EDITORIAL: Why so secretive?

Govt seems to be trying to keep information far from the public’s eye by not telling media about Cabinet decisions

A Cabinet meeting held on Sunday evening after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli recuperated from his weeklong illness took a number of decisions, including the appointment of three ambassadors to India, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare Tham Maya Thapa, Nilambar Acharya, a member of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons’ Group and also a former law minister in the interim cabinet of 1990, was appointed ambassador to India, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Uday Raj Pandey as the ambassador to Malaysia and Joint-Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Krishna Dhakal as the ambassador to the UAE. The government also made three appointments to the National Sports Council. These decisions were leaked to the media by Minister Thapa, not by Minister for Information and Communications Gokul Baskota, who is also the government spokesperson. The Cabinet meeting held at PM’s official residence at Baluwatar is also learnt to have made other important decisions.

Tradition has it that it is the government spokesperson who lets the media — government or private — know about the government decisions shortly after the Cabinet meeting. Now, it seems, the government has broken a long-held tradition by keeping Cabinet decisions under wraps “for the time being”, saying the media would gradually know. All the governments formed after the restoration of democracy in 1990 used to make public all the decisions immediately. Now, this government has taken an undemocratic move. “Many issues were discussed in the (Cabinet) meeting. Necessary decisions have also been made. You (media) will know about them in due course of time,” Minister Baskota told mediapersons who were present at Baluwatar to gather information on the Cabinet meeting that concluded late in the night. He said the government would come up with a “different arrangement to make the Cabinet decisions public in details”. But he stopped short of elaborating the new mechanism that is supposedly being worked out.

During the party-less Panchayat-era, all Cabinet decisions used to be kept under the wraps until they were published in the Gazette which was out of reach of the common people. This tradition was broken after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. Constitution has guaranteed the right to information which is largely exercised by the mass media. People come to know about the government decisions only through the mass media and they make their opinions about the government. Keeping the media in the dark will mean the government does not want to let the people informed about what it is doing. What Minister Baskota said on Sunday is a clear violation of the right to information which is sine qua non to democracy. The government has also taken coercive measures to weaken the free media. The government’s recent decisions to sell its ads only to the state-owned media and to raise mediapersons’ salary unilaterally are some cases in point to reckon with. Keeping the Cabinet decisions secret and blocking advertisements to the private media are clear indications that the government is moving towards tightening the noose on the media. Free flow of information only can ensure the government’s legitimacy.

Taken for a ride

Bikers and motorists are being taken for a ride by some fuel stations, which were found using “software” to provide less fuel than what is paid for. An inspection team of the Nepal Bureau of Standard and Metrology (NBSM) on Sunday sealed Banglamukhi Oil Store at Sano Bharyang after it was found to have tampered with the pump calibration by installing “software” to reduce the flow of fuel into the tanks of vehicles. A month ago the NBSM found three fuel stations in Bara deceiving customers.

The NBSM says it is conducting an investigation to find out people involved in developing and installing the “software” that is used to fleece consumers. Earlier also reports of fuel stations cheating customers had surfaced and some dealers were forced to shut shop. But then things went to normal. The problem in most of the cases in Nepal is there hardly are any sustained efforts to make things fall in line. This action against a fuel station is just an example. The authorities must put in place strong monitoring mechanisms which should work round-the-year to ensure that consumers are not cheated.