EDITORIAL: Furnish replies

It is a serious lapse on the part of the PM not to take prompt action against Baskota involved in the kickback scam

It has been exactly one week since Gokul Prasad Baskota stepped down as minister for communications and information technology on “moral ground’ over a leaked audiotape, in which he is heard bargaining kickbacks worth Rs 700 million or even more with a local agent of a Swiss firm that had proposed to supply a security printing press to Nepal at a cost of Euro 200 million, the lowest amount compared to the ones reportedly bid by French and German firms. Bijaya Prakash Mishra, the local agent of the Swiss company – KBA MotaSys – had even claimed forwarding the audiotape to Prime Minister KP Oli about two months back. The main opposition, the Nepali Congress, has, thus, implicated the PM in the high-profile corruption scandal that cost the job of his trusted lieutenant. The Nepali Congress and others have been demanding that the PM make a clarification about the audiotape and his alleged involvement in the planned purchase deal of the press at G-to-G level. They want to know why the PM did not take any action against his close confidante although he might have been in the know of things months back.

While addressing the House meeting on Tuesday, some of the lawmakers even sought the PM’s resignation, arguing that he had lost “moral ground” to hold the post of the country’s executive head. NC lawmakers demanded that the Speaker issue a ruling to the PM to furnish replies to questions raised in the House. Similarly, a section of the civil society has also urged the ruling NCP to take disciplinary action against Baskota for bargaining the kickback from a foreign firm. But Oli reportedly refused to take any disciplinary action against his loyal lawmaker even though his co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had proposed launching an internal inquiry on Baskota.

In parliamentary democracy, the PM is fully answerable to the parliament that elects him on majority basis. It is, therefore, imperative that the PM address the House and furnish replies to the questions on corruption. The parliament is a sovereign body, where everything from corruption, good governance, rule of law and other issues of national importance is discussed. The main question pertaining right now is: Why did the PM not take any punitive action against the minister even though he might have known about it two months ago? It is a serious lapse on the part of the PM not to take prompt action against the cabinet minister. His oft-quoted “zero tolerance in corruption” will be just an empty vessel making the most noise when he is hell-bent on covering up such an evil act committed by his trusted person. The PM also needs to tell the House about the government’s next plan to purchase the security printing press – through G-to-G model or international bidding process. He must face the House on those issues that have engrossed the nation. As the executive head, he should also cooperate with the anti-graft body in launching a thorough investigation into the kickback scandal that has not only tarnished the image of the government but also put the ruling party on the defensive. If the PM refuses to furnish replies to the House, one must construe that he is trying to protect Baskota from further inquiry by misusing his power.

Drug shortage

The coronavirus outbreak in China has affected not only that country but also all other countries that rely heavily on it for the supply of essential goods and services. It has badly affected sectors ranging from tourism and manufacturing to health and infrastructure development in many countries. Even India is now facing a shortage of life-saving drugs, used mostly in emergency wards and intensive care units, as raw materials from China have come down to a trickle. And any shortage of drugs in India means scarcity in Nepal, given its heavy reliance on India for their supply. Nepal imports life-saving drugs worth Rs 45 billion annually, most of them from India.

Stockists have life-saving drugs to last the country for a month. So the government must start planning what to do thereafter. Nepal has seen such shortage of essential medicines in the past, and what it did was it led to artificial price hikes, with importers taking undue advantage. This should not be allowed to happen. If India cannot supply the essential drugs, perhaps we should switch to other countries for their supply. This will be expensive, but there are many ways to keep prices stable without hurting the consumers.