Shades of single-party rule

  • The Prime Minister’s Office seeks to keep a firm grip on the entire state machinery.
- KUSHAL POKHAREL

May 2, 2019-

Ever since KP Sharma Oli became the prime minister of Nepal for the second time, various controversies have surfaced in Nepali politics. While the major source of disputes has been the prime minister himself most of the time, some defining characteristics of his leadership have emerged in the past one year. First, there seems to be an innate desire, on the part of the prime minister, to engage in blame games, downplaying the dignity of the post of the nation’s chief executive. Ranging from making harsh comments against his critics to issuing a series of public statements against the opposition, the prime minister is enjoying indulging in seemingly trivial matters.

Second, tall promises of national prosperity—far removed from ground realities—are being reiterated. Interestingly, the prime minister is busy glorifying his speeches and actions instead of making a critical introspection. Third, freedom of press has come under a great deal of scrutiny in recent times against the principles of fundamental rights pertaining to the media in the new constitution. Detaining journalists for publishing news has become rampant, often bypassing the mandate of the Nepal Press Council, a regulatory body of the print and broadcast media. Fourth, the Prime Minister’s Office has shown undue interest in maintaining a firm grip on the entire state machinery in a manner reminiscent of single-party rule.

Consolidating power

Registering a bill in Parliament to consolidate the power of the Prime Minister’s Office last month, the government expressed its desire to directly handle big infrastructure projects. What is noticeable here is that it was initially proposed  that projects valued at more than Rs50 billion would fall under the PMO’s ambit. This has now been revised to include projects valued at more than Rs25 billion, potentially bringing in more development projects under the PMO’s purview. Although the Office has defended this move as an attempt to expedite development projects and ensure timely delivery, the general public is not ready to believe the government’s commitment due to several issues of corruption and ethical malpractices that have occurred in the cabinet.

More worrisome is the mechanism of awarding direct development contracts to any builder through direct agreement by bypassing the competitive bidding process. In light of the above, chances of corruption and leakages are likely to increase further, eroding public faith in the government’s commitment to good governance.

Whether we refer to the decision to bring the Department of Money Laundering Investigation within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office or the latest move by the government to curtail the constitutionally mandated power of the National Human Rights Commission, the prime minister and his council of ministers have raised suspicions over the government’s ultimate aim. In a bid to bring the National Human Rights Commission under the government, a bill has been tabled in Parliament further inviting criticism from human rights officials.

Of late, the forced entry of police officers into the premises of the commission’s office in Banke to arrest a political cadre who had received a clean chit from the Supreme Court has miffed the champions of human rights and democracy. Despite repeated pledges to stand firm in its commitment to human rights and fundamental freedom, the government’s actions portray a different story. Instead of creating an enabling environment and strong leadership for these institutions, the government has opted to centralise authority.

A similar pattern of behaviour has been replicated in the operation of the federal governance structure. Speaking at a recently held event in Kathmandu, the chief ministers of all provinces have expressed serious dissatisfaction over the government’s unwarranted interventions in the constitutionally delegated spheres of the provinces and local levels. Accusing the federal government of sticking to the conventional mindset of controlling everything from the centre, they vented their ire against the prime minister for violating the constitutional spirit of devolution of power.

Collaboration and coordination

It is unfortunate that the present majority government with unprecedented power and authority is adopting a policy of discarding all those forces which are critical of its conduct. Building a working culture based on collaboration and coordination is simply not part of the government’s scheme. It seems the government wants to do everything on its own. Neither does it seem to need the support of civil society nor does it intend to hold discussions with other political forces about carving a better future for the country. As a result of this posture, public ownership in government-led programmes is fading further, intensifying the problem of expediting policies of national development.

The government needs to rethink seriously about accommodating various state and non-state actors in the national ambition of ‘Happy Nepali, Prosperous Nepal’. Developing a culture of active listening has become urgent. But is the government ready to embrace such leadership traits?

Pokharel is a member of the social science faculty at NIMS College.

Published: 02-05-2019 11:28

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