Gokarna Bista is the Minister for Energy (MoE) and a UML leader. He spoke to Thakur Amgai and Rajendra Pokhrel of Nepalnews.com on various issues of energy and contemporary politics. Excerpts:
Nepalnews: The government has declared a state of energy crisis. What exactly does it mean?
Bista: The state of energy crisis, at present context, is the extreme shortage of energy – electricity to be specific – endured by the people of Nepal. The government declared a state of energy crisis in order to expedite electricity production and reduce leakage so as to free the people from energy shortage as soon as possible by removing the existing procedural and political hassles. In the state of energy crisis, certain clauses in the laws and regulations applicable in normal circumstances can be suspended so that that people are encouraged to produce electricity. It is basically aimed at creating suitable environment, suitable process and suitable laws and regulations for electricity production.
Nepalnews: It has been over two months since the declaration of the state of energy crisis, but there has not been any visible progress. What is the reason?
Bista: The Energy Bill should be passed by the parliament in order to implement many programmes mentioned while declaring the energy crisis. The bill is still pending at the statutory committee of the parliament as the focus of the political parties has been diverted to other more pressing issues of peace and constitution drafting. It is true that the progress has been slow, but we are trying to pass the energy bill from the parliament and we are very close to consensus for it.
Nepalnews: Where has the processes of appointing executive chief at Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and forming the Energy Crisis Control Commission reached?
Bista: The process for the appointment of NEA chief has already started. We have published advertisement and are receiving applications. And the Energy Crisis Control Commission will be formed only after the Energy bill is passed by the parliament.
Nepalnews: As the Minister for Energy, what challenges did you find in developing hydropower projects in Nepal in your two month stint?
The situation has changed a lot since May 28. The present government itself is likely to be converted into a national unity government
The country can be load shedding free within 2.5 to 3 years if we work at present pace
The government will bring a clear policy on licensing of hydropower projects soon
Energy bill needs to passed by the parliament as soon as possible
Bista: I have worked as energy minister for only one-and-half months so far. During this time I have found, the ineffective presence of the state, vested interest of political parties, hassles at local level, anarchy and procedural hassles are the major challenges to developing hydropower projects. For the sake of the country and the people, political parties have to come to terms and rise above their party interest to develop hydro-projects. We also have to devise effective system to give the local and affected population from the hydropower projects their due share and a sense of ownership of the project so that we get their support. Developing any hydropower project without local support is impossible.
Nepalnews: Investors lament investment in Nepali hydropower sector is not secure. What has the government done to attract foreign investment in hydropower?
Bista: The situation is improving in the recent days. Although, there is still some skepticism due to the political liquidity, foreign investors have started showing interest and have started approaching us for investments. We have to develop a policy which attracts the investment. And we should provide the foreign investors all possible facilities without comprising on the national interest and welfare.
Nepalnews: Taking license and blocking the construction is a major hurdle in Nepali hydropower sector. What does the government do to those who take license for hydropower production and sit on the project?
Bista: The licenses have been issued following due procedure. But, there are many cases where people/companies take license and fail to collect investment. The government feels the licensing regulations need to be further regulated. Our aim is to provide license to genuine parties who take license with an intention to develop the project and not to those who take license with an intention of reserving it in order to sell the project to other parties for commission.
Nepalnews: There were talks about cancelling the license if the work of the mentioned project does not start within six months of taking the license. Has that been implemented?
Bista: It has not been implemented due to lack of law. Again, our policy is to discourage the people who take license without an intention of developing the project, but not to discourage those who take the license to develop the project. We are consulting experts and various stake holders and the government will come up with a concrete policy on licensing of hydropower projects soon.
Nepalnews: How long will it take to free the country from load shedding?
Bista: If we don’t work, it will continue for tens of years. If we work it can be removed within 2.5 years to 3 years. In the declaration we have mentioned load shedding will be reduced in 4.5 years, but in practice if we work well we can become completely load shedding free in 2.5 to 3 years.
Nepalnews: Let’s change the context now. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal has committed to step down in the five-point agreement. When will he resign?
Bista: The Prime Minister has mentioned on several occasions that he is ready to resign any time if an environment for national consensus government is formed. If an outline of the national unity government to be formed is seen, the resignation will come anytime. It can be within a month or even within a week. However, the shape of the next government has to be visible. The framework of agreement among the parties on peace process, constitution and the new government should be formed. We are ready to leave power anytime. However, we are not going to resign without assurance of the formation of the next government soon and leave the country under a caretaker government.
Nepalnews: What exactly does the Outline of National Consensus mean?
Bista: Basically, the name of the person who will lead the national unity government has to be finalised. The other things will fall in place.
Nepalnews: So, what have you seen? Who do you see as the next Prime Minister? What’s the talk in the inner political circle?
Bista: I am seeing a scenario, where the present government led by Jhala Nath Khanal itself is going to be converted into a national unity government. At present, all political parties are saying peace process and constitution drafting are major agenda and the not the government leadership and this government is doing everything to expedite the peace process and constitution writing. So, I see that the possibility of this government being converted into a national unity government is increasing.
Nepalnews: How do you support your claim? What is the basis?
Bista: See, nobody’s is talking about PM’s resignation lately. Parties have not given that point a priority. It was mentioned in the five-point agreement under a different context. It’s a different thing that we will not backtrack on that agreement and leave government as soon as the shape of a national unity government becomes clear, but we have done everything required from our side to expedite the peace process and constitution making. The situation from May 28 and now has changed quite a lot and leaders have not asked for the PM’s resignation these days. That is why, I am saying that the chances of this present government being converted to a national unity government is increasing.
Nepalnews: To make it clearer, on what grounds could Nepali Congress and Madhesi front support this government? And, what about the faction within UML which hell bent against PM Khanal?
Bista: We are trying to bring such proposal for concluding the peace process that will increase NC’s trust in us and will join the government. NC leaders have said, government is not their priority at the moment and they are strongly for the conclusion of the peace process. Friends from our party will not object to it if other parties support the present government.