KATHMANDU, Aug 28: Shortly after his election as prime minister exactly a year ago, Baburam Bhattarai told a group of journalist at his private residence at Dhobighat that he had mainly four priorities: conclude the peace process, draft a forward-looking constitution, usher in good governance and address unemployment, and lay the foundation for social and economic transformation.
As he celebrates the first anniversary of his assumption of office on Tuesday, Republica did a reality check on his commitments and other matters.
Peace Process: To begin with, Bhattarai told the journalists that his party had decided to conclude the peace process within 45 days from the date of his assumption of office, and that would be his first priority.
The peace process, which had largely stalled for years, was brought back on track after Bhattarai assumed the top executive post. Hardly a week after his election to office, the Maoist party handed over the keys of the arms containers to the government despite opposition from hardliners in the Maoist party.
The peace process achieved a milestone in November after the major political parties singed a historic seven-point agreement, resolving outstanding issues related to management of the Maoist combatants and laying the foundation for constitution making.
Following the agreement, a Special Committee carried out categorization of the Maoist combatants and released those opting for voluntary retirement from the cantonments, leaving behind only those combatants who opted for integration. But the integration of 3,123 combatants, which was supposed to be completed in April, has remained stalled to date, though the Special Committee has now decided to resume the process from September 6.
Constitution Writing: Bhattarai´s second priority, in his own words, would be to draft a forward-looking constitution by May 27. After he became prime minister, the task of constitution writing was pushed forward a little through the resolution of some disputes. But it couldn´t make any substantive progress due to failure to resolve the thorniest issues such as determining the system of governance and the federal system.
One of the most significant achievements was the formation of a state restructuring commission to offer suggestions on state restructuring. But efforts to advance the constitution making process bore no fruit as the Constituent Assembly was dissolved without drafting the new constitution.
Good Governance and Employment: Talking to the journalists the prime minister had said addressing poverty and corruption would be his third priority. Besides, he had promised to give immediate relief to the people.
To achieve his good governance goal, the prime minister had come up with the idea of Hello Sarkar so that people could file complaints directly with his office. The idea worked effectively in the initial months but gradually lost its charm following government agencies´ lukewarm response to the complaints.
The prime minister came up with a comprehensive good governance program in February 27 but its implementation was poor. Most of the time-bound schemes missed the six month deadline of July 27.
His good governance priority tuned out to be just a slogan after ministers openly engaged in corruption. He could not take any action against Minister Mahendra Yadav though officials at the Irrigation Ministry had turned to the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority with complaints of corruption. Similarly, Bhattarai turned a deaf ear to alleged corruption by then minister Bhim Prasad Gautam though State Minister Jwala Sah had formally complained to him of Gautam´s irregularities. Gautam was close to Bhattarai at the time.
Bhattarai also failed take any action against Joint Secretary Nagendra Jha though he was found paying a bribe to save then minister Prabhu Sah, who is close to Bhattarai. Media had exposed Jha bribing the family of Kashi Tiwari not to implicate Sah in Tiwari´s murder.
Yet Bhattarai sacked Labor Minister Sarita Giri, accusing her of obstructing good governance efforts at her ministry. Also, the government came up with a comprehensive anti-corruption national strategy to implement its commitment to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
On September 9, 2011, the prime minister came out with programs aimed at providing immediate relief to the people. Most of the programs, including returning seized properties to their rightful owners, forming transitional justice mechanisms and filling vacant posts at constitutional bodies, did not see the light of day. As the programs turned into fiasco, the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers directed the ministries to halt their implementation.
Austerity Measure: The Baburam Bhattarai-led government also announced austerity measures. The prime minister decided to fly only economic class while traveling abroad, drawing accolades from different sectors of society. But his austerity measures became a mockery after he formed a 39-member jumbo cabinet and appointed a record high number of staff -- 46-- to his personal secretariat.
His austerity measures received a further setback when he spent nearly three million rupees on a tea party. His ministers spent record high amounts on travel to the districts. The prime minister´s office is yet to settle the expenses incurred by the ministers, according to a source at the office.
Rule of Law, Human Rights: Nearly 40 decisions taken by the Bhattarai-led government were challenged at the Supreme Court and stayed by the apex court, according to records at the Office of the Attorney General. In addition, the government recommended amnesty to murder-convicted Maoist leader Bal Krishna Dhungel and withdrew criminal cases involving over 300 people.
The government pressured government lawyers not to implicate then minister Prabhu Sah in a murder case though police investigations had found Sah´s involvement in the murder of Kashi Tiwari of Birgunj.
Diplomacy: A month after his ascendance as prime minister, Dr Bhattarai paid an official visit to India in October. Various agreements were reached during the visit including ones on revitalizing all bilateral mechanisms and holding a joint commission meeting that was supposed to pave the way for the first visit to Nepal by the Indian prime minister in a decade.
But the 11 months that followed neither saw the implementation of these agreements nor did the much-awaited visit of the Indian premier materialise.
High-level visits to Nepal from Washington and China came as a relief to the government. Though the brief visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was hailed as a ´success´ for the government, the refusal of the Chinese side to hold any meeting with Prime Minister Bhattarai during Rio 20 was seen as a ´diplomatic backlash´.
Former ambassador to the UN, Jayaraj Acharya, said the country could not see any substantive achievements on the diplomatic front under the Bhattarai-led government. "Nepal has a close and expanded relationship with India. But I wonder why the government is not appointing a Nepali envoy to Delhi," he asked.
However, some institutional reforms at the foreign ministry and measures taken to regulate the INGOs, foreign aid and the foreign employment sector deserve appreciation.
The Bhattarai-led government also had to put up with diplomatic embarrassment after an incumbent minister, Lokendra Bista, was found travelling to Germany without a visa. Likewise, the visit of Industry Minister Anil Jha to India on a third-party invitation to attend the wedding of a Nepali newspaper icolumnist was another diplomatic embarassment.
PM to address nation on Tuesday
Meanwhile, the prime minister is addressing the nation on Tuesday and making public a report on his performance, according to Tourism Minister Post Bahadur Bogati. Asked to comment on the government´s performance, Bogati said, "The report includes both achievements and failures and I do not want to make any comment now."