KATHMANDU, Nov 10: Questions are being raised from various quarters over the prospects for effective security arrangements as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) -- the government body that has this responsibility -- remains without a full-time minister just ahead of the two crucial elections in the country.
The failure of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to assign a designated minister to oversee the home ministry after he took the portfolio away from Janardan Sharma some three weeks ago has posed some critical challenges to ensuring effective poll security, officials said.
The prime minister, who is not only preoccupied with a host of other things including responsibility for five other ministries and also his own election campaign to run in Dadeldhuara, has kept the crucial ministry for himself.
“It is important to have dedicated political leadership for the home ministry ahead of elections. Although the day to day administrative functions can be performed by the bureaucratic leadership, political leadership is a must for maintaining the morale of the security agencies and bureaucrats including chief district officers and mobilizing them effectively during polls,” said a senior official at the home ministry, asking not to be named.
While most decisions are settled at the level of secretary, there are a number of decisions for which the home secretary requires the nod of the home minister. Real-time decisions are also required in some cases in the course of the polls, such as incidents of electoral violence.
“A dedicated home minister is a must during elections to make necessary security arrangements. It is not as easy to conduct polls as when a full-time home minister is in charge,” said former Home Secretary Shreekant Regmi.
Officials said Home Secretary Mohan Krishna Sapkota has been taking important files that need the ministerial nod to the Prime Minister's office these days. The decisions are often delayed as the prime minister is extremely busy. Among other things, the NC is going to polls under his leadership.
Besides the home ministry, Prime Minister Deuba has also assumed responsibility of five other ministeries including foreign, livestock development, science and technology, general administration and peace and reconstruction. Officials at some of these ministries also compalined that the prime minister's busy schedule has greatly affected their work.
As the parliamentary and provincial assembly elections are now just weeks away, the Home Ministry started provincial meetings on Wednesday with officials on the ground to assess the security situation and give them necessary directives on poll security. Although the first of these province-level meetings was held in Janakpur in his presence, Prime Minister Deuba has failed to attend other provincial security meetings.
Home Secretary Sapkota had chaired a similar meeting held in Pokhara on Friday. Other provincial security meetings are scheduled in Nepalgunj on November 14, Dhangadhi on November 15, Biratnagar on November 17 and Dhulikhel thenafter. The meetings will hear out what the security officials and CDOs deputed in the concerned provinces have to say to better tackle the problems they face.
There are fears that cadres of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal, breakaway factions of the Limbuwan group in the eastern hills and supporters of 'Free Madhes' campaigner CK Raut could pose challenges to poll security in their areas of influence. With the country passing through a post-conflict situation, security officials worry about the use of small arms during the polls.
Home Ministry Spokesperson Narayan Prasad Sharma Duwadi said Prime Minister Deuba in his capacity as home minister has already given them overall directives for poll security during the central security meeting held recently at his official residence. “We have been working as per the directives of the prime minister. The absence of a full-time home minister has in no way affected our work,” he said. “We have left no stone unturned to ensure effective security for the polls.”
The High Level Federal Administrative Restructuring Committee formed to facilitate the adjustment of civil servants has failed to meet for over a month now, as the ministry concerned does not have a minister available to head the body.
Although Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has himself taken on the ministerial portfolio after he rendered all the ministers representing the CPN (Maoist Center) portfolio-less, officials said the prime minister has failed to manage time for the Committee due to his poll-busy schedule. "The pace of our work has been greatly hampered as we have not been able to hold a meeting for policy directives for over a month now"" said a senior official, asking not to be named.
Officials argue that Prime Minister Deuba could either assign the portfolio to some other minister or allow a senior member of the party's representatives on the Committee to chair its meetings. "This is an urgent task. But since we have not been able hold a meeting since the last one month, our pace of work has been greatly hampered," the official.