Oli says govt wants to create civilised society

Kathmandu, February 4

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was late again.

The PM, who does not have a good track record on punctuality, invited editors of national dailies, magazines and online portals for a meeting at his residence today at 2:45 pm. But he entered the meeting hall at 3:48 pm flashing a smile. There was no apology for being late. Instead, the PM, who has a habit of cracking jokes, quipped, “Hope you all know today’s meeting will run till 8:00 pm.”

He then started the meeting in an unconventional manner. “I would like to listen to you first,” he said, allowing journalists to not only ask questions but “deliver a short speech” if they wished. He was cosying up to the press at a time when he appears to be sidelined in his ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) by Cochair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Recently Dahal outwitted Oli, who is also the NCP co-chair, by garnering support in the party to elect Agni Prasad Sapkota as the speaker of the House of Representatives. Lately, the PM, who likes to go on the offensive, has also found himself backed into a corner, as he has been facing difficulties in convincing his ultranationalist party members to endorse the US government-sponsored Millennium Challenge Corporation’s compact programme, under which Nepal is receiving a grant of $500 million to build transmission lines and renovate a section of the crucial East-West Highway.

Journalists asked the PM whether the compact programme would sail through the Parliament as demanded by the US government for its implementation. Questions were also raised about growing corruption cases, under-utilisation of the public capital budget, delayed infrastructure projects and presence of potholes and dust on the roads. But two issues that were raised prominently were the government’s attempt to curtail civil liberties and gag the press.

The PM listened to all these questions for almost one-and-a-half hours with fingers interlaced.

He then spoke for an hour.

“The manner in which you shared your views freely shows we are living in a democratic society,” the PM, clad in dark brown daura suruwal, black topi, black leather shoes and a black trench coat, said, expressing commitment to “uphold press freedom and all civilian rights”. But he topped his views with a caveat, “The press, which has a habit of criticising everyone, should also learn to face criticism, as it sometimes crosses the limit.”

The government, according to the PM, respects the contribution made by people to restore democracy but it wants everyone to “practice freedom responsibly”, as it is trying to create a “civilised society”.

“Look at two ‘developed’ countries in the world, one which focuses solely on development and the other which focuses on development as well as creation of a civilised society, where people bow in front of others when speaking,” PM Oli said, taking a jab at the US.

This controversial statement, however, did not stop the PM from throwing his weight behind the US government’s MCC compact programme. “I was in support of this programme in the past and support it today as well,” he said, adding, “This is a five-year programme without any military component as rumoured. It will be ratified by the Parliament at the earliest.”He didn’t say whether the programme would be endorsed in its current form.

He also talked at length about the initiatives he has taken to “curb corruption” but indirectly defended his party General Secretary Bishnu Paudel, who owns a plot in Baluwatar, where around 114 ropani land belonging to the government was captured by individuals.

“Before I built my house in Balkot, I was also looking for a plot in Baluwatar. Luckily, I did not buy one there. Otherwise I too would have been implicated, as all we look for when purchasing a plot are land ownership certificate and green signal from land revenue office,” the PM said.