Prime minister draws flak for brushing aside crucial issues

Kathmandu, April 7

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli today addressed the nation in the wake of extension of the lockdown till April 15 to fight the spread of COVID-19, but critics termed it a ‘formality that failed to instil hope or answer crucial questions being raised about governance’.

The government is faced by a number of pressing questions related to its efforts to prevent and control the spread of the pandemic, alleged corruption in the procurement of medical equipment from China, assigning the Nepali Army to procure medical supplies, failure to address health workers’ demand for adequate personal protective equipment and how the PM plans to move ahead post-lockdown.

The prime minister, who made his first address to the nation since the imposition of the lockdown, had been criticised for his silence amid allegations against his government, and was expected to address those concerns.

“However, the prime minister just spelt out what the government has been saying all along,” said political analyst Puranjan Acharya.

Oli defended the government’s move to assign the Nepali Army to procure medical supplies that drew severe criticism from all quarters, stating it was a special arrangement put in place for this challenging time.

On the question of corruption allegation in an earlier procurement deal, the prime minister said such allegations and media propaganda were aimed at maligning the government during crisis and were not praiseworthy acts.

He urged the media to play more responsible role of generating optimism among the people and forging national unity to win this battle. He added that the government would not hesitate to take stern action against corruption. “Let’s concentrate on fighting this pandemic that has challenged humankind. Rest we can discuss after normalcy returns,” said Oli.

However, Freedom Forum Chief Tara Nath Dahal said the PM spoke as if he was fulfilling a formality amid criticism over his silence.

“Oli tried to brush corrupt practices of his colleagues under the carpet. He rebuked the media and civil society that raise valid questions,” said Dahal.

Acharya added that Oli seemed to be trying to give clean chit to his Cabinet colleagues facing corruption allegations, rather than instilling hope in the people that his team was able to steer the country out of this crisis.

As health workers across the country complain about shortage of personal protective equipment, Oli said the government had arranged all necessary medical equipment, including the PPE. Oli also reiterated the government’s announcement of perks and insurance facilities for health workers.

However, doctors say although Oli talked about perks and insurance, he did not talk about their personal protection. They said the health workers needed PPE the most.

“Forget about N-95 masks, we are not even getting normal medical masks,” said Dipendra Pandey, president of the Government Doctors Association. “If we get enough PPE, we are ready to work on the frontline with high morale across the country.”

Oli made brief statements on agriculture and economy. He said construction of mega projects was being continued to keep the economy humming, while farmers were doing their jobs.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 08, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.