bulldozers and other equipment to open at least a track to run the stranded trucks. Prime Minster Koirala could have used some of Rs 263 millions accumulated for the relief of the natural disaster to immediately rebuild the damage portion of the highway. For the reason known to the prime minister only, he had not done so, yet.
Prime Minister Koirala sent his Minister for Commerce and Supplies Sunil Bahadur Thapa to inspect the landslide areas and the distribution of the relief materials in the mid western region. Minister Sunil Thapa is the son of former Prime Minster Surya Bahadur Thapa known for his misdeeds and corruption in the previous regimes. He had been a prime minister in the Panchayat regime and then in the parliamentary regime, too. He allowed cutting millions of green trees to fund the referendum on choosing one between the improved Panchayat system and the multi-party system in 1981. Considering the family background of Minister Sunil Thapa, it was hard for the logical-thinking people to believe that Minister Thapa would really do something good for the victims of the natural disaster. Father Thapa was behind the making of son Thapa a minister in the current coalition government.
Minister Thapa had apparently gone to the mid western Nepal to inspect the few hundred thousands rupees distributed to the victims of the natural disaster. The government had sent some money to the district natural disaster relief committee to distribute it to the sufferers. We did not know whether the local relief committee had done the job properly or not.
The history of the distribution of relief materials in Nepal had been that most of the money generously contributed to the relief fund did not reach the target people. In the mid 1980s when I was working for the Swiss Association for Technical Assistance (SATA), upon the request of the then His Majesty’s Government of Nepal for providing food grains to the victims of natural disaster, the Swiss Government purchased rice in Thailand and made it available through SATA to His Majesty’s Government of Nepal. Then, the SATA officials found out that the rice intended for the victims of the natural disaster had been selling in Kathmandu.
The SATA director also my boss sent me to the Home Ministry to find out what had happened to the rice; why they were selling the rice in Kathmandu; it was intended for the victims of the natural disaster. I went to the Home Ministry that in turn sent me to the State-run Nepal Food Corporation (NFC). The NFC official bluntly told me that they had been selling the rice in Kathmandu as it was too good for the people in the remote areas; NFC would buy corn from the money it would receive selling the Thai rice. Then, NFC would provide the corn to the people in the remote areas. It sounded good, as NFC could buy more corn selling the high price rice in comparison to corn. However, we were not sure that did happen at that time. NFC had been one of the State agencies for the State employees to make money.
I don’t think that the current government could do otherwise, as the system of administration remained intact, only the government had change even the regime had changed but the system did not. That gave room for doubt whether the current government would do anything better in managing the distribution of relief materials to the target people. The few hundred thousands rupees distributed out of millions of rupees deposited in the relief fund was the clear indication that the current government might not do anything better than the previous governments did in the past.
Prime Minister Koirala had not been tired of repeatedly saying that he would not allow the misuse of the money intended for the flood victims. He must have sensed that even the few hundred thousands of rupees had not been reaching the target people. So, he must have been saying that the money had been misused before anybody could find it out, and put it to the public. He knew that such fund had been misused in the past.
On August 29, 2014, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala directed the officials of the Public Procurement Monitoring Office (PPMO) to make the public procurement process (PPP) transparent at all governmental agencies and offices. He also said to them that it should be free of any illegal transactions, irregularities, embezzlement and anomalies. He ordered them to take immediate actions against such happenings.
Prime Minster Koirala certainly pretended not to know the Public Procurement Act itself was for the money making for the people in the high offices such as prime minister, ministers, departmental heads and so on. If the prime minister did not really know that the Public Procurement Act was for money making then it was to inform him that the Act allowed the alterations in the huge construction contracts. Those alterations were known as “variation orders”. Any contractors could ask for a “variation order” that would give the contractor additional time and money. These were the reasons why most of the major construction projects had been cost overrun and time overrun. They took so many more years and they cost so many more money. Why should any contractor complete the job when s/he could get additional money and time in conjunction with the decision makers? Who would not understand that the decision makers did not make money out of such “variation orders”?
Prime Minister Koirala could not keep even his party colleagues satisfied. After nine month of the elections to the CA-cum parliament held on November 19, 2013, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala nominated 17 party men to the lawmakers out of the 26 slots available to political parties. NC and CPN-UML each nominated eight. RPP-Nepal appointed one. Party members of his NC party and of the CPN-UML have been vocal against the nominations made. His nomination of eight party officials to the 26 vacant slots in the parliament intended for the people of reputation provoked his colleagues into calling his action as undemocratic. As the president of a democratic party and the prime minister, he needed to call the meeting of the central working committee of his party to make decision on the nominations but he did not do so, his colleagues had been saying publicly.
The truth was in the past might be even now that the decision on appointing to the vacant lawmaker positions was a money making business. The concerned decision maker on this matter received millions of rupees. Then, why should Prime Minister Koirala share such a decision-making process with the central working committee of his party? Any money coming to him or his party was good for future use. This was not the case with the NC only; the CPN-UML also had the same thing happening. Some CPN-UML leaders were not happy with the nominations made to the number of slots it received for the appointments to 26 vacant slots in the CA.
Another most important task the prime minister kept pending was the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission, and a commission on enforced disappearances made during the people’s war. Bringing perpetrators of violence to justice, and giving justice to the victims were the two most important things these two commissions were supposed to do. Victims of violence and their families had been demanding to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice but the political parties and the government had not worked smartly to this end.
Some people think that Prime minister Sushil Koirala is as thick as a brick but he is smarter than any of his predecessors. He has been taking time to do any business making sure that he will not fall from the tight rope he has been on. He pretends to be a saint but his actions have been just the opposite. His strategy of doing businesses might be beneficial to him in a short term but in a long term it might prove to be a disastrous. He might soon need to face the unprecedented challenges from the opposition if he were to keep going on as it has been.