Recently, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari reshuffled the KP Oli-led cabinet as per the recommendation of the Prime Minister. PM Oli removed some ministers and inducted new faces into his cabinet.
Ousted, despite the positive index in all good performance criteria set by the PM himself, Gokarna Bista, then Minister for Labor, Employment and Social Security became the talk of the town for his substantive efforts to bring some impactful changes in the ministry assigned to him. Many people criticized the government for sacking the ‘honest’ minister.
Khabarhub has tried to get Bista’s opinion about the cause of dismissal, his judgment of himself and the cabinet he was in, and the muscle stretching and sycophancy getting hold in the party. Here are the excerpts of the interview Ramesh Bharati, on behalf of Khabarhub, took with former Minister Bista.
You are redeemed of your duty. People are expressing their concern about it and questioning the rationale behind your expulsion. How do you take it?
When I took the responsibility of the Minister, the ministry was in chaotic condition. It didn’t have much good image. People used to blame the ministry for its inefficiency and lack of substantive efforts in easing the problems the aspiring labor migrants were facing at the time.
Nepali labors work hard, risk their lives yet the reward is nowhere. Once I took to my office, I felt I should take some ‘risk’ to ease their sorrows. I had two alternatives in this regard: work for the youths and put my post at risk or value the post and disregard the burning problems of the youths. I chose the first.
Life is transient, the tenure in the post of minister is shorter, and even if I want I cannot hold the post forever. I am not born to be a minister. I have my social responsibilities too. Realization of these things made me go for the option I chose.
As a leader I should try to work for the people who have been striving hard to seek their fate in the extreme climate and extreme work conditions. I should not be a passive witness of their suffering to prolong my tenure, I felt. Then, I decided to take risk. I had reckoned the consequences at the time of making this choice.
Actually, which factors or force hinders the way when you try to work on behalf of the public?
I spoke for and acted for millions of youths exploited from all sides. I often felt I might need to quit the post in a month or a week or on a day all of a sudden; but I wanted to work as per my conscience.
Did you have any differences with the PM esp. in terms of the way you were performing? Had you done anything ‘objectionable’ as the reports before portrayed you as a successful minister? Or can it be that you left on your own?
I am happy to be outside. I am satisfied that throughout my tenure in the post I had been able to work as I wanted, I didn’t have to betray my ‘self’. I could work for the youths and esp. the youths risking their lives in the foreign land and supporting the economy of the country.
Cabinet reshuffle is a natural phenomenon. I do not have objection in being out from the cabinet. I am encouraged. Work appraisal which used to be the ‘news’ as the basis for performance and accountability evaluation as we used to hear have to get some value; it’s the matter for your to explore and find out when that will start.
I am country-bred man, who is used to the hardship and strife of Nepali geography. I was brought up as a man of dignity who did not sell the pride for riches, I have to retain the same dignity.
I believe I can act more openly on behalf of millions of youths exploring their fate in the extremely risky work situations abroad and inside the country when out from the post, this is the matter of self-respect and dignity.
Did you have any misunderstanding with the PM, I mean in the course of executing the tasks falling under your responsibility?
I do not want to comment much on that now. I prioritized my responsibility as per my conscience and as per the necessity of the time, I did not think whether that could put my post at stake. I had to voice for the voiceless and represent the ones’ neglected or marginalized or unheard ones. I felt I owe to that community, I did what I had to while in post and now, too I am committed to speak for them.
It is said that in the reformation of the cabinet, the traces of multiple poles and groups manifested in various forms. More than the unity, it reflected the interest of various groups, what is your opinion about it?
I reiterate in the same. Unless there is a fair system of judgment, a mechanism to ensure justice, promote honesty, responsibility and accountability, politics can’t reach at the desired end. The people who dare to lead their vision to the logical end should be given opportunity and encouraged.
As a cadre I also believe that the party should be run by the system rather than the reactions, it should be united in ideology and strategy.
We, as political cadres, need to think about taking our party to government but more than it, we should think about bringing substantive change in the lives of the people. We are committed to it.
The evaluation mechanism and the culture of justice is declining in the political parties, it is said you became the victim of the same!
In fact, I feel rewarded. I was working under stress. Now I am out from the post, I am free; I am happy as well. During my tenure, all my friends and the public supported me for the reason I stood for. I was determined to work for the public and I was supported a lot by the people. The trust, love and care I get from them is always an inspiration to me.
None can retain a post for lifetime. Life itself is impermanent, how can the post be permanent then? Even on the day I was appointed as minister, I knew I would not be there much long; I knew I had to go away. So, how long one retains the post or remains in power is not much important; what matters, actually, is the efforts one makes while in power.
I worked hard to improve the life of the aspiring foreign migrant, the youths willing to sell themselves. While in post, I worked like the labor bee, often excluding the family and relatives too. I didn’t even have time for my health checkup; but I feel blessed as many people have been encouraging me.
While talking about tension, what, actually, is the force that put you under so much stress?
Naturally, Nepali society is not much transformed yet. The society is not governed by principles and ethics. Though ‘monarchy’ is replaced by ‘republic’ the habits and practices are not much changed yet. We should make a culture of putting our words in practice; that makes us work more and boast less.
The conflict of interests may be taken as natural when new system is adopted, however, we have to change it too. I am optimistic the government will head in this direction. Though sans post, I will still support the agenda of changes the government introduces.
Pressure definitely comes from various sector, which is not something unusual. The post of minister is a public post. One should act as per the legal provisions. I believe, I did not do any injustice to the public while in power. I abstain the stain people often fall victim of. As I had been to the Ministry, I have come out from there maintaining same level of dignity and self-respect; this is something I feel proud of.
Where does the factor or the power that puts the people willing to work at their best into difficulty, inside the party or outside the party? How did you feel during your term in office?
Nepal is also part of international geography in such issues too. The political parties are here in and around us. If you search, I am sure you will get them. I won’t go for such characters. If you try, you may find them anywhere or everywhere. Let’s think about our responsibility. We have got the historical responsibility of addressing the expectations of the public. I am one of the soldiers executing the duties towards the public.
Did you have a clue about what was being cooked at the Prime Minister’s?
I had no trace of it. I have not taken my exclusion as an agenda. Reshuffle is a natural process. Yes, Nepal’s politics has not been able to come out from the sects and schisms. If decisions are made in terms of one’s likes or dislikes it may create challenges.
We have to judge ourselves as we are, we should not forget our soil both in decision making and judgment. I never keep myself aloof from it. When one works being ethics based, the person is likely to get chance of enjoying life of dignity. I enjoy working for people.
Keeping all these things in view, it is said, a large group of people in the party are not satisfied; and they opine that this act has brought the President also to the rows of conflict. Have you talked with the leaders after being dismissed from the post?
After coming out from the cabinet, more than the leaders, I am in contact with the civil society, journalist, intellectuals, labors, well-wishers and the fellow members. I am listening to them and feel encouraged by them.
I am focused on working on behalf of the people. I will work with them with extra energy.
I am very thankful to the PM for providing me the opportunity of working as minister for 20 months. It was his trust which got me appointed and retained me so long. I am thankful to the people for the support I entertained from them. There are so many capable candidates in the party, they should also get a chance now.
It is said that you became the victim of leadership conflict in the party. The government expected to make itself stable and pro-public seems to be heading towards instability, don’t you feel so?
Let me make it clear that stability or instability is subject to the system. One of my friends was saying recently that the question in such issues is whether we often strengthen the system that nurtures exploitation or develop a model to dismantle such system; that matters a lot about development.
Main factor responsible for stability is the system that can promote it. Sometimes we see the frequent reshuffle of whole cabinet in Japan. Quick changes are not always regressive. We have to work out to find a system and standards based on good governance, which alone can ensure stability. Perhaps, we are heading towards it.
It is said that the government has failed to meet people’s expectation. What can be the reason behind it?
If work honestly keeping the people at the center, we can get the destined result. Perhaps that’s your and my expectation as well.
You said there are piles of challenges in the Ministry of Labor, how can one tackle them?
We signed an agreement between Nepal and Malaysia, UAE, Mauritius, Japan focusing on Nepali labors in low/no cost and ensure they are not the victim of racketeering. An agreement with similar intent is prepared for Nepal-Oman agreement. The agreement between Nepal and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is also on the final phase. To tell it the other way, a highway has been finalized now we have to drive cautiously to avoid the accidents.
How do you take the government’s priority set for Social Security Fund and employment programs?
The government has made a declaration about the employment for 500,000 people. The foundation is laid for it. It is not impossible now. Social security plan is also bearing the fruit as a successful project.
Retaining the track itself may be impact making in long run. We faced lots of hurdles on the way and now managed to overcome them now. We have forwarded various schemes related with employment, foreign employment, internal labor market policy, IT system, skilled manpower etc. Some of the projects have already reached 95 or 98 percent. Sincere efforts can materialize the rationale behind such schemes.