Minister for Foreign Affairs Prakash Sharan Mahat has been dragged into controversy after the International Relations and Labour Committee of the Parliament has directed the government to take action against him for piling pressures on Nepali missions abroad to implement a directive on domestic workers. Mahat, however, has refuted the charge and said it was the Committee Chairman’s individual opinion than that of the panel.
When Onlinekhabar approached him for an interview, the Nepali Congress leader was more interested in defending himself against the accusation than to talk about the recent political development. However, we asked him some political questions, to begin with. Translated excerpts:
Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi has said Prime Minister Dahal will soon hand over the reigns of the government to Sher Bahadur Deuba. So when will Prachanda do that?
Our understanding was that Prachanda would lead the government till mid-April. However, our party chief Deuba has said the Prime Minister can continue for one more month if he conducts the elections. After the May 14 elections, the handover will take place as we had agreed before.
What if the polls cannot take place?
Let’s not imagine that situation. But, as part of te agreement between the two parties, a Nepali Congress-led government will be formed after a month. The fate of the elections will not have a bearing on handover. But, let me repeat: let’s not imagine that the elections will not happen.
But, don’t you see that the CPN-UML is ready to partner with Prachanda for the new coalition?
I think what the UML wants is power. We accepted our defeat easily when our then party president Sushil Koirala lost to KP Sharma Oli in the election for prime minister, but the UML has not come to terms with Oli’s exit. All it wants is to retain power and expand its influence while in power. The UML might try to form many equations, but I do not think the Congress-Maoist alliance will break so easily.
People still don’t that the elections will take place. When will the confusion be over?
Preparations for the polls are in full swing. The government is working to ensure everyone’s participation in the elections. We are about to reach an understanding with the agitating parties. The Madhes-centric parties should not complicate the situation by adding more things to their list of demands. We are sensitive towards the sentiments of the Madhesi parties, and we can reach an agreement with them if they truly want the polls to take place.
So will the elections take place without a second amendment to the Constitution?
It will be better if we can amend the Constitution now. But the local polls do not block the way for the amendment. Disputes can be settled after the local polls; it can be done before the provincial and federal elections. I think the problem would not have been this complicated if all sides had not taken rigid stances.
As a powerful minister, can’t you guarantee the elections will take place on May 14?
People have already begun discussions on who is going to lead the local bodies next. Therefore, the polls should not be stopped and will not be stopped. We could go for a two-phase election if conducting elections throughout the country on May 14 becomes impossible.
Parties are close to consensus on the constitution amendment. The UML should also be flexible. The Madheshi parties should not bargain to get all of their demands addressed at once. A party should think of its own convenience only. The constitution cannot meet all of the expectations of any party.
According to reports, the Prime Minister and the Congress President are at odds over the two-phase election proposal. Is that so?
Discussions have been held about possible options. We are in favour of elections in one go as the talk of an election in two phases creates uncertainty. But, we are open to conducting the elections later in some areas if it is technically impossible to do so. We believe that a single-phase election plan will ensure that polls take place throughout the country without disruptions. A two-phase model will not send a good message as it would seem that the government is adopting a different set of rules for the Tarai-Madhesh.
Does it mean that the government is prepared to hold polls even if the Madheshi Morcha decides not to contest?
Let’s not think about that. The Madhesh-centric parties are also preparing for elections. They want to secure a landslide win in Madhesh. Perhaps they are coming up with new demands as a result of their own internal differences. But, for any reason, we should not push the polls into uncertainty.
As Nepali Congress prepares for elections, what do you think is your party’s main strength?
I think we are strong. Our cadres have been working at the local level, though the UML has been campaigning by presenting itself as the sole nationalist force in the country. Experience from around the world shows that politics in the name of nationalism does not help the nation become stronger. The UML’s campaign may give it immediate benefits, but it does no good to the nation.
What will be your position in the polls?
Our major rival is the UML. But, for sure, we will be ahead of them. Not only will we become the largest party, we will win a majority of the seats at the local levels.
Are you planning to keep the ruling coalition intact in the polls for the same?
No preparation has been made at the central level to form election alliances. Yes, we had reached an understanding to work together till the polls. But, we have not signed any particular agreement for the same. I do not think a nationwide partnership will be possible. But, we can do so in some places considering the local needs.
Now, let’s talk about Nepal’s foreign relations. You visited New Delhi almost every month claiming that you want to improve ties with India which you said had turned fragile during the previous government’s tenure. But, why didn’t you visit China?
People always talk about a balance in foreign policy. For me, the balance entails establishing ties on different fronts with different nations. Our concerns are different with India and different with China. But, we always try to protect our national interests. Nepal’s ties with India and China should not be compared. The relationship should be based on trust, with Nepal’s interests at the centre.
But, you have been accused of not paying attention to implementing agreements the previous government signed with China?
We are a commitment to implementing the agreements. In particular, we have already owned the agreements made on railways, transmission lines, and trade. We have been exchanging correspondences. We are about to finalise Nepal’s partnership in the One Belt One Road project. We are preparing other agreements on cross-border investment zone, energy, and transit.
But, there are those who want immediate results. It will take time for the train from China to reach Lumbini. We have been in conversation for the same. The departments concerned of the both countries are working on it. Work on the DPR will begin soon.
Is there any possibility of a visit by any hi-level Chinese official to Nepal anytime soon?
We have been renewing our invitation. President Xi Jinping has said he will visit Nepal for sure, at a time convenient to both the countries.
Meanwhile, why did Parliament International Relations and Labour Committee recommend an action against you?
Whatever has been reported as the committee’s decision is not the committee’s decision. The lawmakers on the committee have not raised any fingers towards me.
Isn’t it true that you piled unnecessary pressure on the Nepali missions abroad to implement the directive on domestic workers?
I have been instructing the missions every day to provide needful support to Nepali workers who are in trouble. I am worried about the pain and suffering the Nepalis have to undergo in foreign lands. The committee’s decision came as a shocker for me.
What exactly is the government policy about domestic workers?
Our policy is that Nepal and the host nation should establish a joint fund for the workers. We have proposed that Nepal deposit Rs 2.5 million and the host nation invest $ 1,000 before signing any agreement on labour exchange so that the fund can be utilised to rescue workers whenever needed.
I just sent this decision, already endorsed by the Cabinet, to the missions and instructed them to implement it. Now, tell me where did I go wrong?
I think those angry with my for my efforts to free Nepali workers from exploitation are conspiring against me.
So, have you requested the committee to review its decision?
I think what you are talking about is it is not the committee’s decision. The committee has senior leaders including Madhav Kumar Nepal and KP Sharma Oli as its members. But none of them was there except for around a dozen lawmakers. Neither was I criticised during the committee meeting. The members themselves are wondering how the decision was made.
The Committee Chairman decided on something which was not even discussed during the committee meeting. I am very confident that I have not done anything wrong. If I am blamed for trying to stop wrongdoings, it is clear that there must be some conspiracy against me.
Published on April 10th, Monday, 2017 10:45 AM