Two years on, PM has little to boast about

Kathmandu, February 14

It’s time of the year again when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli indulges in a round of self-congratulation over his government’s ‘accomplishments’.

Oli was actually preparing to celebrate the government’s achievements today, a day before completion of his two years in office. He was even given a 2:00pm slot in the Parliament to make an address. But he had to drop the plan after the Parliament Secretariat cancelled all of today’s events to mourn the death of Upper House Nepali Congress lawmaker Durga Prasad Upadhyay, who succumbed to cancer this morning. Oli is scheduled to address the Parliament tomorrow.

The government has been asserting that it has improved law and order, fought the menace of corruption head-on and laid the groundwork for creating a prosperous Nepal in the last two years. But the opposition, many members of the public and even some of the ruling party members do not agree. They say many days in the past two years were filled with needless drama because of the government’s, especially the PM’s, “authoritarian streak”.

“This government has secured popular mandate to fulfil electoral commitments. But its performance has been unsatisfactory like that of previous governments,” political analyst Krishna Khanal said.

The government’s biggest strength is the backing of almost two-thirds of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmakers in the Lower House. But the government has relentlessly misused this strength to impose its will upon democratic institutions.

Look at how the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority exonerated Nabin Paudel, the son of NCP General Secretary Bishnu Paudel, in Lalita Niwas scam, in which around 114 ropanis of government land in Baluwatar was illegally grabbed. Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank, on the other hand, is now firmly under Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada’s thumb, while the National Human Rights Commission will lose its autonomy if the Parliament passes the National Human Rights Commission Bill, which proposes to allow the attorney general to take a final call on proceeding ahead with cases forwarded by the commission.

This government’s modus operandi has been to take many policy decisions, especially those related to legislations, without allowing stakeholders to weigh in. This has landed a number of legislations, including Guthi Bill, Media Council Bill, National Human Rights Commission Bill, and Information Technology Bill, into controversy.

“A pragmatic approach would have been to embrace minimum democratic values and discuss the content of the bill with stakeholders before pushing it to the Parliament rather than holding the discussion after provoking an outrage,” opposition Nepali Congress leader Udaya Shumsher Rana said. “A greater emphasis on consensus not only builds public confidence in the system but saves the government’s time, because legislation drafting process is lengthy and controversies will only consume more time. The time saved can be used to deal with other pressing issues.”

PM Oli, who has been projecting himself as a leader with vision, needs to understand that not everything is well in the country. The economy, for example, is facing severe headwinds because of slowdown in the construction sector, low business confidence and fall in paddy output for the first time in three years. Paddy accounts for a fifth of total agricultural production, which, in turn, accounts for more than a quarter of the gross domestic product. One of the reasons for drop in paddy output is use of faulty Garima seeds. The government has promised compensation to farmers who lost their harvest but no one has received it so far. The situation of sugarcane farmers is no different. Sugarcane farmers need to recover almost Rs 1 billion from sugar mills, which bought their produce. But they have been given only around 15 per cent of that amount despite the government’s assurance to compel sugar mills to clear all dues by January 21.

The government’s indifference towards these issues has surprised as well as annoyed many. But these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. The government has not been able to enforce its decision to compensate medical students who were overcharged by colleges, remove dust and potholes that have made commuters’ lives miserable, and enhance capital spending, which stands at 19 per cent even after over seven months into the fiscal, while none of the national pride projects has yet been completed.

What is even more surprising is the government’s inability to take action against poultry farms that destroyed six million chicks to create artificial shortage of chicken that subsequently pushed up chicken price from Rs 280 per kg to over Rs 400 within a month.

If the government fails to check rising prices, it will not be able to tame inflation, which stood at 6.5 per cent in December, 0.5 per cent above annual target of six per cent.

These problems in governance have prompted PM Oli’s co-chair in NCP, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and many other ruling party members to directly and indirectly criticise the government for not working in the interest of ordinary people.

But whenever the government’s works are criticised, Oli launches into a petulant tirade against his critics.

“If Oli gives continuity to this poor, one-sided communication, people’s confidence in democracy will be eroded. Ultimately, the general public will be the real loser,” said political analyst Hari Sharma.

Grievances galore

• The government is trying to impose its will on democratic institutions

• The government is taking policy decisions without allowing stakeholders to weigh in

• The government is not working in the interest of ordinary people