Taking oath of office on 15 February 2018, Province 1 Chief Minister Sherdhan Rai inducted four ministers in his provincial cabinet. The number was in no way sufficient to staff the provincial government.
There are seven ministries in the province, including the Office of the Chief Minister. Rai has also been looking after the Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives, as well as the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, for the past two years. As the chief minister does not have enough time on his hands, crucial works at these ministries have been affected. But cabinet expansion seem unlikely anytime soon.
The four ministries headed by respective ministers have formulated policies and laws to execute their public duties. But those under the chief minister have been left to the discretion of bureaucrats. It has affected public service delivery as the civil servants are unable to formulate laws and policies by themselves.
“The cabinet has failed to expand even in two years. Without its ministers, Province 1 has become like a person without vital organs,” says Bal Bahadur Samsohang, parliamentarian fromthe ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). “Now even if the ministers are immediately appointed, the two ministries will have to spend a lot of time clearing a two-year backlog.”
Works related to critical sectors such as roads, drinking water, irrigation, energy, transport, agriculture, poverty alleviation, and land management have been affected in the absence of department heads.
“Maybe the delay is due to pressure from the central government. The chief minister is just filling vacancies in these ministries, without evaluating their functioning,” says another parliamentarian, Lila Ballav Adhikari, also from the ruling NCP.
Absence of department heads has also affected capital expenditure. Not only have the concerned bodies failed to spend budgets, there have also been irregularities, claim parliamentarians.
“There are big irregularities in the ministries that are not headed by a minister. An irrigation staffer in Bhojpur district was recently found taking bribe,” says parliamentarian Ushakala Rai, also from the ruling NCP. “As there is no minister to oversee these departments, employees are going their own way.”
According to Dhruba Subedi, press advisor of the chief minister, the issue hinges on a decision of the federal government. “Expansion of provincial government needs federal approval. As the federal government has not given such an approval, cabinet expansion in the province has been delayed,” Subedi says.
Samsohang also criticizes the practice of getting blessings from Kathmandu to be appointed provincial ministers. The provincial government has been unable to function properly as there is interference from the center even in deciding the names of the province and its capital city, lambasts Samsohang. “Federalism seems meaningless if the provincial government cannot appoint its own ministers. We have to take orders from the center on everything, including choosing the name of the province and the capital city. How can we say the country has adopted a federal system?” questions Samsohang