The recent decision of Nepal’s caretaker government (made on 18 July, 2012) of setting a new criterion for providing facilities to former VIPs that includes former presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, home ministers, chief justices and speakers clearly illustrates the current government’s priorities. It shows how it is concerned about providing facilities to and ensuring a comfortable life for ex-VIPs on one hand, while imposing extra burdens on taxpayers on the other.
According to the new set of provisions, presidents, vice-presidents, prime ministers, chief justices and speakers are entitled to several facilities such as free residential buildings, a vehicle worth Rs 5 million and Rs 50,000 per year as its maintenance cost, one gazetted officer for their personal secretariat (third class), and several allowances under various titles. They would receive fuel allowance for up to 200 litres of fuel each month, depending on their hierarchy. Apart from these, home ministers have also been recognized as VIPs who would receive similar facilities but of a slightly lower range.
These provisions that have been warmly accepted by all political parties except the newly formed CPN (Maoists) could have a range of reasons behind their introduction. First, the decision to provide such huge facilities for ex-VIPs and ex-office bearers could be an attempt by the caretaker government to show how committed it is towards those who have worked towards nation-building in the past. Second, it could also be a method of reducing corruption, which lies at the centre of Nepali politics and bureaucracy. Third, the decision could be an attempt to impress other political parties and influence the bureaucracy to extend the government’s life. This new step, however, does have a dangerous flip side—with a rapidly changing political scenario, the number of VIPs could go hopelessly out of hand.
Apparently, comrade Prachanda was so delighted with this step that he announced that he would abandon his ‘Prachanda Palace’ because the government would give him accommodation. Most high level politicians have remained silent over the issue—be it from mainstream political parties or so-called ethnic groups. Historical analysis of post 1990 politics of Nepal shows that there have been at least 24 government changes in the last 22 years. And had it not been for late Girja Babu’s insistence on sticking to the chair of prime minister for many years post-1990, we would have had around 24 prime ministers in the list of ex-VIPs who would be feasting continuously on the state’s coffer.
Baburam Bhattarai-led government is bent on providing luxuries to ex-VIPs, ignoring the miseries of poor people.
Nepal is a country which excels in forming and toppling governments, so we can imagine how many VIPs will emerge in the next ten years from the central government alone. If this legacy is adopted at the province level once we have a federal system, the number of VIPs would incrementally rise.
The most significant question this provision has raised is the basis and grounds for selections. General public has the right to know why these VIPs have been given so many facilities in one of the poorest countries of the world. What good have these VIPs done for the country? A quick recap of the political scenario from 1990 till now vividly demonstrates that no political figure is worthy of any appreciation, particularly in his/her role in nation-building. No major political transformations have been witnessed. The plight of the people and the country as a whole has been continuously worsening. Nepal’s rank in the world poverty index has only become more dismal. Its rank in the global human development index as well as the global corruption index has been further downgraded. UNDP reports that Nepal ranks 157th on Human Development Index and according to Transparency International’s annual report on corruption, Nepal ranks at 154 out of 183. Ethnic tensions and divisions have been on the rise and the twin tasks of peace process and constitution writing are hanging in limbo.
Several people are reeling pitiably below the poverty line and the marginalized like women, disabled, and old people are being deprived even further. The youth is leaving the country in large numbers in search of employment. Recent data shows that in the year 2069 BS (2012) alone, 4,00,000 youth have left the country. Many graduates have been desperately looking for decent jobs but every interviewer turns them down because positions are filled up by political recommendations. The state has not been able to provide clean drinking water, basic healthcare, education, good infrastructure or any social security to a vast majority of the population.
No popularly elected and well meaning government can afford to turn a blind eye to the problems of its people. Politics is supposed to be like a voluntary social service. Politicians render services for the betterment of their people and work in the nation’s interest. They are expected to consistently work towards improving the lives of their people by ensuring better facilities as well as conducive social, economic and political conditions. It is the politician who has to ensure the nation remains peaceful, harmonious and prosperous.
But in sharp contrast, the Baburam Bhattarai-led government is bent on providing a luxurious life to ex-VIPs, ignoring the widespread problems of its people and the fact that Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The economy depends on agriculture, taxpayers, remittances and either international loans or aid. The protest by civil society organizations against this provision is welcome but if means like hunger strikes do not work, a more vibrant social movement should be the alternative.
The author is a PhD Candidate at the University of Waikato, New Zealand
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