Kathmandu: Utter disregard for democratic values, no debate and deliberations on reform agendas, eerie silence on vital national interest issues, no agendas to address livelihood concerns, health and education needs of people and job creation, continuity of cronyism and rent-seeking.
These have been the hallmarks of six months’ rule of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Nepal.
Deuba has failed on nearly all fronts: upholding democratic values, tackling the pandemic threat, stimulating the economy, handling foreign affairs, ensuring effective service delivery, assuring that corruption will be controlled, the list goes on.
The Sher Bahadur Deuba government, which completed its six months on Thursday, had replaced CPN(UML) chairman KP Sharma Oli on July 14, 2021, following the Supreme Court’s mandamus order issued on July 12.
Leaders from the incumbent coalition used to blame the KP Oli government for backtracking from the basic democratic principles of governance. Going by their own allegations of the past, it is fair to say that Deuba has pushed the country to the same situation of misrule when KP Oli had left. From that perspective, the Deuba government automatically carries authoritarian streaks.
Deuba had promised reforms on governance and public service delivery. Six months down the line, controversies and deviations from basic principles come to define Deuba’s fifth tenure as the PM.
Samikchya Baskota, a leader of the Bibeksheel Sajha party, said it’s a pity that neither the coalition government nor the opposition have been able to make a concrete stand regarding the national security and diplomatic issues and the crisis in the judiciary.
Definitely PM Deuba has shattered people’s hope, Baskota said. Deuba took three months to expand the cabinet. “It was not a big deal to give a full shape to the cabinet, if he cared. But he spent three precious months thinking which party would take which ministry. None of the ministers are working in a proper way,” said Baskota.
Congress leaders themselves do not seem to be happy with the way Deuba is performing as the PM. Chandra Bhandari, for example, says that Deuba failed to make the right choice. “While running the government he does not seem to have realized the fact that it was a great opportunity to serve the country and enhance the image of the party. The mistake was in the casting,” said Bhandari.
Deuba has not even made a commitment to rooting out corruption, which has become a curse of the country and which people want to see the government fighting against. He remained silent on national interest and diplomatic issues and the unfinished development works. “His mistake is in remaining silent in these matters,” Bhandari added.
The government of KP Oli was dubbed as ‘authoritarian’ by the parties in the incumbent ruling alliance. But Sher Bahadur Deuba government has by now proved that it is perpetuating the basic traits of Oli government.
Some analysts argue that it is not appropriate to squarely blame Deuba and single him out. Dr Indra Adhikari, a political analyst, said the Deuba government is the result of the misconduct and unconstitutional acts of KP Sharma Oli. “No government can bring drastic change overnight,” she said.
“Deuba did not come to power in a planned way. He had to work in coalition with the ideologically different parties which delayed the cabinet formation process. Then came the general convention on which he was focused,” she added. Adhikari expects that the government will be able to hold elections on time. “I don’t think we can expect more from this government than conducting elections in a fair and smooth way.”
Here is a list of major failures that mark the six months of office of Prime Minister Deuba.
The parliament was dissolved twice by KP Oli, which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The primary responsibility of the successive government was to uphold the relevance of the parliament. Sadly, the government has done nothing to restore people’s faith in parliament.
The country’s parliament has been business-less for months, due to main opposition CPN (UML)’s continuous disruption since Deuba assumed office. Admittedly, the major reason for the apparent dysfunction of parliament, the people’s sovereign body, is the repeated obstructions of the proceedings by UML. But the government has also failed to give business to parliament. As the prime minister, Deuba has made no significant efforts to break the deadlock.
When it comes to the tendency to rule by ordinance, Deuba stands on the same page as his predecessor. His government has been issuing various ordinances bypassing the parliament in exactly the same manner for which Congress itself had criticized the Oli government. “This is an utter disregard to parliamentary democracy and democratic standards,” said Tara Nath Dahal, a political observer.
The parliament being devoid of businesses marks the failure of major political parties, both the ruling and the opposition, according to Baskota. “They have not shown honesty and transparency which has led to the overall system failure,” she added. Baskota believes that UML should not have disrupted the parliament as they are also responsible towards the general public but yet the major responsibility to make parliament functioning lies in the government. “The government has to take the opposition UML, which has been disrupting parliament, into confidence.” According to Chandra Bhandari, due to obstruction by UML, parties have not been able to discuss vital issues concerning border dispute and corruption in parliament. “Those issues could have been raised if they allowed parliament to run smoothly,” he said.
Judiciary in crisis
Judiciary is in crisis, disrupting the justice delivery process. “Our justice system has been hijacked by mafias and laws are being manipulated leading to the state of impunity,” said Chandra Bhandari.
Indeed, the justice delivery organ of the state is mired in collusion and corruption. The whole legal fraternity has turned against the Chief Justice, stalling the apex court’s business and demanding the resignation and even impeachment of Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana.
Legal fraternity has appealed to the executive to help bring the way out. But the government has remained mum regarding the crisis. PM Deuba is neither seen or heard to do anything to help end the crisis and restore public trust in the judiciary.
Economy in doldrums
Nepal is in the throes of economic slowdown. Overall indicators paint a bleak picture of the country’s economy: the remittance inflow has declined, the current account and the balance of payments are in the deficit, the foreign exchange reserve is depleting, and the trade deficit is widening. So much so that banks are not in the position to release loans. Government has no concrete plan to get the country out of the economic crisis it is facing.
Likewise, the situation of budget expenditure is also bleak. The government has only spent six percent of the development budget within six months. Despite the Covid situation getting improved during these six months, the government failed in the proper utilization of the budget.
MCC grants in limbo
It had been hoped that Sher Bahadur Deuba, once he came to power, would push the $ 500 million Nepal Compact of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for parliamentary ratification.
Deuba, who has long been advocating for the parliamentary ratification of the US grant projects, has been reiterating his commitment but has not been able to table the proposal for discussion in parliament. He has not been able to bring his coalition partners together for this cause either. As a result, the MCC grant projects face uncertainty. The failure of the government on MCC is seen as a diplomatic failure as well.
Poor Covid-19 response
The Oli government was widely criticised for failure to create necessary infrastructure for Covid control. PM Deuba had promised to correct the shortcomings of the Oli government and said that every citizen would be vaccinated under his tenure.
The third wave of Covid-19 is at the doorstep but many are yet to be vaccinated. Though the government succeeded in securing vaccine procurement from various countries–in donation as well as on purchase–the vaccines are lying idle in storage facilities while people remain unvaccinated. As the third wave is resulting in thousands of daily infections along with an increasing rate of hospitalizations, many of the country’s public and private hospitals remain ill-equipped to deal with the surge in cases.
Observers believe that the government has not made impressive progress on the diplomatic front either. Deuba has failed to maintain balanced relations with major powers. For example, on December 30, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the road to Mansarovar via Lipulekh is being expanded. The government has failed to respond to Modi’s remarks on the Nepali territory of Lipulekh even as pressures are mounting on the government to send a diplomatic note to India over this matter and resolve border issues through diplomatic dialogues.
Likewise, Deuba has failed to be decisive on the MCC Compact, which has become a test case for Deuba and also for Nepal-America relations to some extent. There is much less diplomatic engagement with China, forget about the progress on BRI.
Power centralization and bad governance
The KP Oli government was heavily criticized for centralizing powers. Instead of correcting the course, Deuba appears to be perpetuating that. For example, the decision by Oli to keep various government agencies under PM’s control–such as Department of Money Laundering, Department of Revenue Investigation, National Investigation Department and so on–are yet to be corrected. Ordinances, rather than laws, rule the country. All the leaders are habituated to bringing ordinances ignoring the parliament proceedings, argues Baskota. “That’s why we can say Deuba has to some extent continued the same approach of Oli regarding the ordinances.”
Experts say that governance is becoming much worse. “Morality, transparency, discipline and regularity is absent not only in an individual but also in institutions. It is so from the grass-roots to the government,” said Indra Adhikari. She is of the view that the government alone should not be faulted for this kind of situation. “Efforts for reforms should start from people’s level as well. Even general people are directly or indirectly engaged in corruption. Drastic cultural change is necessary for transparency,” she added.
No transparency and accountability
Nepali Congress claims to be the largest democratic party of Nepal, committed to transparency and accountability. But Sher Bahadur Deuba has stood on the frontline to neglect those cardinal values. None of the ministers of the government have made their assets public. PM Deuba has not yet made his property details public. It should be noted that the KP Oli government had made the property details of its ministers public.
Federalism in mess
Sher Bahadur Deuba and leaders of coalition parties are hell bent on sustaining the coalition at the provinces at the cost of good governance and institutionalization of federalism. Since Deuba came to power, the provincial governments have become so inflated, with province cabinets adding the number of ministers so as to keep the coalition intact. This act of provincial governments has resulted in a surge in state expenditure, as the expenses for the remuneration and allowances of the provincial ministers have sharply increased.