Amid differences between the ruling partners, UCPN (Maoist) and Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM), over the selection of a new chief secretary, the Cabinet on Sunday named Lilamani Poudel, the secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the acting chief secretary for an eight-day period.
After incumbent Chief Secretary Madhav Ghimire retires on August 5, Poudel will automatically be elevated to the top post, according to the Cabinet decision. Ghimire went on the customary leave from Sunday.
After a five-hour-long informal meeting on Sunday morning failed to yield results, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai formally proposed Poudel’s name to the Cabinet.
Poudel, who hails from Gulmi district, has held eight positions in the meritocracy and has served at the ministries of Home, Information and Communications, Tourism, Industry and Commerce and as the consulate general for Lhasa, since joining the bureaucracy two decades ago. Poudel is known for his aggressiveness, strictness and assertiveness in governance.
Sharp differences emerged after the UCPN (Maoist) officially decided to back Poudel. While most of the SLMM leaders were supporting Umakant Jha who belongs to the Madhesi community, Irrigation Minister Mahendra Yadav had thrown his weight on his own secretary, Brinda Hada. Though the SLMM constantly expressed reservations on Poudel’s name and sought alternatives with Bhattarai, the PM was adamant on his decision. Morcha ministers kept on telling the PM and the Maoist party that their first choice was either Jha, a woman, a Janajati or an Adivasi.
“Why not appoint Abanindra Kumar Shrestha (from the Ministry of Information) who belongs to a Janajati background or Brinda Hada (Ministry of Irrigation), a woman?” SLMM leaders told the PM.
They also urged the PM to follow the rules of the game and appoint Shanker Koirala (from the Election Commission) to the top bureaucracy post on the basis of seniority.
UCPN (M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Chairman of the Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) Mahantha Thakur were asked to resolve the crisis. They later reached a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ whereby the Madhesi concerns would be accommodated in future appointments. “It is a prime ministerial system and it is the PM’s prerogative to appoint someone whom he finds comfortable to work with, so I cannot overturn my decision,” Bhattarai told the Cabinet meeting.
Industry Minister Anil Jha said the Madhesi community lost a rare opportunity due to Madhesi leaders’ “cheap presentation and loose stand.”
Minister for Physical Planning and Works Hridayesh Tripathi dismissed as rumours an “understanding” between the two parties to give the Madhesi community another high-profile appointment, including the Chief of Nepal Police.
Sources claimed that PM Bhattarai made it clear that he was not in a position to appoint the next police chief. “I cannot break the meritocracy,” the PM reportedly said in the meeting.
Despite differences, coalition to remain intact
Differences over the selection of the Chief Secretary is the first issue that is likely to widen the rift between the two ruling coalition partners—UCPN (Maoist) and the SLMM. However, though differences could widen further if the Maoists continue to sideline the SLMM, Morcha leaders said they will stay put in the government.
“We are suspicious and some misunderstanding has come up,” Minister for Physical Planning and Works Hridayesh Tripathi said. He, however, added, “We joined the government for a broader cause and we will not leave it over this incident.” The alliance will remain intact despite differences, he said.
Emerging from a meeting before the Cabinet sitting, TMLP leader Mahanta Thakur said they would not quit the government.
“Yes, we have differences, but will not leave the government,” Thakur toldreporters.
Six secretaries likely to step down
KATHMANDU: History is likely to repeat itself following Poudel’s appointment as the acting chief secretary. Multiple sources said at least six incumbent secretaries—Sushil Jung Rana (Home Ministry), Abanindra Kumar Shrestha (Information Ministry), Trilochan Uprety (PMO), Shanker Koirala (Election Commission), Balananda Poudel (Ministry of Women and Children) and Shyam Prasad Mainali (Public Service Commission)—are likely to resign over Poudel’s appointment. All of them had been claiming the top post.
While Mainali is going to step down on Tuesday amid a press conference, Shrestha left office on Sunday, the sources said. The sources, however, said their departure will not make a big difference as they were set to retire next month.
In 2009, when incumbent Chief Secretary Madhav Ghimire was elevated, two secretaries, Umesh Mainali and Janak Raj Joshi, had tendered their resignation. Similarly, when Bimal Koirala was appointed chief secretary in 2005, two of his batchmates, Sri Kanta Regmi and Shambu Khanal, had stepped down. (PR)