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Serving Interest Groups

July Issue 2019

Serving Interest Groups

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Usually, the popularly elected government would keep the commitments made during the election stumps, and the election manifesto would become the guiding principles of running the administration. Probably, the current Oli administration dropped off the election manifesto in a trash can, and started doing everything possible to serve the interest groups, and to deny the common folks the freedom of expression, and fundamental human rights that had been guaranteed by the constitution. Freedom of expression is the life-supporting machine for democracy. Destroying such a life-supporting machine means killing the democracy Nepalis had earned shedding so much of blood. Prime Minister Oli had been so successful to discredit himself stating so many incredible things to happen; probably, nobody believed him then. His commitments to the rule of law and good governance had been almost forgotten, as most of the State businesses had been as usual.


Probably, common folks had not remembered most of the things what the combined election manifesto of the two communist parities had said. However, most of the common folks still remembered that the manifesto had said that the income per capita of Nepalis would be increased to US$ 5,000 in the next five years, and the allowance to senior citizens to NRP 5,000 immediately. These things must have played a significant role in winning the elections. The combined forces of the two communist parties became almost two-thirds majority in the parliament.


First, what they did was they set aside the election manifesto, and then they did everything for the benefits of the interest groups (mafia) going against the people’s expectation that the government would smash the corruption and destroyed the ills prevailing in the State administration, and corrupt practices of not delivering the State service properly and promptly. Then, they did gradually made assaults on the freedom of press, and human rights, and on the Guthi system: the traditional system of groups formed for every community activity and for every social, cultural and religious activity.


The Oli administration appointed the professional economist to the position of a finance minister that hardily cared for the stock market or the transport vehicles but often talked about the productive sector without defining what was the productive and what was the non-productive sector. His inconsistency in the economic policies had brought down the economic growth from 7.9 percent in the fiscal year 2016 (2073) to 6.3 percent in the fiscal year 2017 (2074); and the economic survey of the fiscal year 2018 (2075) had three possible economic growth: the highest one was 7.1 percent for the FY 2018 (2075). The economic growth target he set for the fiscal year 2019 (2076) that starts on July 16, 2019 is 8.0 percent following the periodic plan the National Planning Commission had crafted. So, the target of US$ 5,000 income per capita would never be achieved if the economic growth were to be even 10 percent per year not to mention 7 or 8 percent. Thus, the commitment made in the election manifesto had been dumped. Neither the Oli administration nor his communist party thought that it was necessary to explain not to mention to apologize to the voters for why the income per capita would not be achieved as stated in the election manifesto.


Senior citizens became very disappointed and some of them had been very angry with the communist party and the communists in general because they thought that the communists were not the people of strong ethics, and with the high moral to trust; probably they were con politicians because they did not keep their commitment to increase the senior citizen allowance immediately after coming to power. Senior citizens had been demanding to increase the allowance but none of the previous administrations did listen to their grievances. However, when they read the communist election manifesto that promised to increase the allowance from NPR 2,000 to 5,000 they overwhelmingly voted for both the communist parties currently in power with a single name called Nepal Communist Party (NCP).


A man called Dr Yubraj Khatiwada was appointed as a Finance Minister, whose economic statements immediately after appointment had not only dropped the economic growth from 7.9 percent down to slightly more than six percent but also he refused to add anything to the State allowance given to the senor citizens in the last fiscal year 2018 (2075) distressing the less than five percent senior citizens eligible for the State allowance. Under the heavy pressure of the opposition political party and some lawmakers of the ruling communist party, Dr Khatiwada managed to increase the allowance to NPR 3,000 per month for the fiscal year 2019 (2076) again disappointing the senior citizens, as it was not what the two communist parties had promised to increase.


Some economists including the current finance minister, and past finance ministers thought that probably the country would go bankrupt if the allowance to the senior citizens were to increase. However, they never thought that the country would go broke because of the mismanagement of the State treasury causing tremendous irregularities in running the development projects. They had deliberately let the State revenue go waste in billions of rupees increasing subsidies fantastically. If somebody were to take the look at the budget that set aside billions of rupees for the subsidies on various activities and items whereas the delivery system had been almost the same means the intended benefits hardly could reach the beneficiaries.


For example, common folks anticipated that the Oli administration built on the two-thirds majority would not allow the development construction activities during the rainy season. After six months of KP Oli became the prime minister of the two-thirds majority communist government, the onset of rainy season began last year. People thought that the Oli administration had not still time to prevent such construction activities causing the huge financial loss to the State. After one-and-a-half year of the Oil administration, the onset of another rainy season started off; however, the Oli administration instead of preventing any State agencies doing any construction work let them work as usual. So, asphalting of roads, digging of roads for anything they thought they needed to do, and purchasing everything possible only to consume the State budget on the last days of the running fiscal year 2018 (2018), which was going to end on July 16, 2018, went on relentlessly.


So, either the Oli administration was unable to hold back the corrupt practice of irregularly spending the State money during the rainy season or did not do anything to restrain the corrupt practice under the pressure of the interest groups, which were surely the newly appointed ministers, who were sure to grab anything they could reach, and the bureaucrats from the top to down, and ultimately the contractors, who really wanted to make money taking the advantage of the Oli administration. This shady practice had been popularly known as the rainy season development. Thus, the Oli administration had been running the rainy season development killing the expectation of the entire populace that the Oli government would do something good for them because it had the power of the two-thirds majority and could do almost everything if it really wanted to.


The finance minister instead of allocating the development budget to the projects that could immediately benefit the common folks had allocated large sums of money to the subsidies on different activities, and purposes, and to the activities that would benefits to the interest groups including the ruling-party cadres.


For example, the prime-minister-employment program or other programs linked with the name of prime minister had been just feeding the folks belonging to the interest groups. During the last days of the current fiscal year 2018 (2075), different agencies including the local governments such as municipalities employed a large number of folks to work for a month or so. This was done to give an employment opportunity to every citizen at least a month every year. So, anybody unemployed had to register at the local governments for any sorts of employments under the prime-minister-employment program. Only those registered folks would receive the employment opportunity of a month or so. Real unemployed folks could hardly understand what would make them unemployed because probably none of the Nepalis would remain unemployed for an entire period of any year, as they were employed during the agricultural seasons in the rural areas. So, probably, those folks registered as unemployed could be the party cadres, who really knew how to con the local governments into giving them the benefits from the State-run social security programs.


Whenever I read the State-run newspaper “gorkhapatra” and see the folks hired under the prime-minister-employment program carrying the agricultural tools and digging the ground and wedding the garden, reminded me the activities of the “Back To Village” campaign the then former King Mahendra launched in the late 1960s and early 1970s to divert the people’s attention from his irregular rather corrupt practices of running the State administration. He wasted the State assets massively using them for the things that were done only for a show.


Finance Minister Dr Khatiwada allocated NPR six billion to the subsidy on the fertilizer for the current fiscal year 2018 (2075) but the widespread fertilizer shortage had been the talk of the town during the rice plantation season when the fertilizer was used the most. Where the six billion rupees had gone if the fertilizer were not available during the rice plantation season when 80 percent of fertilizers were used, according to the agricultural experts. Those six billion rupees were used in foreign currencies for importing fertilizers, as Nepal did not produce fertilizer. So, the six billion rupees must have gone to the foreign banks but that money did not obviously bring the fertilizer that was supposed to be in Nepal during the rice plantation season in June and July. Then, how could the finance minister’s target of increasing the agricultural products by five percent achieve? Some experts had already predicted that the agricultural products would be dropped by five percent in the next fiscal year 2019 (2076) because of the shortage of fertilizer and the weak monsoon rains.


Minister for Agriculture Chakra Pani Khanal said that the cost price of fertilizer was NPR 43 while the sale price was NPR 14 per kilogram, according to what he had said to the anchor of the Radio Nepal morning program called “antar-sambad” on July 4, 2019. The private media reports had it that the subsidized fertilizer was not available to the farmers, so, the farmers had to buy fertilizers at NPR 50 per kilogram in the open market. Had not the State really wasting the taxpayers’ money allocating billions of NPR to the fertilizer, which had been beyond the reach of farmers at the time of plantation? The finance minister had allocated NPR 9 billion to the subsidy on fertilizer for the fiscal year 2019 (2076). Would the fertilizer be available to the farmers next year?


Farmers and newspaper reporters had been saying and reporting that the subsidy on other activities given to the farmers did not reach the real farmers rather went to the pockets of the political cadres, and smart guys who could manipulate rules to take the advantages of the loopholes in those rules. Thus, the subsidy on agriculture had been either wasted or not properly utilized.


Allocating a huge sum of money to the subsidy on the agricultural sector obviously for boosting the agricultural products benefiting both the farmers and the consumers but really not reaching the intended beneficiaries, the finance minister had not only imprudently allocated the taxpayers’ money but also even adversely affected the agriculture, as the farmers did not receive what they were supposed to receive for increasing the agricultural production, and the consumers in turn did not get the agricultural products at the reasonably reduced prices that should have been due to the subsidy.


The interest groups must have successfully lobbied the ministry of drinking water to delay the completion of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project, and surely delay the flow of the water from the Melamchi River supposed to reach the Kathmandu Valley for the greatest Nepalese festival called Dashain in the last year. The three-percent remaining work on the project had been stalled, and the flow of water had been uncertain. So, common folks widely believed that the Oli administration probably had been serving the water companies, and water tankers that had been supplying water at the tremendously high cost to the consumers.


The Oli administration had been doing what it should not have done.


The Oli administration had crafted the Media Council Bill provoking the reporters, journalists, and media Houses to protest. If the bill were to get passed from both the Houses of the parliaments and would become the Media Council Act and replace the current Press Council Act then the freedom of speech would be severely curtailed, and would damage the fourth pillar of democracy, and the current Oil administration might tend to go for a one-party rule for many years to come subjecting the democracy to be in peril of dying.


Then, the Oli administration crafted a Human Rights Bill for replacing the current Human Rights Act. If the new bill on the human rights were to be the Act then the National Human Rights Commission would lose its independence and even identity, and become a part of the office of the Attorney General. Even when the current National Human Rights Commission is an independent entity, when it could make the government to stop the abuse of the human rights, the current government hardly implemented any recommendations for taking actions against the perpetrators of the human rights violation. Then, what this Oli government would do after the National Human Rights Commission died was so clear to all the human rights activists.


Then, the Oli government had its eye on the Guthi property including both the cash and land. So, it crafted Guthi Bill to seize all the lands and cash belonging to the temples, and the Guthi systems operating under the State agency called Guthi Sansthan or the private Guthi system or the temple Guthi systems and so on to kill the so rich cultural, religious and social heritages of Nepalis in general and the rich and famous temples and religious entities across Nepal in particular. Some communist lawmakers and one minister declared that the Guthi was the relic of the feudalism, and needed to be destroyed.


This Guthi Bill managed to provoke all the stakeholders across the country; and the folks in the Kathmandu Valley had been holding the protest demonstrations to stop the Oli administration from crafting any bill on the Guthi in the future. Probably, the most ineffectual minister for land had formally withdrawn the bill on Guthi from the National Assembly but the protest demonstration continued.


Prime Minister Oli had discredited himself speaking so inconsistently and irrationally, and sometimes going beyond the limit of the political ethics causing almost everybody to laugh at what he had said because what he had been talking about had not been within the domain of a regular rational person.


As recently as a few days ago, he said that his administration had made everybody not needed to wear mask, as there was no dust and other pollutants in Kathmandu whereas if anybody were to walk on the streets of Kathmandu then s/he would see some folks wearing masks to save from the heavy dust and dirt floating in the air. Probably, Prime Minster Oli did not see the folks wearing masks from his bullet proof and opaque vehicle he rode every day back and forth from the work, and some advisors must have told him that nobody wore the pollution mask. Thus, Mr. Oli became a laughing stock in the eyes of the common folks.


Nepali Congress (NC) lawmaker Rangmati Shahi invited Prime Minister Oli to ride with her on a scooter to see what he had said was true or not; whether the folks on the streets wore masks or not; whether the streets were full of dusts and dirt or not, the news on stated on July 4, 2019.


The government had been blatantly defying the recommendations made by the parliamentary committees most of which are headed by the ruling CPN lawmakers, the news on state on July 5, 2019, as follows.


For example, last year, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed the misappropriation of Rs 4.35 billion in the two wide-body planes the Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) had purchased, and held the then Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari and former ministers accountable for irregularities, and recommended the suspension of civil aviation secretary and general manager of NAC. Then the government set aside the PAC report and formed its own probe committee under former justice Govinda Prasad Parajuli to probe the scam instead of implementing the PAC instruction. The committee was given a 45-day mandate but the 45 days had already passed without even swearing-in of the committee chairman. The case had been forgotten after the death of Rabindra Adhikari.


The PAC in February had instructed the Nepal Telecom (NT) to send bid documents of the 4G tender processes stating there was possibly an irregularity in the deal but the NT said the confidential documents could not be sent and urged the lawmakers to come to its office for visit instead. “Nobody listens. The government considers recommendations of lawmakers to be worthless. We are labeled anti-government if we say any work is wrong,” a CPN lawmaker told Setopati.


The government also had openly lashed out the parliamentary committees.


The International Relations and Labor Committee of the parliament on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 instructed the government not to host the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Nepal. On Thursday, July 4, 2019, Spokesperson for the government and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota severely criticized the parliamentary committee and took exception to the instruction given to stop IIFA Awards when the government had just given approval in principle and not signed any agreement to host the event. Baskota asked what studies the committee conducted and which experts it consulted before deciding on IIFA. What kind of study it did? The news on stated on July 5, 2019.


All these things had already indicated the good governance and the rule of law had been almost forgotten. So, the Oli administration had been probably serving the interest groups rather than the common folks, who had voted his party and him to power. So, the administration had been doing the businesses as usual making nothing to show any drastic changes the Oli administration had made in the governance. The results of such irrational working of the administration would be clear in the next general elections.


July 6, 2019

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