Editorial: The government must clarify its vision for the country

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has completed a month in office. But his administration already looks to be faltering, failing to come up with a vision and programs to inspire hope in people.

NL Today

  • Read Time 4 min.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has completed his first month in office. In the last thirty days, if his government has been conspicuous in any one front, it is in its absence. He is yet to give full shape to the cabinet. Especially glaring is the absence of a health minister, at a time when coronavirus cases have been rising once again.

Certainly, this term is a challenging one for him. He took over office at a time of grave public health crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, he has the responsibility to correct the constitutional course of the nation, eroded by a series of unconstitutional moves by the KP Oli government. 

How has Deuba performed in the past one month? A lethargic beginning, it’s fair to say. 

Thirty days is not a long time in the life of a nation but is enough time for any government to, at least, clarify its vision for the country. In thirty days, much could have been accomplished if the person in leadership had a fixed set of goals, coupled with dedicated efforts to achieve them.

But judging by its initial showing, this government has failed to inspire hope.

Questions galore: What does Deuba want to deliver under his premiership? What are the promises of the government to the people? How will his government be different from the previous one? Does the new government respect meritocracy? Is it ready to reform governance structure? Will it even care about people? What are some of the doable plans of his government for the one and half years of tenure? Is the government committed to reducing bureaucratic hassles in service delivery? What programs that were included in the election manifesto of his party will be implemented under his premiership?

People have been straining to find the answers to these questions. But no answer is forthcoming so far. The Deuba government has chosen to stay silent. There are no promises to look forward to.

Credit where it’s due, the government has taken some notable decisions since its formation. It has revoked all the political appointments of the previous government and has appointed some new faces to lead the public institutions. But the government has not assured people that it will respect meritocracy and appoint people with high levels of competence and integrity.

The only person to generate optimism among people in the process has been Kulman Ghising, who was reappointed as the Managing Director of Nepal Electricity Authority. There was an apparent competition among leaders to take the credit for his appointment. But the crucial question is: will capable persons get opportunities in other appointments or not?

On the governance front, PM Deuba does not seem to be headed toward the direction of correcting the mistakes made by his predecessor. The cabinet’s major portfolios remain vacant, including a minister of Foreign Affairs. In a recent case, the government has failed to take diplomatic initiative to provide justice to Jaya Singh Dhami, who fell off the Mahakali River and drowned because the SSB cut off the tuin crossing while he was trying to get across the surging Mahakali River. Yet the government of Nepal has not been able to raise the issue strongly and assertively with the Indian side. This is not a good indication for this government’s foreign policy.

The government’s other glaring failure is apparent in vaccination management. Given that millions of doses of vaccines are arriving from friendly countries—on donations or on purchase—availability of vaccines does not seem to be a major issue at the moment. Proper storage of these lifesaving jabs, their equitable distribution, management of vaccination booths and the centers that provide vaccine certificates to migrant workers—these have proven to be a daunting task for the government. People have been standing in queues in hundreds in each vaccination booth. Nepali migrant workers have been forced to stand in crowded queues in designated hospitals—which mostly has been Teku-based Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.

Deuba, like Oli, seems to be reveling in praises showered on him by his sycophants in videos circulating on social media. He seems to be stepping on the slippery slope which had completely eroded the credibility of his predecessor.

The government has been unable to manage this even as health experts are warning that unmanaged crowds at vaccination booths have become a potential source of infection surge. This is perhaps the greatest failure on the part of the government so far. This chaotic process can be resolved with effortless solutions—designating local wards to vaccinate the people, introducing a token system, mobilizing security personnel at vaccination booths, and so on. It’s a shame that Deuba’s administration has been unable to do even this much.

As we wrote in our previous editorial, Deuba should have immediately appointed a competent leader as the full cabinet minister of health. He has been relying on a man who lacks experience in the health sector, presiding over a sensitive ministry with possible conflicts of interest.

Deuba, like Oli, seems to be reveling in praises showered on him by his sycophants in videos circulating on social media. He seems to be stepping on the slippery slope which had completely eroded the credibility of his predecessor.

As we have written in this space before, Deuba is in the position to lead the country today not because there was no other deserving candidate for the post of the chief executive. His predecessor proved to be so reckless and arrogant that he was not ready to correct himself even at the cost of his own ouster from power.

Yes, it might still be too early to pass a sweeping judgement on Deuba now, as his cabinet is yet to get a full shape. But in thirty days he should have been able to create the perception that he is up to something. He has not, which is why opposition leader K P Sharma Oli nearly chided him during his parliament address on Monday.

Understandably, Deuba’s government is a coalition government. He alone cannot do much without building a common minimum understanding or some level of consensus with his coalition partners—Maoist Center and Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal (led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai). But in a parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is all-powerful, one who is responsible for both failure and success of the government. When the Supreme Court showed the exit door to K P Sharma Oli last month—for trying to meddle with the constitution and game the system—there was a feeling that Deuba would utilize this opportunity to set a positive precedent in governance.

One month in Singha Durbar, that expectation is sharply declining. There’s a warning on the wall for Deuba. The more he fails on governance, the more space he will create for his predecessor to make a comeback in the next election.