PM's apology over India letter raises questions over competence of bureaucracy

Published On: July 12, 2019 07:00 AM NPT By: Republica

KATHMANDU, July 12: Amid widespread criticism that he lied to the people about an Indian government letter requesting halt to pesticides residue tests on fruits and vegetables at customs points, Prime Minister KP Oli publicly apologized on Thursday saying he was not informed by officials about the letter.

Addressing a function in the capital on Thursday, Prime Minister Oli said he was not informed by government officials about the letter and his statement made out of ignorance had left him ashamed. “I told the people that the government had not received any letter [from the Indian government]. But later I learnt that such a letter had indeed come from India. I am sorry for this,” the prime minister said.

But the apology from the country's chief executive over his ignorance about the Indian government letter has raised serious questions about the competence of his administration.

Normally, any diplomatic correspondence from foreign government is channeled through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). “It is our normal practice that as soon as we receive such correspondence, the division concerned looks into and forwards it to the ministries concerned,” said Deputy Spokesperson at the MoFA Suresh Adhikari.

Officials at MoFA said ministry officials concerned are supposed to brief the prime minister if they deem it necessary. Except for some issues considered “urgent' and “sensitive”, MoFA only facilitates the work of the ministry holding jurisdiction.

Although it came to public domain later that the Indian Embassy had written to MoFA, the Ministry Agriculture and Livestock Development and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies on May 29, Prime Minister Oli until recently kept saying that the government had not received any letter from India. The prime minister had courted serious controversy after the Indian Embassy letter was leaked to the media.

Former bureaucrats argue that the ministers concerned should have briefed the prime minister about the letter and efforts made to resolve the cases of this nature. But the prime minister seems to have been kept in the dark for long by both the ministries.

Ever since the controversy surrounding their failure to apprise the prime minister of the letter surfaced, these two ministries -- Ministry Agriculture and Livestock Development and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies -- appear to be blaming each other.

While Industry Minister Matrika Prasad Yadav claimed in parliament that he was not even informed by senior officials of his ministry about the letter, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Chakrapani Khanal alleged that MoFA should be answerable for the failure to inform the prime minister. Speaking at an interaction in the capital on Thursday, Minister Khanal however said that MoFA had informed his ministry about the letter sent by the Indian Embassy.

Administration experts and former diplomats argue that ministers or secretaries of the line ministries are supposed to apprise the prime minister of such development. Addressing a weekly press briefing at his ministry on Thursday, Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Banskota vented ire at the bureaucrats for keeping the prime minister in the dark.

While defending the prime minister, Minister Banskota said the prime minister was misled by the bureaucrats. “We cannot hang those who misled the prime minister. This is not Rana regime,” said Minister Banskota.

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