Prime minister digs bigger hole for himself

Kathmandu, January 6

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s attempt to justify his claim that the government was taking positive initiatives to create a prosperous Nepal failed to convince the opposition, creating a ruckus in the Parliament that led to postponement of the lower house meeting until Wednesday.

Oli addressed the Parliament today for the first time since the start of the winter session on December 26. His hour-long speech basically relayed the message that the country was moving towards a higher growth trajectory, corruption was under control, law and order situation was improving and lawmakers were not “thugs”.

But the Nepali Congress was not satisfied with what the PM said and sought clarifications. The first NC lawmakers to seek permission to speak were Dilendra Prasad Badu and Minendra Rijal. However, Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara did not allow them to speak after Oli hinted that he did not want to take questions from opposition lawmakers.

This prompted other NC lawmakers to stand up and protest. Finally, Mahara said only a few, including Rijal, could ask questions. But Rijal shouted saying, “The speaker cannot insult lawmakers by preventing them from asking questions to the PM on issues of public importance.”

Others to oppose the speaker’s move were Nepal Workers and Peasants Party lawmaker Prem Suwal and Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal lawmaker Sarita Giri. But Mahara remained adamant and did not allow everyone to ask questions, stating no lawmaker could speak without his green signal. But lawmakers who opposed his move said the regulation did not allow the speaker to act as a “dictator”.

The PM would not have invited this problem had he not addressed the Parliament, according to a number of lawmakers from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), who were of the view that today’s speech was “ill-timed”. “He should have spoken after his administration completed its first year in office.”

The PM spent the initial part of his speech painting a rosy picture of the economy. The statement came barely nine months after Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada introduced a white paper stating the economy was in tatters. It also came at a time when three leading umbrella bodies of the private sector had formed an alliance to pressure the government to create favourable investment climate after Finance Minister Khatiwada and Industry Minister Matrika Prasad Yadav expressed indifference to problems faced by the business community.

The PM also riled many by not uttering a word about the over-four-billion-rupee scam surrounding the purchase of two wide-body aircraft by Nepal Airlines Corporation, which is emerging as one of the biggest corruption cases in Nepal. Instead, he said his government was making attempts to restore good governance and end corruption.

He also offended many by not appraising the lower House of the controversial decision to swear in alleged Tikapur carnage conspirator and elected lawmaker Resham Chaudhary of Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal. Chaudhary, who is facing murder charges, was brought from judicial custody to be sworn in.

What was also unwarranted today, according to many, was the PM’s defence of lawmakers who were found unlawfully collecting additional fuel allowance and misusing salaries allocated to personal assistants.

He also sturdily defended President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, who is being seen as a profligate head of state, as her office has bought an expensive helicopter and vehicles. “The government takes decisions on behalf of the president. So, it is worthless to blame the president. Haven’t we understood that attack on the president is an attack on democracy?” PM Oli asked.

All this comes at a time when his government is facing criticism for not being able to track down perpetrators who raped and murdered 13-year-old Nirmala Panta around six months ago.

Because of all these controversies his administration has suffered a setback even before it completes one year on February 15.

“The thumping of desks by NCP lawmakers was muted today, which indicated Oli’s performance had deteriorated,” said NC lawmaker and former health minister Gagan Thapa.

What went wrong with his address

  • PM refused to take questions from the opposition after his address
  • Tried to paint a rosy picture of the economy when the finance minister had issued a white paper nine months ago, stating that the economy was in tatters
  • Didn’t clarify decision to let Chaudhary swear in as lawmaker
  • Failed to utter a word about the over-four-billion-rupee scam surrounding the purchase of two wide-body aircraft by NAC
  • Lawmakers from even his own party think his speech was ill-timed