Nepal | September 22, 2019

Prime minister out of touch with his own administration

‘PM cannot shirk responsibility by saying he was not informed’

Jagdishor Panday

Kathmandu, July 11

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has said his ministers and secretaries are keeping him in the dark about important developments taking place in his administration, raising questions over the modus operandi of the most powerful government in Nepal’s recent history.

Yesterday, the PM blamed three ministers — Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali, Minister of Commerce and Industry Matrika Prasad Yadav and Minister of Agriculture Chakrapani Khanal — for failing to inform him about a letter sent by the Indian Embassy. The letter requested the government to reconsider the decision to impose non-tariff barriers, such as testing of pesticide residue level, on import of fresh vegetables and fruits from India.

“Since I was unaware about this development, I said [last Saturday] that rumours that the Indian government had sent a letter were not true. But I was wrong,” the PM said. Surprisingly, no one revealed the truth to the PM even after he made the incorrect statement. “I came to know about it only on Monday evening after I pursued the matter myself,” he said in an interview aired by state-owned Nepal Television yesterday.

This is not the first time the PM has said he has been kept ignorant of facts.

Just last month, the PM told the National Development Action Committee that former water secretary Gajendra Thakur lied to him about the completion date of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project. And in April, PM Oli told a public programme that domestic sugar mills tricked him into imposing quantitative restriction on sugar imports. He was apparently told that the mills had adequate stock of sugar and restricting imports of cheap foreign sugar would help the industry. “But a day after the imports were curbed, domestic market started reeling under sugar shortage and prices shot up,” the PM said, without stating whether he asked his administration to verify the statement made by the mills before restricting imports.

“The PM simply cannot shirk responsibility by saying he was not informed. But if there is a communication gap in Oli administration as admitted by the PM himself, then this is a serious issue,” said former chief secretary Bimal Koirala. “It is time government agencies enhance their communication skills.”

PM Oli started his job in February 2018 with commitments to improve people’s livelihood, pursue sustainable development, deliver prosperity and ensure good governance. But his administration has been struggling to deliver, drawing criticisms from his own party leaders.

“It looks like the PM is out of touch with his own government. He does not know what is going on,” political analyst Lok Raj Baral said. “It’s a shame that a person like the prime minister is making public statements
without getting proper briefing on issues.”

What is worrying is the prospect of other ministers taking a leaf from PM Oli.

Commerce Minister Matrika Prasad Yadav recently said government secretaries misled him to make pesticide tests mandatory for entry of fresh vegetables and fruits from India and other countries.

“There is very little we can do here because government employees are permanent employees. And this is not the Rana (autocratic) regime, which had the liberty to hang people from a tree if mistakes were committed,” government Spokesperson and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota told mediapersons today during weekly media briefing, adding, “We’ll try to avoid such mistakes in the future.”

 


A version of this article appears in print on July 12, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.


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