By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 10 April 2020) – The world is virtually in lockdown to fight the deadly Coronavirus. Nepal is also battling against it. The good news for Nepal is that it has so far limited the transmission of the virus. This has been possible through the joint determination of the government and the people. Nepal has now entered the second stage of the pandemic. And the government has taken additional preparedness and alertness while urging all citizens for continuous support and solidarity.
This write-up seeks to highlight the Prime Minister’s recent address to the nation, with focus on the actual situation of the country as well as the deliberate move to drag Prime Minister and the government into controversy.
On March 20, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli addressed the nation through Nepal Television. It was his first televised address which centred on the rationality of enforcement of lockdown and the ways to contain the COVID-19 internally and externally. His call was to get prepared to fight against pandemic with high morale and self-confidence.
Prime Minister, afterwards, stayed relatively silent because other state apparatuses were active under his instruction. DPM Ishwor Pokharel-led team has been constantly involved in taking measures against it. The proper channel of communication had already been established at the Ministry of Health and Population.
When the government purchased medical equipment and kits from OMNI Group comparatively at high rate, many raised their eyebrows. As the questions were raised about the accountability of medical equipment procurement process and the standard of testing kits, the government scrapped the Rs.340-million contract on 1 April while blacklisting the OMNI Group. It was a correction of blunder on the part of government.
Prior to the PM’s address, President Bidya Devi Bhandari had on April 3 addressed the nation and requested all to ‘stay home, stay safe,’ applauding the government for taking effective measures. Again, a section of intelligentsia showed their biased attitude towards the President, arguing the ceremonial head should not have addressed the nation. Such a defective line of argument was intended to defame the hard-won esteemed institution enshrined in the constitution that defines the president as the guardian of the nation. In such critical time, both President and Prime Minister can reach out to the people through televised message. It can be evidently said some people have been consciously active to hatch plots to weaken both the Prime Minister and President to meet their vested interest. Such mala fide motive can be traced even within the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
Prime Minister has been observing all these developments and public discourse relating to the raised controversy during the two-week long lockdown. No doubt, he needs to directly inform the country at regular intervals of the progress being made. It is equally logical that the information needs to be transparent and clear on all provisions. It is also true that Prime Minister Oli had been taking briefing from the Ministers and other officials and giving directions to them without public appeal.
Naturally, he informed the people about the works carried out by the government during the extended lockdown. He presented some progress in fact and figures. The figure says the quarantine centers with capacity of keeping 30,566 people and isolation beds for 3,259 people were built in the country. Nepal Army has already started the process to procure medical equipment under the G- to- G model. It is meaningless to say that the National Army is getting politicised and losing its identity as neutral national institution just because it has been entrusted with such responsibility. Army is under civilian leadership and it can be mobilised in difficult situation like the pandemic and natural disaster.
We should not forget that the timely nationwide lockdown and closure of the International Airport was the right step. Similarly, Nepal-India border was sealed for visitors. We should be liberal to appreciate the government for the series of affirmative actions directed to rein in the virus.
Prime Minister commended those working on the frontline despite limited resources and equipment, especially the health workers and civil servants. It is our duty to encourage them. The government has adopted three measures to contain the virus: prevention, control and treatment. The high-level committee and Coronavirus Crisis Management Committee (CCMC) are effectively working in implementing these measures involving the central to local governments.
PM Oli has laid it on the line: those involved in corruption and irregularities won’t get off scot-free. He was apparently indicating the OMNI Group and the controversial deal involving it. Prime Minister has asked the concerned officials to properly investigate the case. At the same time, the PM did not drag his feet and warned against those trying to fish in troubled waters. ”Publicity of false allegation and criticisms will never be able to weaken the government pledge against corruption and abuse of authority,” he said.
Lockdown is the only way to check the spread of the virus. The US, many European nations and India are following this strategy. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been urging their people same message ”stay home, stay safe”. The efforts taken by Nepal to combat the virus are better than various developed nations. But we are not out of risk. The threat of the virus is still there, which is why the government extended the lockdown period.
Many Nepalis have been forced to live across the border during the lockdown owing to difficult circumstances but it is not good to emotionalise the issue. The report says 2,149 Nepalis are in quarantine in India in coordination with Indian government and 700 Indians have been quarantined in Nepal. The stranded Nepalis should be safely brought to Nepal after completion of the required quarantine. PM has well mentioned this subject in the address.
PM has called for unity with all nations and human civilizations to overcome the global crisis. For this, he started telephonic conversations with his counterparts of the countries where many Nepalis have been residing. What would the Prime Minister have told the nation? This is not the time to indulge in irrational controversy and stage futile protest against the government. This is the time to perform one’s own duty as the citizen of the country. It is the time to demonstrate unity. Let’s fulfill our responsibility. We should live to fight for the rights as well as for power but with decent manner.
(Khanal is consulting editor at Gorkhapatra Corporation and can be reached at [email protected] )
This article first appeared in The Rising Nepal