PRAKASH ACHARYA/ SANTOSH P POKHAREL
KATHMANDU: A Cabinet meeting today appointed secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office Leela Mani Paudel as the chief secretary of the government in the interest of PM Baburam Bhattarai despite objection from the coalition partners representing the United Democratic Madhesi Front.
“As the incumbent chief secretary Madhav Prasad Ghimire went on leave today and will retire on August 5, Paudel will work as acting chief secretary until August 5 and will be automatically promoted to the post of chief secretary on August 6,” Minister for Information and Communications Raj Kishor Yadav told THT.
Paudel is eighth in the seniority order among a dozen secretaries claiming the topmost post of the country’s bureaucracy.
Yadav said the UDMF was backing Umakanta Jha from the Madhesi community, Brinda Hada from among the women and Abanindra Shrestha from among the indigenous people during the meeting of coalition partners held in the PM’s office before the Cabinet took the decision. Ultimately, the Cabinet took the decision unanimously, he said. The meeting of coalition partners, which began at around 8 am, went on for nearly five hours, as the Maoist and Madhesi coalition partners stuck to their stances on the names for future chief secretary.
Sources said the UDMF leaders even threatened to quit the government if the Maoists chose Paudel. UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Tarai Madhes Democratic Party leader Mahantha Thakur had to intervene to bring both sides to an agreement.
Giving continuity to the trend set by earlier governments, the Cabinet picked the chief secretary disregarding the seniority list this time as well. “It is the fourth time that government picked a chief secretary, who is close to PM,” said former secretary Umesh Mainali.
The UDMF pushed hard for the elevation of Industry Secretary Jha for the post until the last moment, sources said.
Minister of Physical Planning and Works Hridayesh Tripathi said the UDMF decided not to push the case of Jha too far because the PM was so adamant about Paudel. “We value our partnership with the UCPN-M because we share views with them on making constitution through Constituent Assembly,” said Tripathi.
According to sources, the UDMF leaders opposed Paudel’s name due to several reasons: Paudel, the then home secretary, disregarded DPM and Home Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar and did not present himself to receive Gachhadar while assuming the office. Gachhadar had forced the PM to transfer Paudel from his ministry after the secretary rejected the idea of mobilising the police administration for the benefit of the minister.
Sources say the Madhesi leaders fear Paudel, as he is hard to influence.