Political instability exists despite stable government

The main opposition Nepali Congress is busy preparing for the Mahasamiti meeting slated for December 14 to 18 to amend its statute and adopt a new political document. The statute drafting committee has made public a draft statute whose provisions are being opposed by a section of Nepali Congress leaders. On the other hand, the faction-riddled NC has allegedly not been able to play an effective role as opposition amid a series of criminal incidents and corruption scandals. Roshan S Nepal of The Himalayan Times talked to NC leader Shekhar Koirala on the internal dispute within the party and its role as an opposition party. Excerpts:

What is the Nepali Congress presently doing?

We are preparing for the Mahasamiti meeting scheduled to be held from December 14 to 18. The two most important agendas of the meet are statute amendment and political document. The political document will define our relations with other political parties and international actors. A former American ambassador told a group of senior journalists that Nepal was shrinking in terms of diplomacy and that they would like to see an expanding Nepal on the diplomatic front. This is a serious remark. So these issues will also be discussed in the Mahasamiti.

How will the amended statute be different from the existing one?

Although it’s late, we are restructuring the party’s organisation in line with the country’s federal structure. We are holding discussions on the powers to be delegated to our party’s lower bodies — district and provincial committees, among others. We are yet to get a uniform voice on the issue.

Some NC leaders allege that the establishment faction is trying to make the party president more powerful by vesting him with power to nominate office bearers. What’s your take?

The president’s post is in itself strong. Whoever is elected president is accepted nationally and internationally. There’s groupism in the NC, and we have to accept that. But the president’s responsibility is to bring all the groups to the same page. I do not think our president has been able to do so. Promoting groupism on the pretext of making the president stronger is dangerous.

The Mahasamiti meet has been postponed time and again. How optimistic are you about the prospects of a timely Mahasamiti and general convention?

There is scepticism. I have told the president that if we postpone the Mahasamiti and general convention by even one day, people will lose faith in the NC. There are differences, but we need to sit and discuss to end this dialogue-less situation. The general convention should be held by the second week of March, 2020, as per the statute provision. The statute has provisioned that the general convention can be postponed by up to one year. The country’s constitution has provisioned another six-month extension. My opinion is that the general convention should be held in time at any cost if we want to make the party vibrant and bring back its lost glory.

The communists have consolidated in the hills and regional parties are getting stronger in southern plains. How will the NC revive?

I beg to differ with the argument that we lost due to the alliance between the then CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist Centre. The NC lost because of weak party organisation.

We have adopted federalism, and there are established regional parties in the country now. So my view is, the NC should support like-minded regional parties in the provinces and regional parties should support the NC at the national level.

Recently, three members of the Koirala family — you, Shashank and Sujata — were seen donning a single garland at an event in Biratnagar. Are you trying to give some message?

We are just trying to instil hope among NC workers and supporters and the Nepali people that we were and are one when it comes to interest of the nation and the NC. We want all of us together, including Paudel, Deuba and others.

Does it also mean that one among the three Koiralas is vying for the top party post in the next general convention?

I do not believe in legacy. Legacy might work up to some extent, but it is not everything. Whoever works hard and is liked by the workers moves ahead. Seniority is being made a huge issue in the NC. This also prompted us to stand on the same podium. No one should be scared or sceptical about it.

How do you evaluate the performance of this government?

It’s too early to evaluate the government’s performance. But it is said ‘morning shows the day’. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli himself says no one listens to him, neither judiciary nor bureaucracy nor party leaders. A prime minister cannot say so.

PM Oli has breached parliamentary democratic norms by bringing everything under him — Department of anti-Money Laundering, Department of Revenue Investigation and National Investigation Department, among others. So much so that there are reports that projects costing more than Rs 25 billion are being brought under the prime minister. Vesting one person with such powers is dangerous.

I believe a country becomes a failing state if four institutions — judiciary, financial institutions, media and army — are weakened. Judiciary has become helpless. As far as financial institutions are concerned, I have been hearing about differences between the finance minister and central bank governor. The media’s role has shrunk like never before. I am worried whether this government is trying to drag the army into controversy. For instance, it was the government that decided that the Nepali Army would take part in the BIMSTEC drill in India.

The prime minister committed to the Parliament to send the Nepali Army to the drill. But the plan was cancelled just after two days. I do not know whether it is diplomatic failure or whatever, but the Nepali Army landed in controversy.

I am also worried about federalism because if federalism fails, the constitution fails.

The prime minister is delivering speeches in provinces against the spirit of the constitution. The Natural Resources and Fiscal

Commission should have been formed by now. Failure to do so has resulted in the so called ‘tax terror’.

Police officials and chief district officers are not accountable to the provincial home minister, but the federal home minister. Adjustment of civil servants has not been done. They draft laws at the last moment, which again leads to controversies. So I say the government is stable, but there’s political instability.

On the foreign policy front, this government came with a nationalist slogan. If you ask communist leaders, they say our relations with India have improved. But I say it’s improving. Let’s take the Eminent Persons Group on Nepal-India Relations.

They are saying the Indian prime minister has not been able to take out time to receive the joint report. But media reports suggest otherwise.

As for relations with China, Chinese officials are frequently visiting Nepal and dialogues are taking place. There’s the Belt and Road initiative. I won’t say BRI is wrong, but the government has failed to come up with a convincing argument showing how the BRI can be beneficial to the country and the people.Railways and waterways are not bad ideas, but at what cost?

I have already said in the beginning about a former US ambassador’s remark, which sums it all. As far as the economy is concerned, it is in bad shape.

Trade deficit is on the rise. The government recently reduced the limit of US dollars a person could carry while travelling abroad to $1,500 from $2,500. This also shows that our economic situation is not good. The state has completely failed when it comes to regulation and monitoring.

If we fail to properly regulate, everything will go to the capitalists, resulting in cartels and syndicates. Corruption also begins from there.

Against this backdrop, how can the NC instil hope among people who believe in democratic norms?

I have said the NC general convention is very important. Whoever leads the party will caution the government and the communists. And then the people will be hopeful.

The general public and the voters are not happy with this government. The people just want four things — good governance, transparency, right to information, and an end to impunity. The Cabinet’s decision is made public only after a week, after all the decisions are implemented.

As far as impunity is concerned, incidents of rape and murder are on the rise. In the recent Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder case, the prime minister makes an irresponsible statement that the investigation might take 12 years. The investigation into gold smuggling has reached nowhere.

Corruption is on the rise. In Nepal Airlines Corporation wide-body aircraft row, the tourism and civil aviation minister says he’s not even seen the procurement documents.

As far as Budhi Gandaki hydropower project is concerned, who has been awarded the contract is not important, but the way the contract was awarded was wrong.

Market prices have skyrocketed. Farmers have not got sugarcane dues for two years, but sugar price is increasing.

You’ve said the country is grappling with lawlessness and corruption. But it is said the NC has failed to play an effective role as opposition party. Why?

The NC should have opposed the government’s policies and programmes, but it supported. I am not for breaking chairs and tables, but we have to realise we made a mistake. The NC has been losing moral authority. We have also failed to play an effective role outside the Parliament. For example, the Nepal Women’s Association should have aggressively taken up the NirmalaPanta case. It did, but not effectively. This is because of the leadership’s weakness.