KATHMANDU, June 22: Just five days before the second round local elections, the government on Thursday transferred Election Commission Secretary Gopinath Mainali in a row over procurement of luxury cars for the five election commissioners and other logistics issues.
A Cabinet meeting on Thursday transferred Mainali following complaints from the commissioners. In a recent meeting with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, all five commissioners had demanded that Mainali be replaced immediately, accusing him of not supporting them. Commissioners had complained that Secretary Mainali was "obstructing the election process", and creating difficulties in the use of funds allotted for election purposes.
'He has been transferred in a row over procuring of vehicles for the commissioners. He was actually working hard to make the elections a success,' said a senior official at the EC.
Joint-Secretary Mahshwor Neupane has replaced Mainali. Joint-secretary Neupane, who is currently working as at the Ministry of General Adminstration, had earlier worked as administrative chief of the EC during the 2013 Constituent Assembly elections.
Questionsing Neupane"s performance, Chief Secretary Somlal Subedi had reportedly suggested to the prime minister and ministers to pick anyone other than him. But they ignored this as the commissioners have already settled for Neupane as their adminstrative chief.
Informed officials said Secretary Mainali was under pressure to endorse the decision to procure five Prado cars for the five commissioners. But Mainali was against the move, arguing that the new cars cannot be included as election material and doing so would cause a huge financial burden at a time when dozens of cars are already lying idle.
The election regulations define 67 items as election materials. But the commissioners were putting pressure on Mainali to include vehicles under same category. 'I tried to maintain austerity in the use of state funds and worked round the clock to make the elections a success. I was expecting to be rewarded but they have punished me just when the country is preparing to vote,' said Mainali.
The EC purchases dozens of vehicles during each election. Four vehicles were purchased for commissioners in the 2008 CA elections and four more Toyota Land Cruisers were purchased in 2013. This time, the government has purchased four cars and a jeep apart from 36 four wheelers.
'There are already 72 vehicles with the EC. Why did they need additional vehicles,' said an EC official who wished to stay anonymous .
In recent days, differences were surfacing between election commissioners and the election secretariat after the commissioners urged the Central Investigation Bureau to track the call details of officials working at the EC secretariat following the row over disclosing "secrete information". Sources privy to the development said senior election officials are under police surveillance after the vote tearing case in Bharatpur.
Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav said there was nothing wrong in the secretary"s transfer as it was a part of regular transfers. 'As many as 12 secretaries have been transferred from here since I came here in 2007. It"s a regular process. Government asked us about his transfer. We consented as we have no other option,' said CEC Yadav.
Asked about the vehicles procurement row, CEC Yadav said the EC had already decided to purchase the vehicles. 'We are waiting for the finance ministry"s consent and things will move in accordance with the legal process,' said the election chief stating that the commissioners are using vehicles that are nearly 12years old.
Election experts say the "unexpected decision" was not taken without "something wrong" in the office. 'One can guess something wrong behind such an unexpected decision ahead of crucial elections. Such a move could raise questions over the EC"s credibility,' said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety.
Election laws bar the government from transfering government officials unless it is urgent. But the transfer of a top election official ahead of polls is considered a stern breach of the election code of conduct. 'This should not have happened. The decision seems to have been taken with the intent of influencing the election. We are also in a dilemma over how to coordinate the new election secretariat at the last moment,' said a joint-secretary deployed to eastern Nepal as a micro-monitor on behalf of the election body.