Bishnu Rimal, Chief Advisor to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, talked with the Gorkhapatra daily and The Rising Nepal on various issues ranging from the government’s performances, PM’s health and the party unity, and Nepal-India border dispute in the weekly Gorkhapatra Sambad on Sunday. Excerpts:
■ Experience of working as the Chief Advisor to PM
In Nepal, we do not have the practice of naming a ‘chief of staff’ as in most countries the executive head appoints the Chief of Staff whose team consists of a large number of experts to facilitate the works that are difficult for the existing bureaucracy to execute.
This team provides assistance to ease the work of the bureaucrats. For example, in America, when a new President assumes his office, it is a common practice where around 25, 000-30,000 or even up to 50,000 staff members, as people say, get changed, and in our context, consider it as someone who is appointed in the capacity even to direct the Chief Secretary, and the American practice is that those around 50,000 new political appointees work under the new Chief of Staff.
In India, there is no such post as Chief of Staff, but instead they have a post of National Security Advisor (NSA), who coordinates the PM’s Secretariat and advises the PM on important matters.
In our own case, we used to have subject-specific advisors, as I recall, in the past, late PM Girija Prasad Koirala’s Advisor was Hari Sharma, and current Defense Minister served as Advisor to late PM Manahan Adhikari.
It should be noted here that it’s not important in which area the chief advisor is expert, but rather to see how he can coordinate with all other experts. The chief advisor works as a facilitator between the PM and the team of other experts appointed by the PM. The chief advisor works as a pool to mobilise these experts of different field to help in executing the works of the government.
We have three different wings in helping the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The first wing is personal secretariat- which works from the residence of PM. The second wing is PM’s private secretariat which incorporates the government employees in the leadership of an under-secretary. The third wing is of advisors.
We have limited advisors. For example, we have appointed subject-specific three or four major advisors and other additional experts, who are mobilised in supporting the PM and the government functioning.
As per the discussions and conclusion of these three wings, we provide feedback to the government. And as a chief advisor of these wings, I work as a coordinator. I think I work as an advisor between the ministries and PM.
Fixing appointment with PM is not the job of the advisors. Neither it’s the job of press advisor nor of chief advisor. The private secretariat fixes the appointment for meeting with the PM.
The problem is we do not believe in system and do not want to wait in queue before reaching the destination. Sadly, the so-called power holders think that the line starts from the point where they stand and those who are not in power think that they can reach destination through line.
We have such a problem and we are trying to break such a practice to build a system. If I ask them all to the move with the system, then I will suddenly become the offender in their eyes and put allegation on me as someone who does do not even let the ministers to meet the PM, which is not true. The performance of ministers is directly linked with the performance of the PM. I want to repeat that, I am very clear as to what I do, and I do not like to be in the grey area.
■ Government’s performance
Let me add, as per our practice, none of the people in the personal secretariat or those in the team of the PM’s advisors come through civil service rule, neither do they compete for or sit for the Public Service Commission (PSC ) exam and top it or are appointed through the PSC.
The private secretariat is different. Our journey begins with the PM and ends with the PM. We are attached to the PM. We are not the executive. The executive should not be blaming me, as they are the ones to work in their team and they are the ones to sign. We have no executive functions.
Our signatures work nowhere, we do not have a letter pad. The PM can fire us anytime, and he does not need any law to fire us, if he says you are fired, we are out. There is no any legal obligation to hold us, nor do we have the right to file a writ. The civil servants get stay order from court, like we had one Secretary we got through a stay order from the Court. So if the PM feels we are not performing, he can remove us. So this allegation is baseless and has no grounds.
■ Prime Minister’s Health
The PM never hides his health problems. He had undergone kidney transplant around 12 years ago. No one can assume the lifecycle of person with Kidney transplant. It is not good to assume the health of PM as per his transplant. In short, I can say that our PM is no less than any other ordinary healthy person in terms of his physical activity. He is healthy like others who have had kidney transplant.
There seems to be too many speculations on his health in the news like a recent incident when he was actually in Baluwatar at a meeting, but a news story was out saying he was admitted at Grande Hospital. This was untrue. We later urged the media friends not to write false news on the basis of speculations.
Just like the level of obligation, the state feels for its citizen’s good health, whereby the state provides health care, so similarly it is also state’s obligation to take care of PM’s health.
■ Gossip about Cabinet reshuffle
Taking about the cabinet reshuffle, let me say this is the first government which will complete its full term of five years. No government in the past completed its full term in Nepal.
So in our case, we are practicing turn-by-turn system or change teams at times. Let me give you an example of football game of 11 players, there will be extra players too to strengthen the game. All our leaders are capable and strong, the question and allegation on them being removed for being incapable are themselves wrong. The players are taken out from the field in the middle of the game, it does not mean that they are incapable. The PM is also exercising the same formula.
All the MPs contested a strong election and so this is like some friends who got out from the cabinet is like providing chances to the r extra players. In order to provide speed to our performances we adopt various strategies. The government is being more effective.
In the last cabinet meeting, the PM had told all minsters, that he was planning to restructure the cabinet and urged those that may not be in the new cabinet to still support from the side and those who would remain to work even hard. So he had clearly and formally said it, but the media is putting speculations. Some of the outgoing friends did their best, and I am sure the incoming ministers too will do their best too.
There is no one as such who can have access or not to the PM, it’s a wrong word. Every MP is equal and they all have reached the parliament after winning the election. Being elected from the people is itself their license. I cannot become minister, even if the PM makes me, because the Constitution does not recognise me. It’s under the PM’s special power as to who he wants to retain or add, while appointing ministers.
The ministers were changed recently not because they were incapable, they all had done great works in their own ways, such as the former labour minister he implemented social security programme and led the PM employment programme, he worked on it day and night, cleaned up and structured the malfunctioning foreign employment.
He did excellent work, and he has publicly said that he has no complaint on being removed, so maybe he be will be given other responsibilities, may be was advised by PM and he may be given other posts.
■ PM’s Employment Programme and ‘Sambriddha Nepal, Sukhi Nepali’
Philosophically, ‘samriddha’ is for sustainability and our aim is to see every Nepali as happy. This theme didn’t’ just come overnight, it was already in our election manifesto.
The theme is also well defined by the National Planning Commission (NPC)with exact basis: i.e. the ‘ sambriddhi’ theme has four basis or benchmarks and the ‘sukhi’ has five benchmarks to measure prosperity and happiness of the people. The whole dream is to be implemented in the next 5-year plans.
We are clear that in term of realizing this dream, we are in the base year of making foundation. We spent one year to create the provincial system and to manage the local level as a transition from previous VDC systems. This government had to perform those works that were not done by the previous government, so we had to spend more energy on laying this foundation.
We also made several laws that were necessary as per the new constitution. We amended 165 laws at once, we later made 36 laws.
So we laid the foundation by making all the necessary laws in the past fiscal year. The federal fiscal financing was one of the toughest issues, but we managed it.
Then there was also the issue of civil servant adjustment .
■ Women’s role
We have tried to put in place the system, where by the women will be empowered . We feel proud, but many women say that women are only the Deputy. We don’t want the women to feel less important, they are the judges at all local level, where they decide on cases and impart justice at local level. They can also present budget. But maybe they have not yet realized their rights. We want them to realize their rights.
■ Serving the people
We have successfully established the three levels of government and made people realise their importance.
We are a long-term government, so we lay foundation and we have a duty to perform and deliver within 5 years.
By 2030, we hope to reach the Middle income country status.
(Prepared by Ajita Rijal.
Photo by Ramesh Chetri)
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