One of the first announcements the government of KP Sharma Oli made in its first months was about restricting ‘unnecessary’ foreign junkets by government officials and ministers. The move, it was claimed then, was for making foreign visits more result-oriented and reduce the unnecessary financial burden on the state coffers. That was indeed a welcome step. But one year down the line, the government has not been able to enforce this rule. The government had also taken the move to streamline foreign visits of provincial ministers and other governmental units through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Again, that could not be implemented. Instead, the government was criticized for selectively enforcing this provision. While Chief Minister of Province 2 was allegedly barred from making the trip to the US by the federal government, another chief minister was permitted to go on China visit.
The government has come up with yet another set of directives which make it mandatory for the office bearers and other officials of provincial and local governments to receive permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) before holding meetings with the representatives of foreign governments, diplomatic missions and INGOs. The new directives demand that provincial and local level governments should communicate through MoFA while establishing contacts with foreign governments, missions, representatives and international organizations. They also should secure permission from MoFA before making the visit to the foreign countries. The new rules require foreign institutions or representatives seeking meetings with provincial and local level officials to channel their communication through the MoFA. Additionally, the directives also provide guidelines for any commitment or statement that may be made during such meetings with foreigners. Provincial and local government officials are not authorized to make any commitment or statement that go against Nepal’s relations with its neighbors and Nepal’s regional and international commitments. The participation of representatives of Nepal’s diplomatic mission in the concerned country should be ensured while holding important bilateral meetings. Upon their return, the officials are required to submit a copy of the report of their visit to the MoFA and also make it public through their official websites.
Measures to streamline contacts of various governments with the foreign missions, organizations and foreign countries were long overdue, as the tendency of provincial chief ministers and other officials making visits abroad without the knowledge of the federal government was growing. But given the past track record of poor implementation or selective enforcement of such policies, we doubt that these guidelines will make any difference. There is no dearth of measures MoFA has taken to improve issues that have direct bearing on Nepal’s foreign policy conduct. Take the standards and criteria the ministry had adopted for the appointment of ambassadors. The criteria require that ambassadorial appointment should be based on merits, competence and work experience of the candidates. Most ambassadorial appointments made in recent time violate these criteria. As a rule, Nepali minister visiting or interacting with their foreign counterparts should be accompanied by foreign ministry officials and details of the interaction should be recorded for institutional memories. But this is yet to become a standard norm. In the meetings between Nepali ministers and their foreign counterparts, Nepali ministers are often seen sitting alone while their foreign counterparts are accompanied by officials taking notes. This is the result of the government’s tendency to either selectively enforce or not enforce the rules it makes. Let it be proved this time that it won’t happen in case of enforcing directives to regulate external contacts of local and provincial governments.