PM Oli’s six months: A train track to nowhere

  • The government commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but struggles to find its feet

Aug 17, 2018-

When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli assumed office on February 15, many Nepalis were hopeful that the first powerful and stable government in decades would steer the country forward properly.

Prosperity and development were the major agenda when the erstwhile CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) went to the federal and provincial elections by forming an alliance. Now united, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which appealed to the imagination and hopes of the general public, was rewarded with a historic electoral victory.

Six months from the historic day, many observers of Nepali politics are beginning to question whether Oli and his team can deliver on the promises. Some political analysts say the Oli-led government started on a high note, but it is slowly losing its plot as it grapples with multiple controversies and setbacks.

“The government, in its first six-months, should have given a clear and substantive indication through its activities but it failed to do so”, said Lok Raj Baral, a Kathmandu-based political scientist. “It’s too early to judge the government before the year is up, but still, no one has any idea where the government is headed.”

Oli’s initial moves included picking fresh and popular faces in the Cabinet, maintaining balanced relations with Nepal’s immediate neighbours—India and China—and providing a much needed focus on governance. These interventions raised the hope that this government would be different from others in the past.

Members of the NCP told the Post that Oli will take some substantive measures at the end of the year if the government’s performance does not improve. According to a close aide to the prime minister, some non-performing ministers might also be removed in order to fortify the government.

When the Oli government came into power, it did not hesitate to implement changes right off the bat. While forming a new Cabinet, Oli decided to make his office an all-powerful entity by bringing under its purview three government agencies—National Intellig-ence Department, Department of Revenue Investigation, and Department of Money Laundering Investigation.

But six months after a promising start, one of the most powerful governments in recent history has left the public dismayed to such an extent that when the prime minister and his confidantes talk about trains and ships, a large part of the population no longer takes them seriously.

Even amidst the ongoing widespread criticism of the Cabinet, NCP leaders remain confident that the government will deliver and that some of the niggling issues are of minor importance.

On Monday, issuing a 72-page progress report of its five months in office, Oli said that he and his team are working on their stated goals. He added that many of the projects are in the pipeline, have almost been accomplished or are in the process of being implemented.

One of the top achievements listed by the government has to do with ending the public transport cartels. However, that law has yet to be implemented fully. While the government said it was making investigation into the 33 kg gold smuggling case one of its top priorities, the probe has stalled—and no further arrests or development has been made.


Tensions at home

The opposition claims the Oli government unnecessarily flared the issue involving Dr Govinda KC, only to have his demands fulfilled at the end. The forceful lifting of the campaigner for reforms in the country’s health sector during his fast in Jumla was sharply criticised as the government’s increasing leaning towards an authoritarian rule.

The restriction on demonstrations at public places, including Maitighar Mandala; the arrest of Kul Prasad Koirala, the vice-chancellor of Mahendra Sanskrit University from Tribhuvan International Airport; and the home minister’s threat to Dr Bhojraj Adhikari, a physician at Bir Hospital, for refusing to sign fake reports further eroded the government’s credibility.

The government also made the civil society and international NGOs wary when it pushed the controversial National Integrity Policy that envisages far-reaching measures for international and domestic NGOs.

A section of the NCP is also miffed about the budget this year, which they said does not reflect the aspirations of the people. Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, who has come under criticism from lawmakers within his own party, presented a much-disciplined budget earlier this year—but party leaders and cadres were unhappy with the budget, calling it far-removed from the public’s needs.

“If we talk about the economic outlook of the government, it has missed the historic opportunity which has come for the first time after Juddha Shumsher’s reign,” said Swarnim Wagle, former vice-president of the National Planning Commission, referring to the prime minister of the autocratic Rana regime.

“We had expected a big policy departure, an imaginative reform initiated by the government in the past, but we missed them since the government has unprecedented favouritism.”

In recent weeks, haphazard taxation by local and provincial governments has been hounding the Oli government, appealing to him personally to intervene while lawmakers have been publicly expressing their reservations. Some have gone as far as arguing that if the tax issue is not solved immediately, it could derail federalism.

NCP Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha told the Post that the government was doing its best to bring about changes. “We have taken a number of initiatives, and I assure the public that progress will soon be seen.” Shrestha did admit that the government should work extra hard to produce results for those who put them in power.


Foreign matters

Oli visited both India and China while hosting the prime ministers of India and Pakistan during his first six months. Although a number of agreements were signed during these visits, none of them has been implemented. For instance, negotiations with the much hyped Protocol to Transit and Transport Agreement with China are yet to be completed and projects identified under the Belt and Road Initiative yet to be discussed with the Chinese side. One remarkable achievement, however, has been India’s decision to remove its field office from Biratnagar.

“This is the time to implement earnestly whatever agreements have been made during Oli’s visits to India and China,” said Nischal Nath Pandey, director of the Center for South Asian Studies in Kathmandu.

Several diplomatic appointments like ambassadors to India, United Nations in New York, Malaysia, the UAE are yet to be made. The controversy over the government’s failure to nominate Neel Kantha Uprety as the envoy to India—after officials leaked reports that he was considered for the role—has embarrassed the government.

In a statement to the Post, the Prime Minister’s Office said it hasn’t had any serious complaints about the government’s performance.

“The prime minister is confident that his government will meet the aspirations and commitments made to the people,” said Kundan Aryal, the PM’s press adviser.“But it’s going to require some patience before we can see the results of the government’s work.”

Published: 17-08-2018 07:31

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