As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda was drafting the progress report of 6-month-long coalition government, a rumour that the ruling Nepali Congress and main opposition CPN-UML are set to form a new government swirled through the political circle. The heresy had done the rounds in the light of some ruling parties’ strong reservation about the new fiscal year’s budget. The UML had tried to exploit their dissatisfaction to break the alliance but to no avail. With the passage of the budget by majority vote in the House of Representatives (HoR), the wild speculations regarding government change have come to rest.
However, the federal parliament, for the first time, endorsed the Appropriation Bill through a vote division as per the demand of the UML. The main opposition sought the vote division to decide the fate of the Bill although it was clear that the parties in the alliance had stood united to pass it. Failing to approve the budget meant the collapse of the government, paving the way for the formation of a new government. The voting process showed the declining support of the parties to Prachanda-led coalition, a point that the UML wanted to weaponise against the government in the coming days.
During the first vote of confidence upon his appointment to the premiership, Prachanda had garnered 268 votes in the 275-member Lower House. In the second vote of confidence, the UML pulled out support to the government and the number of lawmakers backing him decreased to 172. Now altogether 147 lawmakers voted in favour of the government Bill. The hung parliament always provides ground for the potential instability when the coalition partners clash over the key issues of governance, economy and foreign policy. The UML has been restless after it is out of power, and is involved in every possible trick to break the current coalition. In its latest bid, it tried to coax the NC into forming a new alliance so that its sworn nemeses – CPN-Maoist Centre and CPN-Unified Socialist Centre – are thrown out of government. But the NC refused to rise to the UML's bait.
On Thursday morning, the alliance partners held their meeting and decided to consolidate its unity. They agreed to move forward nine Bills stuck in the HoR and National Assembly and form the parliamentary committees as per consensus. Although there is no immediate threat to the government, Prime Minister Prachanda has challenges to glue the alliance’s constituents on the common agenda. This time the JSP, Unified Socialist and Janamat Party vehemently protested the disproportionate allocation of the federal budget. They threatened to cross the floor if the Finance Minister did not correct the uneven distribution of national resources in the budget.
There has been allegation that a huge amount of budget was earmarked to fund the pork barrel projects in the constituencies of a few ruling party leaders and related ministers. This sort of practice that seeks to appease the voters of the given constituencies undermines the principle of fair distribution of resources and balanced development. This is indeed guided by a tribal mindset that does not only violate democratic norms and egalitarian vision of constitution but also hinders the backward regions of the country from catching up the development pace on a par with the developed places.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prachanda has presented a 77-point list of achievements the government made in the last six months. The PM has insisted that his administration has succeeded to make tangible progress in the field of economy, development, governance, anti-corruption drive, service delivery and social justice. No doubt, the government has taken a bold step by taking legal action against those involved in fake Bhutanese refugee scam and forgery of documents in transferring the government land located in Lalita Niwas, Baluwatar into the name of private individuals.
The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police has sent at least 16 individuals, including former deputy prime minister and home minister, and incumbent government secretary to judicial custody for their heinous crime to illegally send Nepalis into the US by making them phoney Bhutanese refugees. Likewise, reopening the case related to the infamous Lalita Niwas land grab scam has demonstrated the government's resolve to punish the corrupt officials, middlemen and politicians. This has given a positive message that even 'big fishes' are caught in the police net for their wrong deeds. There is a need for the continued public support and civil society's vigilance to make sure that there is no political interference in thwarting the anti-corruption moves.
Increased electricity supply
A total of 408 MW of electricity has been added to the national grid, increasing the access of around 96 per cent population to the electricity from 93.58 per cent within a span of six months. During the PM's recent visit to India, the latter agreed to import 10,000 megawatts of electricity from Nepal in the next one decade. The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of the Fukot Karnali (480 MW) and Lower Arun (MW) hydropower projects. These deals are important for hydropower cooperation between the two nations but experts have warned that India's policy of not purchasing power generated by other than the Indian companies is not propitious for Nepal from economic and geopolitical points of view.
As per India's Guidelines on Cross Border Trade of Electricity, it will not import power from the hydropower projects which have the investment or control of individuals and companies of the countries that have not reached bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) / Power Trade Agreement (PTA) with it. Because of this strategy, foreign companies, including Chinese ones, are leaving or discouraged from investing in hydropower projects here. Former chief of Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and water resource expert Suryanath Upadhaya stresses that the foreign companies interested to construct hydropower projects in Nepal should be chosen through open competition and in a transparent manner. It is imperative for Nepal government to guarantee the market of electricity produced by domestic and foreign companies.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)