Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feel Ashamed, But Do Stay On!

Gokarna Bista tells us he is ashamed of calling himself a minister because of the dishonest assurances political parties are peddling to the people. What makes Bista’s lament less of a laughing matter is the fact that he holds a portfolio that most politicians can only dream of clutching.
But our energy minister, who belongs to the CPN-UML, sees the Nepalese people mired in poverty, lacking enough to eat and deprived of education. Then he sees leaders, who instead of concentrating on the plight of the population, go on making eloquent speeches. Riding a car fluttering the national flag embarrasses him.
Exasperation sounds like a more accurate word. One of the first things Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal pledged after taking office was that he would take on the ‘water mafia’ and clear what has long been touted as Nepal’s only road to riches. Accordingly, he named a key loyalist, Bista, to pursue that objective.
At a public function not long ago, Bista accused ‘mafia elements’ of stuffing all those project licenses in their pockets all the while helping to plunge the country deeper into darkness and inertia.
Vowing to do everything possible to end – not merely reduce – the inexorable spate of load-shedding, Bista also ordered a crackdown on pilferage and other forms of leakage. He has also challenged the conventional wisdom that the crisis cannot be addressed without raising the power tariff.
Bista was recently quoted as saying that if the Nepal Electricity Authority could reduce leakage by a mere six percentage points, that would generate about 2.5 billion rupees of additional revenue. In other words, that would almost offset the annual loss incurred by the organization. That piece of information has energized the people to urge Bista to go after the big fish faster.
While remaining upbeat about the prospects of foreign investment in the hydropower sector, Bista says he refuses to wait for others to solve our energy crisis and seeks domestic investment to the extent possible. He wants to encourage local companies to invest in the hydropower through low-interest loans and other incentives.
The energy minister won plaudits from the media across the spectrum for such thinking. Yet his laudable effort to appoint a managing director for the NEA through competition, as opposed to direct political appointment, did not get off to an entirely propitious start.
Then Bista was blamed from within the UML party for acquiescing in the use of the term “people’s war” in the government’s annual policies and programs, which has allowed everybody to divert their attention further away from the task of drafting the new constitution. The upshot: Bista is seething to the point short of self-flagellation.
Maila Baje acknowledges how tempting it is in this situation to demand Bista’s resignation, especially if he continues pressing the humiliation horn any further. But maybe we should let Bista stay in his job and feel sorry for himself.
If his predicament is real, perhaps the pain would go some way toward inflicting collective shame on the government. If Bista is just faking it, he still does have that extra reason to be caustic about himself. After all, how many people are stabbed outside their house a few hours after being appointed minister?