KATHMANDU, Nov 16: In a blatant violation of austerity measures announced by his own government, Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai has surpassed his predecessors again by spending the highest amount of money for a tea party he hosted two weeks ago.
Only recently, Bhattarai had set a new record by appointing a record number of aides (44) for his secretariat.
According to a knowledgeable source within the PM´s Secretariat, about Rs 2.7 million was incurred for his tea party, which was attended by nearly 9,000 invitees. PM Bhattarai hosted the tea party at his official residence at Baluwatar on the occasion of Dashain, Tihar, Chhath, Eid and Nepal Sambat new year collectively.
According to the source, the Prime Minister´s Secretariat had issued the highest ever number of invitations --- 12,000--- to guests ranging from ministers, heads and members of various constitutional bodies and leaders of various political parties to diplomats, ambassadors, chiefs and deputy chiefs of various missions in Nepal, CA members, government employees, journalists, businessmen, civil society leaders, human rights activists, and chiefs and deputy chiefs of leading NGOs and INGOs, among others.
"Nearly Rs 2.7 million was spent on the PM´s tea party," divulged the source close to the PM, on condition of anonymity, adding, "The total cost incurred in the party covers expenses on food items and the cost of other arrangements."
The austerity measure issued by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) under direct instruction from PM Bhattarai does not allow the government to print large numbers of invitation cards and host any party out of state coffers for large numbers of guests.
Following the measure, ministers had not printed greeting cards during Dashain and Tihar festivals.
"Currently, officials working at the PM´s Secretariat are mulling how to reimburse the bill of about Rs 2.7 million," said the source, adding, "Expenses incurred on functions organized by the PM have to be reimbursed by state coffers. However, the PM´s aides are in confusion whether to submit the bill at the PM´s office, fearing possible information leakage."
Some of the PM´s aides had attempted to submit the bill at the PM´s office.
"However, they haven´t submitted the bill at the PM´s office, saying that consultations with officials concerned before seeking reimbursement would be better," the source added.
The tea party hosted by Prime Minister Bhattarai was a continuation of a practice observed by past prime ministers including Sher Bahadur Deuba, Girija Prasad Koirala and Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Items served to guests included a piece of banana, jerry, mini-samosa, laddu, sweets, some nimkee and cold drinks, among other things. "A single packet cost Rs 300," said the source.
Another source informed Republica that the PM was advised to invite only a small number of guests. "Inviting a large number could send a negative message,” the PM´s well-wishers had advised, according to the source. However, the PM´s wife, Hisila Yami, had pressed officials to invite a large number.
According to a source close to the PM, most of the invitees were from the Newar community.
Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal had issued 6,000 invitations and incurred Rs 500,000 in cost for his tea party while Pushpa Kamal Dahal had issued 4,000 cards and incurred nearly Rs 300,000.