Govt roadmap is to implement constitution: Basnet
Minister for Information and Communications Mohan Bahadur Basnet is also the spokesperson of the Nepal government. A central member of the Nepali Congress, Basnet was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 2013 from Constituency-3 of Sindupalchowk district, and is known to be a bold youth leader of the party. Minister Basnet made known his views on a wide range of topical issues while talking with Ram Prasad Dahal of The Rising Nepal. Excerpts:
As the Minister for Information and Communications and spokesperson of the Nepal government, what is the government doing to implement its political roadmap?
At present, implementation of the Constitution is the main political roadmap. The government has already held two phases of the local polls. Now holding the third phase of the local elections and concluding the elections of the provincial assemblies and the federal parliament are the goals.
In this context, the government has politically succeeded in convincing the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal, which had boycotted the polls, to participate in the local, provincial and parliamentary elections. So the country is moving towards the elections by taking all the political parties on board. The government has given top priority to constitution implementation by holding all the elections successfully. The government is sensitive to this and is pushing its activities ahead accordingly.
The Election Commission has been expressing concern about the lack of laws to hold the elections. How long will it take to draft and endorse the laws?
As there was a need for forging consensus to hold the local, federal and provincial elections, the government was focussed more on forging consensus. We have achieved some success in it. Now the government is now fully engaged in easing the process of drafting and passing the election laws.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during his recent India visit said that the constitution would be amended. But the prime minister’s views on the constitution have been dragged into controversy. What is your view on it?
Making a mountain out of a molehill is not a new thing in Nepal. In other countries, the political parties and their leaders stand together when an issue of national interest is raised. But in Nepal there is a popular practice of doing the just opposite. We tend to criticise our leaders’ activities as always going against the national interest.
The Prime Minister during his state visit to India had said that he would bring all the political parties on board even by amending the constitution. It is not a new issue. Even during the tenure of late Sushil Koirala, the issue of amendment was raised to address the discontents expressed by a few political forces. Sher Bahdaur Deuba also put forward the same issue after he was elected the Prime Minister.
The RJP-N, after holding massive consultations, had asked the Prime Minister to table the constitution amendment bill even if it failed to get through the parliament. The bill was put to a vote after the RJP-N leaders said they would take part in the polls. The bill failed to get through the parliament by a few votes.
It seemed the Prime Minister raised the issue of constitution amendment, which was rejected by the parliament, in haste during his India visit and invited dispute.
We cannot judge the issue that way. We should first understand why any constitution needs an amendment after its promulgation. Even in the past, the constitutions of Nepal were amended several times. Constitutions of many countries, which have adopted a democratic system, have also been amended. Amending the constitution as per the people’s aspirations and needs of the time is not a new thing. Now the RJP-N has joined the election fray by making a temporary compromise. They have said that the government should make efforts in the future to amend the constitution. Discussions are being held on the issue. Even the main opposition, the CPN-UML, will favour the amendment; the UML leaders look more flexible on amending the constitution than they were in the past.
The RJP-N boycotted the first and the second rounds of the local polls, stating that it would not participate in the polls unless the constitution was amended. The party has now joined the election fray. Therefore, if time thus requires and the political parties become flexible, the constitution can be amended in the future. This is the view of the government.
Then when will the constitution be amended, before or after holding the announced elections?
We have not said the constitution would be amended before holding the elections. The constitution will be amended when we feel it necessary. It is a continuous process.
The government has decided to hold the elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies in two phases. But the main opposition, the CPN-UML, suspects that the government decided to hold the polls in two phases with the intention of rigging the vote.
It is a baseless argument. The local elections were held in two phases, and we saw overwhelming participation of the people during the two phases of the local polls. We should also look at history. Everybody knows which governments held the polls fairly in the past and which resorted to unfair means to bring the results in its favour. Who was in the government during the local polls of 1997 and how was it conducted? Therefore, the political parties should have no fear about votes being rigged. All the coming elections will be held in a free and fair manner just like the first two phases of the local elections.
Again, it was not the government that decided to hold the elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies in two phases. The Election Commission wanted this, and the government did not want to be an obstacle on the path of the EC’s work.
You said implementation of the constitution is the main priority of the government. What is the next priority of the government?
Taking the country, following a long political transition, to the path of economic prosperity is the next priority of the government. The national prosperity will begin after the successful conclusion of all the elections. All the political parties need to develop a common agenda to achieve the goal of national prosperity. We should stand united to push the country on the path of development. No one should dare to create a situation of political transition all the time.
Let’s change the context. Most people claim that the performance of the government has been poor in terms of maintaining good governance.
We need to analyse the facts of the past five years to find the answer to this question. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased. The rate of revenue collection has seen significant growth. Incidents of criminal activities have declined. Yes, violence against women seems to have increased, but the government has been trying to tackle it. When law and order situation has improved, price has been controlled, impunity situation has declined, and the economic indicators are positive, so how can we say that the government has failed to maintain good governance?
There is wide resentment against the government for failing to control corruption?
We cannot say that there is no corruption in the country. Again it is not wise to say that nothing has been done to control corruption. We should look at the results instead of labelling only blames. If we look at the results of the recent past, there is no reason to be disappointed.
These were the overall activities of the government. What major works have been carried out by your ministry after your appointment as Minister for Information and Communications?
After my appointment, I reached the flood-hit areas and engaged in supporting the victims for three days.
I made the future plans of my ministry public within nine days of taking the oath of office.
I have announced a few programmes to make the ministry journalist-friendly. The programmes have started yielding results.
Next, to make people capable of exercising the Right to Information, we need to make progress in the field of telecommunications. We have to expand telephone services. Internet service should be made available at all the tourist destinations. I have invited a three-day meeting of responsible employees in Kathmandu for September 6 to discuss measures to provide telephone service throughout the territories of Nepal. We can achieve this goal if all the mechanisms of the ministry work honestly.
We need to make amendments in the existing laws so that our activities can move ahead smoothly. And the process to amend the laws has already begun. I found that the work to build the Mass Media Training Academy had been halted. Now the work of establishing the academy has reached the final stage. Likewise, I have initiated a process to appoint an honorary information consular by establishing information centres in different countries. Nepalese nationals who are living abroad after having worked in the media sector for many years will be appointed to these centres. I have also pushed ahead to modernise the postal service and expand and make the radio and television services more effective. I am committed to producing results, which the people can feel, in three months.
Finally, is there anything you would like to tell the people on behalf of the government?
The nation is yet to overcome political instability. But after holding all the elections, the country will return to the right track, and people-elected representatives will be leading the country. Political stability will usher in.
All political parties, their leaders, citizens, businessmen, professionals and media workers should move ahead together to ensure the prosperity and development of the country. This is my appeal to the public through your newspaper.