Top bureaucrats are getting shuffled due to conflicts of interest

  • “No one knows which secretary is going to be in the line of fire next,” senior official told the Post.
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Feb 23, 2019-

Several top bureaucrats under the KP Sharma Oli administration have been transferred between ministries due to conflicts of interest with the political leadership over the last year, hinting cracks in the governance system and a potential political crisis if the tendency goes unchecked.

While some secretaries considered close to the prime minister have retained their current seats, others have been transferred in three ministries within six months. A few secretaries were transferred from the ministries where they lacked expertise and experience.

After failing to serve the interest of the political leadership, the government has recently changed the portfolios of Gajendra Kumar Thakur and Krishna Prasad Devkota who served as secretaries at ministries of Water Supplies and Tourism respectively.

During a farewell function at the Ministry of Tourism on Thursday, Devkota said he had been transferred after he rejected to authenticate Indian electric buses as those imported from China.

The government had procured 16 electric buses from China to operate in different parts of the Valley, but a technical team had detected numerous issues on the buses. When a group that procured the buses from India put pressure on the political leadership to authentic the vehicles for operation in the Valley, Devkota said he refused to do so. He said that documents produced by the importers at the customs office revealed that five of the buses that arrived in Kathmandu last year were manufactured in India.

“I was warned that I would be transferred if I did not authenticate the buses. Now that’s exactly what has happened,” Devkota said.

Earlier this week, another issue of conflict of interest had surfaced between Minister of Water Supplies Bina Magar and Thakur, the ministry’s secretary.

Thakur publicly accused Magar of putting pressure on him to release Rs2.60 billion to Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna, the Italian contractor responsible for building the tunnel of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project.

“After I rejected to follow the minister’s instruction, I was transferred to the office of Nepal Trust. I told her that releasing the amount was illegal and I cannot take such a controversial decision,” said Thakur.

The dispute over releasing due amount to the CMC has left the project in limbo as the government terminated the contract with the Italian builder.

“These incidents show unhealthy practices are pervasive in the governance system,” said Kashiraj Dahal, a former secretary. “Instances of such conflict of interest between political and bureaucratic leadership indicate that our system is not functioning well. It will have a negative impact on good governance.”

The government has also transferred six secretaries in the past week. Two of the transfers were made due to conflicts of interest, senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post requesting anonymity.

Dipendra Nath Sharma has succeeded Thakur as the secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply. This is Sharma’s third transfer within the last six months. He served at the Ministry of Urban Development and the Prime Minister’s Office before being transferred to the Ministry of Water Supply.

Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, who worked as the point person at the Prime Minister’s Office for over a year, has been transferred from the Ministry of Health and Population to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, where he replaced Chandra Ghimire. Adhikari’s latest transfer came after a dispute with Dr Pushpa Chaudhary, another secretary at the Health Ministry.

Chaudhary was also removed from the Health Ministry and transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office following differences with Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Upendra Yadav. She later settled her dispute with Yadav and reclaimed the post of health secretary.

Officials at the Prime Minister’s Office told the Post that the transfer of Secretary Bishnu Lamsal from the Defence Ministry to Oli’s office was also far from a regular affair.

Lamsal had good relations with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Ishwor Pokhrel. However, he could not strike a good rapport with the Nepal Army brass, which forced him out of the Defense Ministry, according to the officials.

A string of disputes and controversies between political and bureaucratic leadership has affected governance and projects undertaken by the development partners. Frequent transfers of bureaucrats and project managers have been a major concern for development partners.

In May last year, the government started a crackdown on transport syndicate, giving the reins to then director general at the Department of Transport Rup Narayan Bhattarai who introduced stringent provisions against unruly transport entrepreneurs. But he was later removed from the post and transferred to the ministry.

A senior official at Transport Ministry told the Post that Minister Raghubir Mahaseth, acting on the behest of transport entrepreneurs, removed Bhattarai from the post of the director general. “No one knows which secretary is going to be in the line of fire next,” the official said, seeking anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss inside details with the media.

The Oli administration’s initial move against the country’s transport syndicate created a positive buzz, but the initiative slowed down and almost became non-functional, said an official at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport.

Published: 23-02-2019 08:07

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