Commentary: Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba Addresses the Nation

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Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba addressed the nation on January 21 after completing his six months in the office. This was the first address by the PM after being elected on July 13 in 2021. In a 30 minutes long address, he highlighted that good governance, peace process, implementation of different agreements, implementation of federalism by involving provincial and local governments have been the high priorities for the government. PM Deuba gave a detailed list of work done in regard to improving vaccination drive and economic sector of the country. He also briefly touched on the election to be held within a year and urged the involved stakeholders to start the preparation work. Similarly, he assured that the House proceedings will resume after discussions with the political parties. The speech mostly highlighted the work carried out by the government in six months, while largely ignoring other national interest issues such as MCC, Kalapani land dispute, issues surrounding Chief Justice and Supreme Court, and climate change.

As the country is facing a third wave of Covid-19, the government has expanded the vaccination drive throughout the country. PM Deuba has shared the government’s plans to vaccinate 100 percent of the eligible population by Chaitra (Mid-April). Since omicron variants are milder in comparison to the previous variants, hospitalization rates have been low. Nonetheless, the government has improved the health infrastructures by expanding oxygen production, adding ventilators and ICUs, and improving infrastructure in government hospitals. Moving forward, the government will properly analyze the economic and social impact of any measures put forth to control the spread. The Health Ministry’s notice to prioritize vaccination drive rather than immediately enforcing lockdown is an attestation to that.

In the speech, PM Deuba has put a high emphasis on the economic development of the country through production-based economy, focusing on domestic raw products, improving supply chain, and absolute zero corruption policies. The economy, on the other hand, is going through a crisis as indicated by various economic indicators including foreign currency reserves, inflation rate, and rising liquidity crunch, among others. PM Deuba brushed these concerns aside and talked about the improving economic condition of the country and has projected a higher economic growth for FY 21/22. There is a growing shortage of chemical fertilizers which may have significant implication for the country’s economy. The government has made a provision to add NRS 12.71 billion to the already existing NRS 15 billion regular budget for the purchase of chemical fertilizers, as highlighted by the PM. The outcome of such provision is yet to be seen.

Instead of addressing some of the concerning issues in the economic sector, regular development works such as expansion of roads, construction of bridges, slow moving projects such as Bhairawa and Pokhara International Airports have been presented as achievements. Similarly, the PM has applauded the government’s work on distributing relief for the disaster victims and starting re-construction works. However, people in many parts of the country are still awaiting help from the government. So, the speech only provided a surficial description while largely failing to come up with concrete plans and policies to uplift the economy.

The Election Commission has proposed April-May to hold the local level elections, but different provisions in the Local Election Act of 2017 have created confusion regarding the election dates. Similarly, during the meeting of the ruling alliances on January 21, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has proposed to hold parliamentary elections in April-May and delaying the local level elections. Although PM Deuba urged to start the preparations for the election, no details regarding the dates were provided. Similarly, House obstruction caused by the main opposition UML has weakened the parliamentary system. Due to this several ordinances and bills are yet to be endorsed. The PM yet again didn’t provide details on how this issue will be addressed. The MCC grant has been one of the most debated issues which has divided the Nepali politics. PM Deuba has made his stance clear on ratification from the parliament, while other parties have their reservation. Similarly, Dahal has stressed to hold an all-party meeting before endorsing it through the House. The House obstruction along with the divided opinions among the ruling coalition has created a stalemate regarding MCC. The issue was completely neglected by the PM in his address speech.

On January 14, General Secretary of Nepali Congress Gagan Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma released a statement regarding the Kalapani border dispute. In the statement, they have urged the government to solve the issue through high level diplomatic talks. The issue has further escalated after the comments made by Indian PM, Modi. Both India and Nepal have issued statements regarding the matter, but no concrete bilateral talks have been underway. PM Deuba also remained silent regarding this matter in his address speech. Likewise, PM also remained silent on the border blockade imposed by China in Kerung and Tatopani and issues along Nepal-China border in Humla district.

As the dates for the general elections are approaching fast, the speech could have been a platform to address what the government has accomplished and what it plans to do in the coming days to gain voters’ confidence. However, it was very underwhelming as it did not address some of the key issues of the country. The government has taken good initiatives to improve the existing health infrastructures in the country and to provide vaccination. Although the PM mentioned zero corruption policy, the issues of corruption in vaccines were sidelined. In regard to economic growth, the PM has used inflated economic figures which are not achievable. Thus, the speech can be labelled as a routine speech with nothing new and exciting for the country.

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