A full plate

  • The prime minister must understand that he can’t be in charge of everything

Nov 14, 2018-

Backed by a two-third majority government, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has emerged as one of the most powerful leaders over time. From initiating a ‘paperless parliament’ to keeping ministers on a tight leash, he has continually posed challenges to the preceding governmental order. Marking a serious departure from the past, when the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) only took updates and monitored issues, he has assigned the PMO sweeping powers. This time around, the PMO not only receives information and coordinates political, economic, social, administrative, diplomatic and national security matters, but also intervenes whenever necessary—even if that means having to disrupt established bureaucratic processes. While the National Investigation Department (NID), the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation (DMLI), which were under various ministries earlier, have already been brought under the purview of the PMO, it is also planning to introduce a separate law with stringent measures to oversee larger infrastructure projects.

Given the perennial delays that seem to plague the execution of such large scale infrastructure projects, bringing national pride projects under the purview of the PMO could be a good decision.The PM’s direct oversight, compounded by stricter provisions in the proposed law that seek to hold contractors accountable and share the authority over internal decisions—such as changing the project bidding processes and hiring project chiefs through competition—could provide national pride projects the much needed head start. But on the flipside, the government must also tread cautiously; by bringing the aforementioned substantial departments under the purview of the PMO, it is simultaneously trying to create a strong power center while micromanaging the concerned line ministries. 

So far, the government has identified 21 national pride projects comprising four irrigation projects, three hydropower projects, three international airports, six road projects, an electric railway project, a drinking water project, and an environmental conservation project. But due to continuous delays in the completion process, costs associated with the initiatives have been spiraling up. For example, the cost of the Melamchi project soared to Rs35.54 billion from the initially estimated cost of Rs17 billion, according to the National Planning Commission. This lackadaisical approach by all concerned line ministries and the bureaucracy has led to the state coffers bleeding dry and has added to the misery of the people.

That said, once the larger infrastructural projects are brought under the ambit of the PMO, it should expedite the process and deliver expected results. Otherwise, the decision will be futile. At the same time, the PM’s proclivity for relentless control could potentially run the risk of internal inefficiency and dysfunction. The PM’s perceived invincibility will come crashing once he realises that he can’t be in charge of everything. Instead of micro-managing, the PM should concentrate on appointing competent ministers and give them the space to do their work, sparing them of suffocation from close monitoring and interference.

Published: 14-11-2018 07:37

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