Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai was livid, and there was reportedly a heated exchange at a CCMC meeting on 18 August between Bhattarai and Pokhrel. The lack of coordination between the committee and line ministries has gotten so bad that critics have accused the CCMC of running a parallel government – even though the committee itself is made up of the prime minister, health minister, home minister, defence minister, supplies minister and the Nepal Army.
Nepal grapples with bringing workers home, Upasana Khadka
Critics say the CCMC is actually a government within the government that makes ad hoc decisions without consultations with public health and other experts. There have also been questions about transparency even since the committee in its previous avatar in April ordered the wrong test kits at inflated prices from middlemen alleged to be political cronies.
As Defence Minister, Pokhrel then ordered the Nepal Army to manage the transport of arriving returnees from Kathmandu airport to holding centres and to their districts.
He also got the Army involved in procurement of test kits and medical equipment from China, but forced it to go through the same tainted middlemen. At a meeting last month, Army Chief Purna Chandra Thapa testily accused Pokhrel of tarnishing the military’s image by blaming it for delays.
The CCMC has also been accused of bungling on enforcing and lifting lockdowns, not giving clear guidelines about what is allowed and what is not, issuing contradictory protocols for arriving air passengers, and not doing enough to control the movement of people from India.
On the other hand, line ministries have gotten used to passing the buck to the CCMC on everything from permissions for international charters, the reopening of domestic flights, allowing long-distance buses, issuing no-objection letters for students going abroad, allowing private PCR tests, or making private hospitals treat Covid-19 patients. The Ministry of Health, which should be making the critical decisions on control measures, has been sidelined.
“This is the time when the health ministry should be at the forefront, banging the table by lobbying for their suggestions to be implemented, it is unfortunate to see that it is taking the back seat,” says Gagan Thapa of the opposition Nepali Congress.
Thapa puts the blame on the spike in Covid-19 cases in the country squarely on the CCMC because it never had a concrete pro-active plan on solving problems like having better and adequate quarantine facilities, increasing the numbers of tests, and now making sure there are enough isolation and ICU wards for treatment of seriously ill patients.
“Who is accountable for these lapses?” asks Thapa, who says that giving so much power without responsibility to the CCMC leaves it open to abuse of authority, and prone to making disastrous mistakes.
Nepal is too big for ad hocism, Anil Chitrakar
Nepal’s social media is also bristling with outrage against the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) for being preoccupied with its internal power struggle and not giving enough attention to lessening the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable Nepalis like returnees from India and stranded workers overseas.
“Our prime minister has all the time in the world for internal politics in Baluwatar, and he cannot even lead an effective Covid-19 response. It proves where his true interest lies, and the result of the negligence is here for all to see,” says Thapa.
Anil Pokhrel, CEO of the National Risk Reduction Authority who is also an external adviser at the CCMC agrees that public trust on the agency has eroded largely because of the lack of coordination with implementation agencies. But he adds, “I am not inside in the meetings, but under the circumstances, the government is trying its best to respond to the pandemic the best it can.”
The National Risk Reduction Authority’s predecessor is the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) which was entrusted with reconstruction and rehabilitation after the 2015 earthquake. The NRA had the same problem of coordination.
Because of frequent changes in government after the quake, the head of the NRA was changed three times in one year. There was political interference in its day-to-day operation, and it also functioned as a parallel government.