Former finance minister and a member of the government´s Special Committee formed to oversee the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants, Dr Ram Sharan Mahat regularly participates in inter-party talks. Republica´s Thira L Bhusal caught up with him to elicit his views on some key issues of the peace process and governance. Excerpts:
You have recently visited the cantonments. Can you describe the scenario of the cantonments during the re-categorization process?
I saw encouraging participation from all the sides. The task moved ahead smoothly due to cooperation from the Maoists, the combatants, the army, the police and the secretariat officials. Secondly, we found that the combatants were politically motivated in choosing the options instead of being able to decide their fate independently. Though the combatants were, in principle, allowed to make a choice on their own, we could clearly find the influence of their commanders and the political line of the Maoist leaders on them. I was told that many of the combatants chose integration under pressure from their commanders but would have personally preferred voluntary retirement. They still want to go for voluntary retirement.
Do the combatants still have a choice?
Definitely there is a solution. They still can change their mind until the integration process reaches its final stage. Many of those who have opted for integration are still free to choose voluntary retirement. While the Baidya faction has ordered the combatants not to go for integration and choose voluntary retirement, the party establishment has instructed other combatants to go for integration. The integration number has been increased disproportionately owing to the intra-party feud in the party.
Do you think the completion of re-categorization process is a major achievement in the peace process?
This definitely is a major milestone in that direction.
The task of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants is a major aspect of the peace process because one of our major demands is to transform the UCPN (Maoist) into a civilian party by severing its ties with arms and armies.
How long will it take for the 6,500 combatants to become Nepal Army (NA) personnel?
The process will begin shortly. We have urged the NA to complete preparatory works at the earliest. The exact timeline is yet to be fixed but it may take a month or two.
Top Maoist leaders have said in public that they would seek to increase the integration number? Have they raised this matter during inter-party talks?
This is purely a statement meant for public consumption. They know it very clearly that not all those who have opted for integration will qualify. They know the NA is going to disqualify some of them. I believe that the integration number will finally not exceed 6,000. Also, we shouldn´t forget that we have fixed the number. It is the last word and there can´t be any further compromise.
Around 3,000 combatants, who were earlier registered, are missing. What do you think about it?
We had been consistently saying that the Maoists have not been honest in disclosing the exact number of combatants. We had also questioned the verification by UNMIN (United Nations Mission in Nepal). The issue is not only about the 3,000 combatants found absent during the process. Another 3,000-4,000 combatants, who left the cantonments after registration by the UNMIN, arrived in the cantonments only for re-categorization. It has further clarified two things: the controversial role of UNMIN and that the cantonments have become a big source of income for the UCPN (Maoist).
How will the NC raise this issue?
This will be a political as well as legal issue because a huge amount of money from the state coffers has been misused. The amount has been received by presenting fake signatures. Therefore, it has both the political as well as legal aspects.
It was declared that the Maoist combatants had been brought under the control of Special Committee, of which you are also a member, a year ago. Isn´t it a weakness of the Special Committee to let the combatants leave the cantonments?
See, I have been repeatedly saying that the Special Committee is toothless. The cantonments were in principle under the Special Committee but in practice the combatants were under the control of their commanders.
But the prime minister has said that raising the issue of missing combatants would be tantamount to derailing the peace process.
We aren´t for derailing the peace process but he can´t silence the political parties, lawmakers and the media.
What about the Maoist demands that they require additional arrangements for the disabled combatants?
This problem should be viewed in two different contexts. They should have chosen the rehabilitation package. That would have offered them a means for income generation. On the other hand, we shouldn´t forget the plight of the victims of Maoist excesses. Those who suffered at the hands of Maoists have received nothing so far.
How do you evaluate the 100 days of the present government?
I have never seen such an infamous and incompetent government in Nepal´s history in terms of bad governance and corruption.
Why is it so? Can you prove your statement?
If you study cabinet decisions, it seems that they are only concerned about serving the interests of the political parties in government and their cadres. Terror of transfer and promotion is rampant in several ministries, including the home ministry, the ministry of industry, forest ministry, the ministry of irrigation, the ministry of physical planning and works and the finance ministry. It seems the ministers are competing with each other in looting the state coffers. The prime minister has remained a mute spectator even as a series of corruption cases have been exposed recently.
But the prime minister and the deputy prime minister are often found repeating the main motto of the government as “zero tolerance on corruption”.
They have full tolerance, full support and full cooperation in promoting corruption. The prime minister tried to fool the people by making publicity of his austerity measures. Now the people have been disillusioned.
You described Bhattarai as a helpless prime minister. Is he helpless or indifferent toward addressing the issues?
He is indifferent. We have clearly suggested to the prime minister to firmly act against corruption and work toward ensuring good governance. His government is the safest. The past governments were always under pressure from the opposition. At present, opposition parties are not conspiring to topple his government. Even our party president has repeatedly assured him that his government is safe. The prime minister is not helpless but has turned a blind eye to corruption. He is not ready to take any action against the corrupt ministers even as he is backed by the main opposition and other parties.
The prime minister has argued that he has not been able to check these irregularities as he has concentrated all his efforts to conclude the constitution writing and the peace process.
This is an entirely false claim. You must distinguish things clearly. Everything that happens with regard to advancing the peace and constitution are the results of inter-party deals whereas the prime minister is responsible for governance. The agreements in the peace process and constitution writing are results of consensus between the political parties. The prime minister cannot take the credit for the accomplishments.
Do you mean the credit for the progress in the peace process and constitution writing goes to the political parties and not to the government and the prime minister?
Yes. If the peace process is concluded successfully, the political parties will have to get the credit. In that case, as chief of the party, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal will get the credit and not the prime minister. The prime minister, as head of the government, is entirely responsible for corruption and bad governance.
"We have clearly suggested to the prime minister to firmly act against corruption and work toward ensuring good governance. His government is the safest. The past governments were always under pressure from the opposition. At present, opposition parties are not conspiring to topple his government. Even our party president has repeatedly assured him that his government is safe."
Why? Why not topple his government if its so corrupt? Of course, unless other political parties demand cor
I can´t believe what RS Mahat is saying here, especially the last paragraph... What seems corrupt is his mind. Very disappointed...