On July 31, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli gave the impression that he meant business, seriously. He had the ministers in his cabinet sign performance agreements and instructed that they should deliver as per those agreements. Such move had come at a time when many of his ministers and the government officials were perceived as not working as per the public expectations. Honestly, that was a good step and we appreciated the prime minister, albeit with reservation. We held that the PM should not allow this measure to slip away as a publicity gimmick. Three weeks, it seems the work performance agreements were meant only for public consumption and the Prime Minister does not care much about improving the delivery. How else are we to explain this rather unexpected government move to transfer over a dozen secretaries?
On Monday, Prime Minister Oli transferred over a dozen secretaries, including those who had just signed work performance contracts with their ministers. And he seems to have done this without consent from the respective ministers. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health and Population Upendra Yadav has termed it a “very usual” move. Other ministers such as Bina Magar and Padma Kumari Aryal have also protested the ‘unilateral’ decision of the PM. After getting all the ministers to sign work performance contracts with him, the PM had instructed the ministers to have their secretaries sign similar contracts with them and so on down to the chain of command. And following this, some of the ministers had their secretaries sign the performance contracts in just the recent weeks. At least four of the secretaries now transferred—Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Secretary Gopi Mainali, Irrigation Secretary Sanjay Sharma, Education Secretary Khagraj Baral and Labor and Employment Secretary Mahesh Prasad Dahal—had done so just last week. Now the PM has transferred these secretaries at one go. One wonders what the PM actually wants to achieve with this decision.
Transferring secretaries is not a new normal in Nepal. As a matter of fact, every government post-2006 made it a point to transfer the top bureaucrats on various grounds. Prime Minister Oli could have done without resorting to transfer tactic because this government has been elected for full five years. Besides, transferring government officials, in itself, does not really help in improving governance and delivery. Prime Minister himself had transferred 30 secretaries at a single go in April last year. But as is the case the governance system has not improved. Head of the government has every right to transfer the officials from one ministry into other or from one department into other to ensure better governance system but the way the prime minister suddenly transferred these secretaries by inviting wrath of the ministries concerned shows he is being rather reckless. He should have given these secretaries, who have signed work performance agreements with their respective ministers, some time to prove themselves. He did not do so. He has not given any justification for this decision either. We are not convinced that transferring bureaucrats can make them accountable.