The new government should lose no time in setting up both short-term and long-term economic goals and cut red tapes to attract foreign investment, without which Nepal's development dreams look difficult to be fulfilled.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
The long and tumultuous political transition which began in Nepal in 2006 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the state and the then Maoist rebels has effectively ended now. While local governments have already been formed in all 753 local units, the process to form provincial governments in all the seven provinces had started when this write-up was being prepared. Not only that, the country has also got a new Prime Minister. On February 15, UML Chairman Khadga Prasad (KP) Sharma Oli who guided the UML-led left alliance to a historic win in the parliamentary and provincial polls was sworn in as Nepal's new Prime Minister at the Office of President. With this, the country's new constitution promulgated in September 2015 has gone into full implementation.
Oli was appointed Nepal's 38th Prime Minister around two hours after Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba announced his resignation as the Prime Minister in a televised address to the nation on February 15. Following Oli's appointment as the New PM, UML leaders have said that the cabinet would get full shape once a power-sharing deal is finalised with the CPN (Maoist Center), the partner in the coalition that has demanded an agreement on party unity before joining the government. And that agreement too is signed on February 19.
Needless to say, the Nepalis have huge expectations from the new government which will require a lot of hard work, sacrifice and commitment from the elected leaders to meet those expectations of basic rights of equality, social justice and inclusive development. Most important of them will be addressing the people’s aspiration for rapid economic progress. For this the country should now be laser-focused on leapfrogging our economy to the next level. There has been a remarkable progress in a number of social indicators. Huge reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, and the reduction in the number of people living under extreme poverty are going to be important stepping stones into the next phase of big push in our developmental efforts.
It was also heartening to see almost all the major parties focusing on economic agenda in all the elections last year, a sea change from previous electoral campaigns. While some of their lofty promises will be hard to fulfill, the recognition on the side of the political parties to go to the people with economic agenda means that the new government has to go big on industries, infrastructure and energy — the basics for creating sound environment for businesses.
Now, the new government should lose no time in setting up both short-term and long-term economic goals and cut red tapes to attract foreign investment, without which Nepal's development dreams look difficult to be fulfilled. We talk big about encouraging multi-national companies to invest in Nepal but there remain significant administrative and other hurdles to even register a foreign company. This has to change at the earliest. According to the World Bank’s 2016 ease of doing business ranking, Nepal stands 105 out of 170 countries covered, well behind India and Bhutan.
Then there are the big development projects that need to be jumpstarted with the help of both India and China. The flip-flops on the much awaited Budhi Gandaki hydro project a few months ago do not send encouraging signals to our neighbours and others who are thinking of investing in Nepal. Our development should never be against one or the other neighbour. Both are indispensible to our overall progress.
Economic diplomacy should take precedence over trivial issues when it comes to dealing with our two giant neighbours. We ought to focus on innovative ways to tap into the vast market on both sides of our border. We can only hope that the new government will show the much needed discipline, maturity and honesty to start our long road to prosperity.
However, it is unfortunate that the political confusion is not fully over yet. The Left Alliance constituents – CPN-UML and Maoist Centre – are still at loggerheads over the sharing of power. While UML chair Oli has already been appointed the Prime Minister, he and some of the UML leaders are in favor of keeping the leadership of the unified party under their tutelage whereas the Maoist Centre leaders have expressed their displeasure over it. In case the UML keeps its rigid posturing undiluted and unaltered to deny the party leadership to Dahal, there are possibilities of new political alignment. Though Oli and Prachanda were reported to have agreed to be co-chairs of the unified party, the agreement signed on February 19 is silent on it.
Nevertheless, there are now grounds for optimism that the Left Alliance would form the new government as committed to create political ambience for stability. But it all depends on how Oli and Dahal manage and moderate their egos and ambitions. They need to take into consideration the fact that there is no best alternative to negotiated settlement to provide a stable and effective government. The voters had given a commanding majority of almost two-thirds to the Alliance, expecting that it would bring an end to the days characterised by frequent changes in the government resulting into destabilisation and dysfunctionality of bureaucracy and state institutions. If they break apart and indulge into zero sum game of power politics, it would be great betrayal to the popular verdict.
Moreover, there are some areas which the Left Alliance should handle warily lest the good intent with which they operate would be foiled by the different interest groups. Needless to say, Nepal's bureaucracy is politically partial and unionised. The political parties have their own sister wings in the bureaucracy and civil servants are in a way reduced into party functionaries working at the beck and call of their parent organisations.
Going by the previous precedents, there are abundant cases and examples to substantiate that the succeeding governments took several decisions on the retention, transfer and promotion of the civil servants with partial consideration at the diktat of the civil servant unions. There have been allegations that the ministers used to operate in complicity with the union leaders as intermediaries to solicit bribes for transfer and posting of the paying civil servants in the lucrative assignments. The customs, immigration, foreign employment division, revenue department are some of the lucrative assignments where civil servants would prefer to get transferred. The political meddling in bureaucracy has been a festering malaise that has failed the government to perform and deliver to meet the soaring aspirations of the people.
There is, therefore, a need to make a serious reflection on the rationale of the civil servant associations that have been politicised on partisan basis, undermining the Weberian principles of impersonality, legal-rationality and impartiality generally expected of the bureaucratic organisation. The resistance of the civil servant organisation to cooperate with adjustment and transfer plan to make up for the need of the human resources in the sub-national government indicates that the bureaucratic pathology will contaminate the whole fabric of the civil administration in all layers of the government. If that happens, the new government will not be able to enforce the rules and regulations and deliver according to the expectations of the people.