Prime minister says he's in the dark. His critics aren’t delighted.

- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Jul 11, 2019-

The prime minister is in the dark. Or at least he says so.

Last week, when asked about a letter from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu demanding that pesticide tests for imported farm produce be revoked, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had professed ignorance. Even as he called the very existence of the letter into question, copies of the letter were making the rounds on social media.

Oli was forced to eat his words, admitting that the letter existed but that he had been deceived.

“I was not informed about the letter from the embassy,” Oli later said. “I was misled.”

On Wednesday, during an appearance on Nepal Television, Oli, who is known for his brash manner and off-the-cuff remarks, apologised.

“I need to admit and accept my mistake,” he said. “I said the letter was just a rumour, but I was misinformed.”

This was not the first time that Oli, who heads a government-backed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, admitted to having been “misled”, “deceived” or “kept in the dark”.

In April, Oli, while addressing a meeting of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries, said that he had been “tricked” by sugar mill owners into imposing quantity restrictions on the import of sugar.

The Oli administration had imposed quantity restrictions of 100,000 tonnes on sugar imports in September after sugar mills' owners complained that imported sugar was hampering their business. The decision led to an immediate surge in sugar prices during the festive season, as demands were high and a halt on imports meant shortages.

Then, last month, Oli told a meeting of the National Development Action Committee that he had been “wrongly briefed” on the completion of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project.

Former bureaucrats say Oli’s remarks mean a serious setback for the most stable government the country has had in decades because it is led by a prime minister who constantly says he is being deceived by his ministers and the civil service. 

“This [pesticide] incident shows that there is a lapse in our system,” said former chief secretary Bimal Koirala. “Authorities should brief the prime minister on actual problems. The prime minister’s statement indicates that he was not briefed, which is not good for the institution.” 

Political analysts, however, say it is difficult to believe that the prime minister had no information about the Indian Embassy’s letter.

“If the prime minister was telling the truth, then the Foreign Ministry is not working properly,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst. “It shows that the Foreign Ministry is ignoring the prime minister.”

Some have pointed to the prime minister’s tendency to speak his mind, unfiltered. 

“The prime minister should not speak whatever comes to mind,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst. “Either the prime minister’s office is incompetent or Oli has lied to the people.” 

Oli, who has faced criticism from members of his own party for taking decisions unilaterally, has a litany of advisers—Kundan Aryal as press adviser, Rajan Bhattarai as foreign affairs adviser, Achyut Mainali as public relations adviser, and Bishnu Rimal as chief political adviser.

But many leaders from the ruling party believe Oli has largely insulated himself from reality and when problems arise, he and his advisers are quick to resort to conspiracy theories, one ruling party leader who asked to stay anonymous said.

These recurring incidents show the prime minister does not appear to have good relations with his own minister, said Hari Roka, a political analyst.

“This is a prime ministerial system, not a royal regime,” said Roka. “Oli should be able to take action against those who misled him. The ministers he’s pointing to are all from his own party.

Published: 11-07-2019 10:20

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