A year wasted

After ten years of blood and 12 years of trying to come to terms with why it was shed, Nepalis had great hopes for 2018.

Last year this time, there was a sense of achievement and optimism. The first elections for three levels of government under the new Federal Constitution had been held. The UML Maoist alliance swept the elections, and the expected unification of the two parties was supposed to mark the end of unstable coalition politics, and finally deliver development. We had a straight-shooting can-do prime minister, who despite failing health, had shown gumption and promise during campaigning.

One year later, much of the euphoria has evaporated. The past year has been one of missed opportunities, miscues, inaction and blatant blunders. Two months after the election results became clear, the lameduck Nepali Congress prime minister finally stepped down and the two communist alpha males K P Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided to co-chair their united party, and rotate the prime ministership.

Formal party unification took another month. Still, there was hope that Oli would hit the ground running, even if it was through showcase development, cleaning up the roads of the capital and launching major projects.

Alas. It may have been unrealistic of us to expect the same septuagenarians from the same parties to suddenly govern with accountability and efficiency. The Nepali people did not expect much, so they were not surprised to see no improvement in their lives. The roads were still dug up, the bus syndicates that Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa promised to eradicate were still around, tanker operators were still striking for the right to steal oil, the culprits who absconded with 33 kg of smuggled gold were never caught, nor those responsible for the rape-murder of Nirmala Panta in Kanchanpur.

There were some bright spots, and these were mostly in sectors led by efficient and relatively young former UML ministers in the Cabinet like Rabindra Adhikari (Tourism), Gokarna Bista (Labour) or Yubaraj Khatiwada (Finance). But even they are finding it difficult within their ministries to get the wheels of government to turn.

The rent-seeking state is so habituated to extortion and extraction that Bista has run into a wall in implementing his ground-breaking accord with the new regime in Malaysia to remove exploitation and costs for Nepali migrant workers. Adhikari, despite all his efforts, cannot go beyond cosmetic improvements at Kathmandu airport. Khatiwada’s valiant efforts at fiscal discipline and capital spending are not yielding results, and this has resulted in a liquidity crisis that threatens the banking sector.

If that is how honest politicians are prevented from delivering, one can imagine what is happening in the ones led by corrupt and ruthless ministers lining their pockets as if there was no tomorrow. The sordid list of impunity and abuse of authority is long and makes for thoroughly depressing reading every morning: ambassadors on the take from traffickers, justices who hurriedly clear criminals ahead of their imminent retirement, absconding multiple-murderers appearing on stage with the CDO and police, and a ministerial secretary demanding a Rs250 million bribe to release funds for the much-delayed Melamchi water project.

What is worse is that the public is now so cynical about officials plundering the state that these investigative reports do not even raise eyebrows anymore. Media exposes cause a brief flutter before society shrugs, and moves on.

We hoped to be able to wish our readers a happy new year 2019. But Nepal and Nepalis will probably just muddle through another 52 weeks.