‘Nepal has an outdated bureaucracy’

People had pinned a lot of hope in the government led by KP Sharma Oli as it was one of the strongest in Nepal’s modern history. Yet it has not been able to deliver, prompting even ruling party members to criticise the government. Rewati Sapkota of The Himalayan Times met  former prime minister Baburam Bhattrai, a former Maoist leader and now the coordinator of Naya Shakti Party-Nepal, a relatively new political party, to discuss where the government went wrong and what should be done to rectify the mistakes. Excerpts:

The political document endorsed by your party has warned of the return of regressive forces in Nepali politics, as the government has failed to deliver. What kind of regressive forces are you talking about?

We are deeply concerned that this government, which commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament, has utterly failed to deliver in every front, be it political, economic, social, cultural, law and order, or foreign policy. This government has bent under its own weight because of internal party wrangling and problems in the delivery of public goods and services. If this leftist government fails to resolve problems soon, ultra-right regressive forces will return to the political scene. Just see what has happened in Brazil. The country was under the rule of left-leaning workers’ party for one-and-a-half decades. Since the party could not deliver, an ultra-right party has just won the elections.

What should the government do?

The government should ensure good governance and curb corruption. Everybody knows how middlemen are making hay from big construction projects. Instead of punishing these acts, political leaders are hobnobbing with corrupt people. It has also failed to maintain law and order in the country. More than 1,500 rape cases have been reported in the last seven to eight months. What is even more embarrassing is that the government has not been able to nab those who raped and killed 13-year-old Nirmala Panta even after 100 days. It is sad to know that police officials were involved in destroying evidences in Nirmala’s case. This shows the government’s ineffectiveness. The government has also failed to mobilise investment to kick-start new projects. It has also failed to follow up on agreements signed during PM’s visit to India and China, and has not initiated the process of amending the constitution to address the demands of Madhesis, Tharus, women and Dalits. So, the government has not done what it could have done. The excuses given by the government so far are the presence of weak bureaucracy and lack of appropriate laws, which is a pity.

There has always been a tussle between political leadership and bureaucracy. Government ministers are now saying they have failed to deliver because of incompetent bureaucracy. What do you say?

Bureaucracy is just a means to implement the government’s plans and programmes. It is up to the ruling party members in the government to mould bureaucracy. Having said this, I must agree that Nepal’s bureaucracy is outdated. The hierarchical set up is not going to deliver results in the 21 century. I had recently visited the United States, where the bureaucracy is merit-based and result-oriented and replaces people if they fail to perform. So, Nepal’s bureaucracy needs an overhaul and the incumbent government should take the initiative to do this.

Your party’s political document says the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and its members are intent on pushing federalism to the point of failure. Could you please elaborate?

One of the reasons for the shift from unitary to federal system of government was to strengthen democracy at all levels. But the government, in the last one year, has failed to satisfy the demands of provincial and local governments. It has failed to introduce required legislation on time and failed to set the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission into motion. Even the Inter-provincial Council meeting has not taken place so far. This goes against the spirit of federalism. That’s why we have started harbouring doubts about the institutionalisation of federalism in Nepal. Previously, there were also calls for making amendments to the constitution to re-demarcate provinces and implementing recommendations laid by the State Restructuring Commission formed by the first Constituent Assembly. But the government has failed to make changes to the constitution, generating suspicion that it is not interested in institutionalising federalism in Nepal.

The meeting of Inter-provincial Council has not been convened so far. This is because of conflict between the federal and provincial governments. How do you see this?

Federalism cannot be properly implemented without holding timely Inter-provincial Council meetings and formation of the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission. We know many of the laws which are required for the proper implementation of federalism have not been passed. But wasn’t it the government’s duty to prepare those laws and present them in the Parliament? This shows the government’s apathy in institutionalising federalism.

But shouldn’t the opposition also play a proactive role to make the government accountable and responsible?

The main opposition Nepali Congress has been rendered ineffective. It was once considered the beacon of democracy. But the current leadership has lost steam and the party is turning into a degenerating force. In the absence of Nepali Congress, parties like Naya Shakti and individuals are raising genuine questions in the Parliament.

What do you think of Madhes-based parties?

Madhes-based parties have betrayed their own electorates. Earlier, they said they would join the government only after the constitution was amended as per the demands of Madhesi people. But one of the Madhesi parties led by Upendra Yadav has already joined the government and the other has lent support to the government.

Do you think alternative political forces like Naya Shakti party can survive in the long run?

Nepal needs alternative political parties because both Nepali Congress and Nepal Communist Party (NCP) have lost steam and revolutionary fervour. Both the parties are trapped in the quagmire of crony capitalism and corruption. That’s why people are demanding a progressive and socialist-oriented alternative party that can promote good governance and participatory and inclusive democracy to spur rapid economic development.

So how does your party’s ideology dovetail with people’s aspirations? And what is your party’s ideology?

We do not have to confine ourselves to certain ideologies as during the Cold War. In the 21st century, neither neoliberal policies of the far-right nor communist policies of far-left can generate productive results for societies. We have to design a new political ideology, which can guarantee individual freedom and enable both the state and private sector to take part in economic activities. With regards to democracy, we have to develop a model that can assimilate all sections of society, including backward and marginalised communities. So, we must go beyond the traditional parliamentary democracy and promote participatory and inclusive democracy. That kind of participatory and inclusive democracy will have traits of socialism but will not allow the state to totally control political, economic and social affairs.

Is it possible to adopt such a political system because Nepal is located between the world’s largest democracy, India, and the world’s biggest communist nation, China?

That is why we need a new system. The neoliberal policies embraced by India and communistic state-control system of China are outdated. If we embrace one of these systems, we can never prosper. So, we have to create a new system that suits Nepal. I think the presidential system is better than the parliamentary democratic system to ensure political stability.