Know your limits, caretaker PM


Editorial 

Parliamentary democracy operates on trust on certain norms and values, and rules. The parliament is at the center of that. The parliament forms the government and keeps the latter accountable to it. The government, therefore, is the representative of the parliament which in turn represents the people. Its executive authority remains so long as there is parliament. There is, therefore, parliamentary supremacy in parliamentary democracy. The parliament has its term which is determined by periodic elections. There is no way that the government formed by the parliament can exercise executive authority forever when the parliament itself is formed by the mandate of periodic elections. A government without a parliament, therefore, is not imagined. The government becomes caretaker once it announces the next parliamentary elections and wait for the next government starts.

The provision of giving continuity to the government elected by the earlier parliament is kept only because an uninterrupted presence of government is necessary for operation of the state. A caretaker government can only do regular administrative works, and take contingent decisions. A caretaker government does not have authority to make policy decisions. Policy decisions have long-term implications and one must have the people’s mandate to take such decisions.

The government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has become a caretaker government from the day the process for general elections started. A caretaker government just has to do regular administrative works until the new government is formed. It cannot, and should not, do anything more. It should seek political consensus even if the article for removing constitutional obstacles may sometimes have to be exercised. This is a moral issue. Democracy stands on moral grounds as well as the rule of law.

The decisions continuously made by the Deuba government after start of the election process are not merely administrative. It has also made policy decisions that can have long-term implications and put additional burden on the state coffers.

This caretaker government by reducing the eligibility threshold for elderly allowance by five years has taken a big policy decision that will significantly increase the burden on state coffers. It similarly has also announced additional grant for earthquake and flood victims.

The decision to reduce the eligibility threshold for elderly allowance to 65 years is wrong in itself and irresponsible. The average lifespan of Nepalis has now increased to 68 years. It has been rising across the globe. Some countries have been raising the age for retirement as a result. This decision has been taken by a 73-year-old prime minister who has been dismissing the requests of fellow party members for him to retire.

The threshold earlier was 70 years and around 900,000 were receiving elderly allowance. The number of recipients is projected to rise to around 1.50 million after the new announcement putting an additional annual burden of at least Rs 13.20 billion. This is almost two percent of the revenue target of Rs 730 billion set by the government for this fiscal year.

A total of 767,000 households whose houses were destroyed by the earthquake of April 25 and May 12, 2015 are eligible to receive government grant. The government immediately after the earthquake had announced a grant of Rs 200,000 for the earthquake victims. The Pushpa Kamal Dahal government formed with support of Nepali Congress (NC) had announced an additional Rs 100,000 for each household around 18 months back. This caretaker government has again increased it by Rs 100,000 putting an additional burden of Rs 76.70 billion. There has been no discussion and debate about why the grant was increased to Rs 300,000 from Rs 200,000, and again by Rs 100,000 now.

The government had allocated Rs 36 billion for social security allowance for the current fiscal year, and officials are saying the amount will fall short by Rs 4 billion even before the latest announcement. NC has been claiming that communists work for cheap popularity. The joint election manifesto of CN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) has pledged to raise elderly allowance to Rs 5,000 a month from Rs 2,000. Deuba has taken this irresponsible decision as a political one-upmanship over the left alliance that will form the next government.

The government had earlier been exercising prerogative authority by continuing political appointments and providing financial assistance. Its functioning was like that of a regular government with the people’s mandate. Its activities as a result were arbitrary.

This caretaker government similarly is trying to amend the Nepal Police Act to remove the provision of 30-year limit for service. It is another irresponsible and immoral effort on the eve of formation of a new elected government.

The government’s preparation to remove the 30-year service limit in Nepal Police has raised suspicions about its intention. The IGP and 16 AIGs are retiring in April due to the 30-year service limit. This eagerness to amend the provision has raised serious suspicions about financial influence.

We want to remind this caretaker government that a caretaker government should not take any policy decision. Parliamentary democracy will be strong only with rule of law exercised on moral grounds.

Peaceful transfer of power in democracy also means ethical transfer. Taking policy decisions that can have long-term implications by a caretaker government which should only do regular administrative works is serious betrayal toward parliamentary democracy. This will harm the people’s faith in democracy.

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