EDITORIAL: A CM’s US sojourn

While clarification must be sought from CM Rai for his US visit, PM Oli owes the people an explanation about the goings-on

Province 1 Chief Minister Sherdhan Rai’s visit to the United States has landed in controversy, for he seems to have flown to America without seeking permission from the federal government. Earlier, Rai had said that he was flying to Bangkok, Thailand, on November 2 for treatment. But on November 6, he landed in the US. His unsolicited visit to the US came to light after a Nepali journalist based in New York was allegedly beaten by a CM Rai loyalist “for exposing the visit as not sanctioned by the central government”. As per an official at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, the Cabinet had approved CM Rai’s visit to Thailand for treatment and that there was no further information regarding his visit to the US. Sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister KP Oli’s secretariat said they did not know whether CM Rai’s US visit was approved.

Not long ago the federal government had rejected Province 2 Chief Minister Lalbabu Raut’s request to visit the US. In May, Raut had sought permission from the federal government to fly to the US to participate in the general convention of the Madhesi Association in America only to be denied. But CM Raut seems to be enjoying his “closeness” to PM Oli. These two instances clearly show how favouritism drives Nepal’s polity. It must be noted that Province 2 is the only province where PM Oli’s Nepal Communist Party does not have its government. While a Cabinet minister “believes” PM Oli “might have given his consent” to CM Rai for the US visit, PM Oli’s chief Adviser Bishnu Rimal says CM Rai had informed the PMO about his “private visit”. These are quite casual remarks, to say the least.

There is no policy as such today to govern foreign visits of provincial chief ministers and ministers. As per the existing interimarrangement, provincial chief ministers and ministers must get permission from the federal government if they want to embark on foreign visits. Our political leaders talk about rule of law ad nauseum, but they never fail to make mockery of the system. That CM Raut “might have sought consent” or “it is a private visit” or PM Oli “must have been informed” are rather weak statements. If Rai had sought consent or PM Oli had sanctioned his visit, both cannot go undocumented. While CM Raut must come clean about his visit to the US, PM Oli also must inform the members of the general public whether he had given his consent, and if he had why it was not made public. Not to forget, a person close to CM Rai has thrashed a journalist in the US, an offence which could kick off further controversy. Those in power and position should exhibit more responsibility and lead by example. PM Oli must seek clarification from CM Rai. He also owes the people an explanation. Federalism is a new practice in Nepal and our political leaders might fumble and falter while implementing it. While the federal government must ensure that there is equal treatment to provinces and provincial chief ministers, it must take the lead in implementation of federalism. For federalism to flourish, transparency and accountability on the part of people in power will be the key.

Restore the glory 

It has been exactly six years since the Bagmati Clean-up Campaign was launched to clear garbage from the holy Bagmati River which had become an open drainage due to carelessness on the part of all municipalities and citizens. It has now been restored, to some extent, to a level of calling it a river at its major stretches, mainly in the Valley’s core areas from Guheshwori to Sundarighat. However, much needs to be done to restore its past glory. Almost all households in the municipalities in the Valley directly empty their solid and liquid waste into the Bagmati River and its tributaries.

The Bagmati and other rivers cannot be fully cleaned up unless all municipalities and the federal government come up with a long-term plan for developing a drainage system. The plan of developing the drainage system along the rivers in the Valley and a treatment plant at Sundarighat has been in limbo for years. This project must get top priority to keep all rivers free from garbage and pollution. A weekly public clean-up campaign may be a positive initiative. But it’s not enough. A long-term solution is a must to restore the lost glory of the Bagmati civilisation.