The size of Cabinet
Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and (now) CPN (Maoist Center) emerged as the first, second and third largest parties, respectively, in the second Constituent Assembly elections in 2013. There were also the three main forces behind the new constitution that was promulgated on September 20th, 2015. It was after intense deliberations that the three parties had agreed to cap the size of Nepali cabinet to 25 in the new constitution. It was a wise decision, in keeping with the public feedback on an earlier draft. But the government of KP Sharma Oli, the UML chairman, the first government that was formed after the promulgation of new constitution, made a mockery of this constitutional provision as the size of his cabinet steadily expanded, to a final tally of 41. The new government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist chairman, which replaced the Oli government, has already inducted 30 ministers, after the latest expansion that included 13 new ministers from Congress party. The cabinet size might not be as big a constitutional issue as federalism or government form. Nonetheless, it’s an important one, for it’s the first and among the most visible indicators of the commitment of our major parties to implement the new charter.
The bloated cabinets of the two governments formed after the promulgation of the new constitution suggests that the primary goal of Nepali prime minister in the new set up is keeping all the ruling coalition partners happy, even if it comes at considerable cost to the national exchequer. Prime Minister Dahal might respond that with the kind of electoral system that we have in the new constitution, unwieldy coalitions will continue to be the norm in Nepal. He has a point. In all likelihood, by the time Dahal stops expanding his roster of ministers, possibly after the inclusion of some representatives from Madheshi parties, the size of his cabinet could easily exceed Oli’s 41. True, with any one party unlikely to get an absolute majority in future elections, the big parties will continue to rely on many smaller outfits to cobble together a functioning government. That does now, however, give government heads the liberty to use state resources as they please. And they most certainly do not have the right to abuse the constitution, the supreme law of the land.
It appears that our major parties agreed to cap the number of ministers in the constitution just to please the public, and with no intention of mending their errant ways. People will find it increasingly hard to trust their elected representatives who seem to have no compunctions about trampling on the constitution, if it serves their purpose. If the major parties are really committed to working in public interest, it is possible to form clean and lean government even with a multi-party coalition: instead of 15 or 20 ministers, the major coalition partners can chose five or 10 instead. This is by no means easy. But it is doable, which is one reason why the cabinet size was capped in the constitution. But this is unlikely so long as our politicians continue to be rewarded based on their ability to suck up to party leaders rather than their work as people’s representatives. Perhaps we might have to wait a few more years to expect that kind of political maturity from our political class.