Nepal government withholds Cabinet decisions from the media

Nepal government withheld the decisions of the meeting of the Council of Ministers from the media on November 11. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and the Nepal Press Union (NPU) in expressing concerns over the denial to access to information and urges Nepal government to provide information about its decisions as soon as conclusion of the meeting.

Nepal Government’s spokesperson and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota on November 11 told the media that ‘the decisions will be known in due time’ and didn’t read out the decisions breaking a long practice. He added that the Council of Ministers had decided to adopt a ‘managed procedure’ to make decisions public. The Kathmandu Postreported that the decision was taken as ‘the Cabinet unanimously felt that revealing these decisions immediately faced widespread criticism from the public and occasionally faced legal challenges in the Supreme Court’. The government is reportedly planning to hold a weekly briefing every Friday.

Kantipur, a Nepali-language daily, in it’s editorial on October 13, protested the move calling it government’s disregard to accountability: “The system of immediate disclosure of decisions of the government to the citizens, who are source of ruling power, was established after the country became republic in 2006. The backtrack by the government is disrespect to our political gains… constitution and democracy envision openness, transparency and free flow of information.”

The Himalayan Times daily in its editorial titled ‘why so secretive’ said: “Keeping the media in the dark will mean the government does not want to let the people informed about what it is doing. What Minister Baskota said is a clear violation of the right to information which is sine qua non to democracy. The government has also taken coercive measures to weaken the free media… Keeping the Cabinet decisions secret [is] clear indications that the government is moving towards tightening the noose on the media. Free flow of information only can ensure the government’s legitimacy.”

Ramesh Bista, the FNJ General Secretary, said: “The move hinders the rights of the citizens to access the information. The FNJ requests the government to be careful not to adopt practices of the autocratic tradition and demands open, transparent and democratic practice of immediately disclosing decisions of the Cabinet meetings.”

NPU General Secretary Ajaya Babu Shiwakoti said: "NPU expresses serious concerns over the decision which is against the constitution and reminiscent of the process adopted by the autocratic monarchy system in the past. The decision is against the global practice of immediate availability of public information for citizens and the NPU demands all decisions of the meetings of the Council of Ministers to be made public immediately."

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is seriously concerned by the decision of the move by Nepal Government to stop disclosing decisions of the Council of Ministers disregarding people’s rights to information. Such move weakens the right to information movement and therefore the democracy itself. The IFJ urges the Nepal Government to withdraw the decision immediately.”

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