Attributable to lack of critical appraisal of the Covid-19 situation and a series of poor policy choices, Nepal has not only pushed itself deeper into a health crisis but also has evoked the worst economic and humanitarian crisis when compared to the past three decades.
Nepal experienced the coronavirus wave later than many other nations, providing the country with ample time for crisis preparedness and several examples to learn from. Despite the opportunity, the government betrothed itself in power exploitation, making the country rely on hard-pressed policy choices and ad-hoc decisions.
The crisis has indeed underlined the problems in policy making, along with the weak public administration system of Nepal.
The formation of a high-level committee for prevention and control of Covid-19, consisting of half a dozen ministers and only a few experts, was the first indication regarding the same. Like always the focus of the committee shifted towards insatiable politics rather than working on a war footing and coming up with more informed decisions. The politicization within the committee, resulting in delayed and frequent reversal of important decisions, hugely affected the general population, who were barred from mobility and conducting economic activities for 78 days.
Nepalese policymaking has always been engraved with challenges such as lack of vision and strategic planning. The decisions in Nepal are made on an ad hoc basis, which is depicted by the inability of the government to secure substantial medical equipment and build adequate quarantine facilities across all seven provinces even after two and a half months of nationwide lockdown. A classic example of the same would be the ever-extending lockdown with no planning on reopening the economy or the unpreparedness of the government to help the stranded Nepalese migrants on foreign lands despite receiving frequent orders from the Supreme Court. Lack of strategic planning has also contributed to exacerbating the problems in health, education, private sector development, agriculture and food security, poverty, informal economy, social extremism, and border security.
Likewise, despite the prevalence of federalism in Nepal, the policy-makers in the central government are often found hesitant to devolve the power and jurisdiction to their sub-national counterparts. In order to control and prevent the spread of Covid-19, Coronavirus Crisis Management Committee (CCMC) was formed in all 77 districts of Nepal, which was against the spirit of federalism and the constitution. It intensified the role of the Chief District Officers (CDO) while making decisions regarding each district and undermined the capability and efforts of provincial and local governments, which resulted in policy incoherence between the three-tiers.
Lastly, policy-making and political accountability do not go hand in hand in Nepal. The corruption scandal is an outright example for this. Also, the unsympathetic stance of the government on collecting taxes from the general public after halting all economic activities for a prolonged period of time shows the unwillingness of the government to take responsibility for the negative impact of its policies on the livelihood of the taxpayers.
While dealing with an unprecedented crisis, nations require strategic planning, informed decision making, and both horizontal as well as vertical communication within the government agencies. However, these very factors have long been compromised in the Nepalese policy-making landscape; and by the look of things, will continue to do so.