KATHMANDU, Nov 30: The government piled pressure on project managers to publish tender notices for 12 various road projects worth Rs 10 billion as part of the postal highway scheme just a month before the local level elections in Province 2 on September 18.
In its election campaign in the province, the Nepali Congress (NC)-led government highlighted the bringing forward of the contract award processes by a few months as a major achievement. This is widely seen as one probable reason why the NC could get more of its candidates elected in Province 2 than any other party.
This is just one example of how the government whose main task is to hold the elections is trying to influence the poll results through various significant decisions of far-reaching consequence. The government is not only taking new decisions to woo votes but also rolling back the decisions taken by previous governments.
Giving permanent status to some 15,000 temporary teachers in public schools, appointment of over 1,400 lecturers on contract at Tribhuvan University, giving approval for the issue of identity cards to over 336,000 households living in extreme poverty in 25 various districts, and the decision to distribute Rs 25,000 each to flood-hit families are among key decisions the Deuba government has taken, apparently to woo voters.
Although these decisions were already in the pipeline, the actual work under big projects such as distribution of national identity cards and issue of smart driving licenses and embossed number plates for vehicles also kicked in during the last few months. These decisions involving the spending of billions have courted huge controversy, with allegations of corruption and misappropriation.
The list of major decisions taken with an eye to influencing the elections does not stop there. Education Minister Gopal Man Shrestha granted affiliation to 23 private schools for operating various technical programs, courting allegations of corruption.
Similarly, the cabinet recently took a decision to allow a few select companies including www.gharghaderi.com to carry out land plotting as recommended by Minister for Land Reform and Management Gopal Dahit. This amounted to backtracking from an earlier decision to prohibit fragmentation of arable land.
Commenting on the government's sense of priorities, Rajendra Dahal, editor of Sikshyak Monthly magazine, tweeted that none of these projects can address common concerns such as providing jobs to the unemployed, ensuring road safety and delivering public services to service seekers without demanding bribes.
Bimal Koirala, former chief secretary of the government, said that a government holding elections should not be making decisions with long-term implications. “This is however not a legal issue but an ethical one,” he added. Decisions of long-term impact are said to be a way of influencing elections and in some cases also earning commissions to fund election war chests.
The CPN (Maoist Center)-led former government's awarding of the Budhigandkai hydroelectric project to a Chinese company without open competition and that too just a day before the government stepped down, as well as the revoking of the same decision by the current government are other controversial decisions.
“Both these ill-considered and impromptu decisions over a project deemed vital for energy security may have serious implications for bringing in foreign investments in the days ahead,” said Shailendra Guragain, president of the Independent Power Producers' Association, Nepal (IPPAN). “Political leaders at the helm have treated such big issues as child's play.”
Although academics and a section of political leaders, who had protested against awarding the project to the Chinese company, are happy with the government's latest move, the decision has shown how petty politics is hindering foreign investment in a sector of paramount importance like hydropower.