Everything to play for

  • Koirala govt could be proactive in agriculture, migrant labour, foreign investment and aid

May 11, 2014-

Much of the Koirala government's work since it was formed has focussed on addressing the outstanding issues of the peace process. Toward that end, there have been efforts to forge agreement on the controversial law on transitional justice and speed up the constitution-drafting process. Granted, not everyone is on board with the transitional justice law and there might still be changes. Granted, some parties, such as the CPN-Maoist, still refuse to participate in the constitution-drafting process. Granted, major disagreements over the constitution still exist, and there are doubts about whether a constitution can be drafted within a year. But the progress in the overall constitution-drafting process needs to be acknowledged.  

Progress on other fronts, however, has been far from satisfactory. It appears that the parties in government still believe that Nepal has to conclude its transition before it can move on to addressing other issues concerning people's livelihoods. There is some merit to the view—distraction from the major issue at hand could have a political cost. But a government in office, no matter what its top priority, cannot afford to ignore its other responsibilities. And this is the most favourable time since the end of the war in 2006 for the government to formulate and implement far-reaching policies. For one, this is the most stable government that has been formed in recent history. It enjoys an almost two-third majority in Parliament. This should give the government considerable leeway. However, the government itself does not seem to realise how much it is capable of. It has been punching far below its weight.

Some of its concerns are understandable. It is not wise or advisable to take decisions on controversial issues that could affect the peace process. For example, it would be imprudent to hold local elections without the cooperation of the UCPN (Maoist) and other opposition parties. But there are many other issues that are relatively uncontroversial and could in fact immediately enjoy broad support.

How about formulating a wide-ranging policy on migrant labour? Current measures are at best ad hoc in nature; there is a need for a policy that strengthens protections for migrant labourers in the Gulf and East Asia. How about beginning with steps to strengthen the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies in important countries? How about commissioning a study about the state of agriculture in the country? It has been a long time since there was a proper agricultural policy and senior ministers have come out vocally to advocate for its commercialisation and mechanisation. If anything, government officials give the impression that they do not even seem to be aware of the precise emphasis they would like to accord to agriculture in Nepal's economy. How about also planning seriously for priority areas where foreign investment and aid should be channeled and how? A foreign aid policy is on the anvil but the media seems to be the only sector discussing it. These are all difficult tasks for a 'transition' government. But Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and his Cabinet colleagues need to need to take a more proactive approach to governance, not a back seat.

Published: 12-05-2014 08:48

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