Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Finance Minister pledges tax base expansion, reform

Finance Minister has expressed his commitment to expand the tax base and to reform the tax system to give momentum to the economy.
Addressing a news conference – the first after being appointed finance minister – organised by the Finance Ministry here today, finance minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki said that the government will meet Rs 730.55 billion revenue mobilisation target for the current fiscal year with expansion of tax base and reforms.
The ministry had mobilised Rs 611.76 billion in revenue in last fiscal year.
"The revenue mobilisation last fiscal year exceeded the target because of broadening of the tax base, upgrading of tax realisation standard, promotion of technology-oriented services in revenue administration, leakage control and administrative reforms," he said, adding that the government was equally conscious and serious regarding plugging revenue leakage. "The success in revenue mobilisation was possible due to the expansion in the number of tax-payers, the favourable economic activities created by the 6.9 per cent economic growth, increase in the investment in the reconstruction works, the new system of tax initiated at the point of origin at customs and tax investigation."
The finance minister, on the occasion, also reaffirmed that the government has laid special emphasis on increasing the capital expenditure, pledging to implement the recommendations made by the high-level tax system review commission.
At the press meet organised to share about the revenue mobilised by the government, he said that the ministry is vigorously working towards propelling the country towards prosperity. "We are committed to providing services and facilities to the people in remote areas," he said, adding that the government, however, expects the active cooperation and support from all the sections of society. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

NRA asks quake victims to collect grant within a year

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) – in line with the decision of the 10th steering committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba last week – has set the deadline of mid-July, 2018 to distribute the grant amount to households, whose houses were damaged by the devastating earthquake of 2015.
Identified eligible housing aid beneficiaries should collect the entire grant amount within this fiscal year, the NRA chief executive Govinda Raj Pokharel said, adding that the NRA cannot keep distributing the housing aid for an indefinite period. "So, we would like to urge all the beneficiaries to use the facility extended by the government till mid-July next year."
The specific time has been designated to expedite the post-earthquake reconstruction process.
Those who have collected the first tranche by mid-January 2016 should receive their second tranche by mid-January 2017. For the beneficiaries, who received the first tranche by mid-November 2017 should collect the second tranche by mid-April 2018, he said, adding that the beneficiaries, who received the second tranche by mid-January 2018 should receive the third tranche by mid-June 2018 and those obtaining second tranche by mid-January 2017 should obtain third tranche by mid-July 2018.
Though the NRA initiated the process of distributing the housing grant from March 13, 2016, the process has been pathetic. Till the date, only around 45,000 houses have been rebuilt and 115,000 are under construction. "In contrast, the number of identified beneficiaries in the worst-hit 14 districts stands at 626,694, with additional 98,201 beneficiaries listed in less-affected 17 districts," he added.
Out of the total 724,895 beneficiaries in 31 quake-affected districts, 594,150 have already received the first tranche till date, but the number of households coming forward for the second and third installments of the housing grant is very low, according to the NRA. "Likewise, only 52,166 have received the second installment so far."
Immediately after the devastating 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the government had decided to provide Rs 200,000 per household as private housing rebuilding aid, which was later increased to Rs 300,000 to be distributed in three installments; Rs 50,000; Rs 150,000 and Rs 100,000. The amount is being disbursed in three installments to ensure that the quake survivors rebuild quake resilient homes in line with the compliance and design set by the government.

Government mobilises Rs 612 billion revenue in the last fiscal year

The government has been able to mobilise Rs 612 billion revenue in the last fiscal year.
Finance Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki – addressing a meeting of Finance Committee under the Legislature-Parliament – today informed that the government has been able to mobilise Rs 612 billion in revenue in the fiscal year 2016-17.
"It is 108 per cent more than the target," he said, adding that the government had mobilised Rs 565 billion revenue a fiscal year ago. "Zero tolerance policy has been adopted against revenue leakage and irregularities helping the revenue mobilisation to increase."
The government will be strict in checking revenue leakage, he said emphasising has been given on Automated Custom Tax System to control irregularities in the revenue and tax system.
Karki said customs at point of origin and the details of the monitoring and transaction of such transaction from the point of production itself would be brought into the computerised system to check the irregularities seen in the revenue system. "The ministry is working with priority for keeping a close watch on tax and laws," the minister added. "The performance and character of the employees working in the tax administration would be monitored also for checking tax evasion and that preparations were on for formulating and implementing a code of conduct for those working in the customs, revenue and taxation system."
Informing that the ministry is also planning to install IP cameras at 13 places for checking the revenue leakage, Karki said that a local-type tax dispute settlement committee has been proposed in the proposed Revenue Board Act. "It will systematise the tasks of constituting commissions as the Tax Settlement Commission."
Revenue Secretary Sishir Dhungana, on the occasion, said that the issue of working style and transparency was important although it was not in itself bad practice to form the tax settlement commission. He added that such tax settlement commissions are formed in one or the other form in other countries throughout the world as well.
During the meeting, the committee members inquired the finance minister and the ministry officials on revenue mobilisation and initiatives to stop corruption and irregularities seen in the tax administration. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Local bodies get one-third of government grant

Local bodies have received one-third of the government grant today.
Of the total government grant worth Rs 225 billion that the local bodies are supposed to get in the first quadrimester of this fiscal – according to the budget speech – the local bodies have received Rs 75 billion as the first tranche of the grant in their respective bank accounts.
The government has allocated equalisation and conditional grants to the 744 local units. But the budget has been sent to the local bodies with the elected representatives. The government has yet to hold election in province 2. The local bodies under the Province 2 will get the budget once the election will be held.
According to the Finance Ministry, rural municipalities will get a minimum of Rs 100 million to Rs 390 million, municipalities will get Rs 150 million to Rs 430 million, sub-metropolitan cities will get Rs 400 million to Rs 630 million and metropolitan cities will get Rs 560 million to Rs 1.24 billion.

Hydropower producers appreciated for their contribution

For the first time, the government has feted the private power producers for their contribution to the development of hydropower in the country.
On the 24th anniversary of the establishment of Department of Electricity Development (DoED), the government and Independent Power Producers' Association Nepal (IPPAN) today jointly conferred certificates of appreciation to the independent power producers that operate 58 power plants and Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) that operates 14 plants.
"All the power plants are now connected to the national grid," said director general of the department Nabin Raj Singh. He also briefed about the fast track licensing services. "The department is now focusing on the study of mega hydropower projects and enhanced supervision and monitoring of the works," Singh added.
The department was formed after the government opened hydropower generation to the private sector that has now an installed capacity almost equal to the government-owned power utility NEA.
"This is the first time the hydropower producers were collectively appreciated for their contribution," according to an architect of the domestically-financed Chilime Hydropower Project Dambar Nepali.
“It's a matter of pride for us to see so many developers from the private sector engaged in hydropower generation in the country,” he added. Nepali is planning to finance and start a large-scale power plant soon.
Promoter of Sanima Hydropower Subarna Das Shrestha, on the occasion, expressed happiness for recognition and pledged to make additional efforts to generate hydropower.
Sanima Hydropower's three plants, with installed capacity of 31.6 megawatts, are in operation currently.
Likewise, president of IPPAN Shailendra Guragain said that the private sector was now engaged in construction of power plants with 3,500 megawatts of installed capacity, with a total commitment of Rs 700 billion. "Construction of these plants will require digging 300-km-long tunnels and constructing 1000-km-long transmission lines,” he added.
Former director general of the department Kishor Babu Aryal, on the occasion, remembered resistance from different quarters to the department's efforts in its early days to help promote private sector. "The establishment of power plants by the private sector itself has proved the success of the department,” he added.
A member of National Planning Commission (NPC) Arbinda Kumar Mishra said that the plan for power generation should be based not in terms of megawatts, but in terms of demand and seasonal variation.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Century Bank acquires Sagarmatha Finance

Century Commercial Bank has acquired Sagarmatha Finance.
Finance Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki inaugurated the joint operation of the bank today. After the acquisition, the bank has Rs 5.46 billion issued capital with some 66 branch networks. The bank is also preparing to acquire Alpine Development Bank and Seti Finance in the near future to increase the paid up capital. The central bank has made it mandatory for commercial banks to have Rs 8 billion paid up capital by the end of the current fiscal year.

StanChart Nepal bags ‘Nepal’s Best Bank’ award

Standard Chartered Bank Nepal Ltd (SCBNL) has won 'Nepal's Best Bank' award in the Awards for Excellence 2017, one of the most respected awards in the financial services industry.
Issuing a press note, the bank said that the award was announced on Thursday. According to the bank, recognition of Standard Chartered Bank has come as a result of its ability to deliver on its strategy, progress on its digital agenda, and its ability to create differentiation and for maintaining business momentum despite challenges throughout the year 2016.

Friday, July 14, 2017

UNDP, Chaudhary Foundation partner for SDGs promotion

The Chaudhary Foundation (CF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today signed a partnership agreement for the advancement and promotion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nepal.
The agreement was signed by managing director of Chaudhary Foundation Nirvana Chaudhary and UNDP country director for Nepal Renaud Meyer on behalf of their respective institutions.
Under this partnership, the UNDP and Chaudhary Foundation will collaborate to undertake joint initiatives to promote and increase awareness on SDGs by focusing on and mobilising stakeholders for their contribution to the achievement of SDGs in Nepal.
According to the agreement, this partnership will also optimise the contribution of Chaudhary Foundation to local economic development by strengthening linkages between micro entrepreneurs and their businesses, helping Nepal to meet some SDG indicators in the areas of poverty reduction, gender equality, industry, technological innovation and infrastructure.
Speaking on the occasion, UNDP country director Meyer said that SDGs are ambitious, complex and challenging, which is why not just the government but other stakeholders, including civil society and private sector, should put collaborative efforts to achieve SDG targets. “In Nepal, the private sector can play an important role to bring in resources, technology and innovation to aid and accelerate the SDG implementation process,” he added.
The UN General Assembly Summit in September 2015 had adopted 17 SDGs with 169 targets to transform the world to a better place to live in by 2030. Some of the ambitious goals set by the UN Summit for the next 15 years include ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, ensuring healthy life for people, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, ensuring access to affordable and reliable modern energy for all, promoting sustained economic growth, reducing inequalities within and among countries, and taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.
After the signing ceremony, managing director Chaudhary said that Chaudhary Foundation has given high priority to sustainable social reforms in Nepal and expressed his commitment to facilitate national targets to achieve SDGs.

Climate change to hit development gains

Unabated climate change would bring devastating consequences to countries in Asia and the Pacific, which could severely affect their future growth, reverse current development gains, and degrade quality of life, according to a report produced by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
Likewise, climate change will also make food production in region more difficult and production costs higher, according to the report. In some countries of Southeast Asia, rice yields could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2100 if no adaptation efforts are made.
Food shortages could increase number of malnourished children in South Asia by seven million, as import costs will likely increase in sub-region to $15 billion per year compared to $2 billion by 2050.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, a six-degree Celsius increase in temperature is projected over the Asian land mass by the end of the century. Some countries in the region could experience significantly hotter climates, with temperature increases in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the northwest part of China projected to reach eight degree Celsius, according to the report, ‘A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific’, which was unveiled today.
"These increases in temperature would lead to drastic changes in the region’s weather system, agriculture and fisheries sectors, land and marine biodiversity, domestic and regional security, trade, urban development, migration, and health,” the report reads, adding that such a scenario may even pose an existential threat to some nations in the region and crush any hope of achieving sustainable and inclusive development.
More intense typhoons and tropical cyclones are expected to hit Asia and the Pacific with rising global mean temperatures. Under a business-as-usual scenario annual precipitation is expected to rise by up to 50 per cent over most land areas in region, although countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan may experience a decline in rainfall by 20 per cent to 50 per cent.
Coastal and low-lying areas in the region will be at an increased risk of flooding. Indonesia will be the most affected country in the region by coastal flooding with approximately 5.9 million people expected to be affected every year until 2100.
Increased vulnerability to flooding and other disasters will significantly impact the region – and the world – economically. Global flood losses are expected to increase to $52 billion per year by 2050 from $6 billion in 2005.
Marine ecosystems, particularly in the Western Pacific, will be in serious danger by 2100, while climate change also poses a significant risk to health in Asia and the Pacific. Already, 3.3 million people die every year due to the harmful effects of outdoor air pollution, with China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh being the top four countries experiencing such deaths.
A business-as-usual approach to climate change could also disrupt functioning ecosystem services, prompting mass migration – mostly to urban areas – that could make cities more crowded and overwhelm available social services, the report has warned. Moreover, a warmer climate for the region could endanger energy supply.
Climate change can exacerbate energy insecurity through continued reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels, reduced capacities of thermal power plants due to a scarcity of cooling water, and intermittent performance of hydropower plants as a result of uncertain water discharges, among other factors. Energy insecurity could lead to conflicts as countries compete for limited energy supply.
To mitigate the impact of climate change, report has highlighted importance of implementing the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement. These include public and private investments focused on the rapid decarbonisation of the Asian economy as well as the implementation of adaptation measures to protect the region’s most vulnerable populations.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

WTO Members reaffirm commitment to Aid for Trade

World Trade Organisation (WTO) members reaffirmed their commitment to the Aid for Trade (AfT) initiative and to the development dimension of the organisation at the closing session of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2017, today.
They underscored, in particular, the important role this exercise plays in helping developing and least developed countries (LDCs) improve their capacities to connect to global markets and lower trade costs.
“There has been a great sense of energy around the Global Review, and this is reflected in the numbers,” WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said at the closing session of the three-day event. "Over these 3 days we have seen over 1,500 attendees, 55 sessions and hundreds of pages of analysis," he said, adding that the global trade regime meeting has had a lively and informed debate, looking at the importance of Aid for Trade, and the direction of the initiative in the coming years. "This high level of interest underlines the significance of this work.”
Dedicated to the theme of 'Promoting Trade, Inclusiveness and Connectivity for Sustainable Development', the Global Review provided a platform for high-level discussions on the Aid for Trade initiative, which has made a significant impact in its decade-long existence:
almost $300 billion has been disbursed in Aid for Trade support since 2006; the latest data available from 2015 shows disbursements reached $39.8 billion that year – the highest amount for a single year so far;
Some 146 developing countries have benefitted from this support to date – mainly in Africa and Asia - with 27 per cent of the total going to LDCs.
In his closing remarks, DG Azevêdo stressed the importance of reflecting on what has been achieved so far and asked for the progress to be analysed to make sure that the programme remains relevant to members' needs.
“I see a close synergy and correlation between Aid for Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said. "Achieving economic growth is a key objective for both initiatives. In fact, the SDGs call for an increase in Aid for Trade support for developing countries, particularly LDCs. So we must ensure that Aid for Trade continues to deliver more and better – and that we improve our coordination across the international community.”
He also called upon members to look more closely at the range of specific needs of LDCs and to ensure those needs  are being met, while considering the possibility of directing help in specific sectors, such as tourism – only 1 per cent of Aid for Trade support goes directly to that sector, but for many LDCs tourism represents over 10 per cent of GDP.
Looking forward, DG Azevêdo echoed the calls from many members and institutions to mainstream gender issues into the Aid for Trade work.
“I think we should ensure that future work goes further in taking gender perspectives into account,” he said, adding that there is a need to keep momentum in this area.
Members, on the occasion, acknowledged that, in light of the negative narrative surrounding trade, Aid for Trade should be used to tell the positive story about how trade can help countries escape poverty and connect to global value chains. Members also agreed that digital and physical connectivity clearly intertwine and that both are necessary to make countries reap the real benefits of trade.
“LDCs are yet to tap the full potential of international trade and international support is vitally important for them,” UN under-secretary and high representative for the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States Fekitamoeloa Katoa 'Utoikamanu said in an earlier plenary session on enhancing connectivity and advancing the SDGs.
Globally, 3.9 billion people, constituting more than half the world’s population, are still offline. Mobile cellular penetration has reached over 70 per cent in LDCs, but mobile broadband penetration stands at just below 20 per cent compared to close to 50 per cent globally and 90 per cent in developed countries.

IMF delegation holds talk with FNCCI

A delegation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) led by deputy division chief of Asia and Pacific Department Gerard J Almekinders held discussions with the private sector on the industrial environment and investment climate in the country.
During the discussion here today, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) vice president Shekhar Golchha highlighted the team the policy instability and lack of robust infrastructure are the major constraints to accelerate the economic growth in the country by attracting foreign investment.
"The government has taken some initiatives like reforms in laws and policies to improve the investment climate," he said, adding that the country however lacks policy stability and political commitment to move forward.
The IMF team, on the occasion, opined that Nepal should increase investment in human capital and infrastructure to march towards higher growth trajectory. They also hoped for political stability after the local elections, which is crucial for the implementation of the new Constitution.
Stating that the country has recently embarked on the path towards federal structure, the visiting delegation said that Nepal government should to prudently manage the resources at the local level and enhance the spending capacity of local units to strengthen the federal system.

Central bank plans to incentivise remittance to check hundi

The central bank is planning to incentivise remittance to check the hundi, the illegal method of sending money back home by the migrant workers, and bring it into the formal channel.
Responding the lawmakers at the Finance Committee meeting of the Legislature-Parliament, today, deputy governor of the central bank Chinta Mani Siwakoti said that the Nepal Rastra Bank is planning to bring incentive scheme to encourage the migrant workers send the remittance through banking channel.
However, he said that the Nepali migrant workers in South Korea send only 0.84 per cent of the total amount through the formal channel as there is no official channel to send remittance to Nepal. "Though the government sends workers to South Korea on government-to-government agreement, the formal channel has not been utilised by the workers there to send money to Nepal as the Korean government has not yet allowed the Nepali remittance companies and banks to set network.
"Due to poor banking access, migrant workers have to rely on the informal channels," he said, adding that central bank is making the bank accounts mandatory for the migrant workers.
Informing the panel Global IME chairman Chandra Dhakal said that his company is planning to expand money transfer business in South Korea. The South Korean government has recently introduced a law, allowing foreign companies to open remittance services, he said, urging the government to make it mandatory for migrant workers to open bank account under the Employment Permit Service (EPS).
According to the central bank, Nepal received Rs 623 billion remittance in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year. The figures stood at Rs 665 billion and Rs 617 billion in 2015-16 and 2014-15 respectively.
However, only 70-80 per cent of the total remittance is being sent through formal channels, according to the central bank study. The country received rest of the amount through informal channels, popularly known as Hundi.
Since these informal channels are generally perceived to be less secure, sensitive to misuse for illegal purposes, and less beneficial to the country’s economic development, the central banks and other authorities have been expressing concerns over the use of informal channels to remit funds.
Likewise, Siwakoti said that the government has also been facing challenges to formalise remittance inflow from Dubai. "Most of the migrant workers prefer purchasing gold and other goods rather than remitting money from Dubai," he added.
The government has allowed Nepalis to go to 110 countries to work. There are 1,033 licenced recruiting firms and 40 companies working as fund transfer managers abroad.
The lawmakers on the occasion, asked the government to launch schemes to encourage migrant workers to send remittances through the formal channel. Urging the government to take carrot and stick approach for bringing remittances into the country through formal channel, they also asked to announce schemes to increase the flow of remittances from South Korea, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through the banking channel.
Former finance minister Surendra Pandey, on the occasion, said that the government should provide incentives to migrants who are working to attract more remittances through banking channel.
"The Pakistani government has provided incentives to their migrant workers to increase the inflow of remittance through formal channel by paying transfer charge that is incurred while remitting money,” he said, asking the government to replicate Pakistan model. "Nepal has received remittance worth Rs 4 trillion in the last 20 years but the inflow of remittances has been slowing down since the last few years, thus, the government should incentivise it."
Likewise, finance minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, on the occasion, informed that the government was committed to attract remittances. "We have discussed with the Nepali ambassador based in South Korea to establish a formal channel to bring remittance from the country during our visit there last month,” he added.
Finance secretary Shanta Raj Subedi, on the occasion, said that the outflow of migrant workers has been declining since the last three years. "The outflow of migrant workers has been declining since the devastating earthquakes of 2015,” he said, adding that decline in outflow of the Nepali migrant workers has hit the remittance inflow. "The government has not been successful in attracting migrant workers to invest in the Foreign Employment Saving Bonds."
Any significant drop in remittances, which equals to 30 per cent of the country's GDP, will hit the country's foreign exchange reserve and balance of payment (BoP) situation.
Likewise, former finance minister Dr Ram Sharan Mahat said that the government needed to develop a mechanism to channelise the remitted money in the productive sectors. "Some 27 per cent of the money that the migrant workers bring home is deposited in the banks and financial institutions," he added.
Also speaking at the meeting, minister for Labour and Employment Farmulha Mansur said that the ministry was bringing a rule that require overseas job aspirants to have two bank accounts before flying abroad. “They can directly transfer their money for saving purpose in one account, while the other account will be opened on their family member's name could be used to transfer money for household expenses," he said, adding that the  mandatory provision will help in increasing the use of formal channel.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

NRA approves Rs 145 billion budget for next fiscal year

The Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has approved Rs 145.93 billion budget for the fiscal year 2017-18 despite sluggish progress in the post-quake reconstruction in the current fiscal year.
The budget is an increment of 31 per cent compared to the current fiscal year as the government had allocated around Rs 111 billion for the current fiscal year 2016-17. However, the NRA has been able to spend less than half to only Rs 42.42 billion due to sluggish progress in the reconstruction drive.
"The budget for the next fiscal year is flexible as the size of recurrent expenditure has increased," NRA chief executive officer Govind Raj Pokharel said. "The budget enables us to short out issues that may surface as the work progresses," he said, explaining that the authority prepared the working plan with emphasis on increasing income, investigation of construction technology and materials, geology and gender and social inclusion apart from participatory approach in the reconstruction process.
Based on the working plan, the NRA will have to identify households under threat and beneficiaries by August 2018. The grant agreement with earthquake survivors, who wish to relocate on their own, should be completed by mid-October 2017. The NRA has so far identified 112 settlements in Selang of Sindhupalchok, Keraunja of Gorkha, Khalde of Rasuwa, Urleni of Nuwakot and Besimpa of Dolakha as the vulnerable zones. Quake survivors living in those areas are being resettled in integrated settlements.
The 10th steering committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba today also directed the NRA to expedite the reconstruction drive, making a decision to specify time for distributing grant for the construction of private homes.
However, vice-chair of the NRA steering committee meeting and leader of CPN-UML Bhim Rawal accused NRA for its failure to work according to the action plan. He criticised the sluggish work in progress of the NRA and the failure to meet the action plans. He also urged the stakeholders to be serious in the reconstruction citing that it is the responsibility of all to put their efforts in the reconstruction job.
The steering committee meeting of NRA comprises of the Premier as the chairperson of the board committee and leader of the main opposition party as vice-chairperson.
The meeting has also authorised the NRA to open eight contact offices that will look after 17 earthquake affected districts on top of those already in place in the 14 worst-hit districts for facilitating the reconstruction process.
The steering committee meeting has also endorsed an authority’s working plan that has designated specific time for different rebuilding activities, spokesperson of the authority Yam Lal Bhushal said. "The allocated budget will be utilised for reconstruction and reestablishment projects through various departments," he said, adding that the meeting has also endorsed the action plans and policies for upcoming fiscal year.
The authority will implement the plans and policies from the very first day of the new fiscal year. These plans have paved a way for the reconstruction projects.
“Before my tenure, it had been told that around 65,000 houses were completed," he said, adding that in reality, only few were constructed. "Construction of around 40,000 earthquake resilient houses has been completed, while over 110,000 homes are under construction," he added. “Over 150,000 households will have roof before Dashain festival." Besides, the NRA has aimed to complete construction of 1,000 schools in the second phase by mid-December 2017; 2,000 schools in the third phase by mid-December 2018 and 1,000 schools in the fourth phase by mid-December 2019.
The devastating earthquake in 2015 had not only floored the ancient temples and residential houses but also had severe impact on schools, and health posts apart from the police posts. By now only 2,100 schools have been rebuilt, according to the NRA that also plans to complete reconstruction of health facilities in the next three years. Reconstruction of 230 health facilities has been completed so far, while 140 are under construction.
The NRA will also be launching a pilot programme for preserving ancient, indigenous settlements and heritage sites in places like Sankhu, Bungamati, Khokana, Nuwakot, Gorkha and Dolkha in the fiscal year 2017-18.
The NRA has also been authorised to extend Rs 50,000 additional housing grant for six traditional settlements – Sankhu, Khokana, Bungamati, Gorkha Durbar Square area, Nuwakot Durbar Square area and Bhimeshwore temple area of Dolakha district – and waiver of fees for the approval of designs of houses from concerned municipal offices.
There are altogether 3,000 houses in these six settlements. "We can expect the traditional ambiance in these settlements to remain intact after rebuilding,” Pokharel added.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Connectivity and inclusiveness highlighted at opening of Aid for Trade global review

Continued support is needed to improve connectivity, lower trading costs and increase women’s participation in trade, particularly in developing and least developed countries (LDCs), speakers at the opening plenary session of the Aid for Trade (AfT) Global Review 2017 said.
Providing the support will ensure trade contributes further to alleviating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the speakers said, on the occasion.
"Many factors inhibit connectivity and inclusiveness, whether it’s poor infrastructure, high trading costs, or gender discrimination," WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo said at the opening of the three-day event. "And they all act as major constraints on sustainable development," he said, adding that work to bring down these barriers can go a long way to connect more people and improve more lives.
The biennial Global Review provides a platform for high-level discussions on the Aid for Trade initiative, which aims to build the trading capacity of developing countries and LDCs. This year’s Global Review is dedicated to the theme of 'Promoting Trade, Inclusiveness and Connectivity for Sustainable Development'.
According to DG Azevêdo, the right infrastructure must be in place to activate trade’s ability to deliver sustainable development. This includes the physical infrastructure of essential roads and ports, the soft infrastructure of rules, institutions and skills that help players take part in trade, and the digital infrastructure to connect people to the global marketplace at lower costs.
"The Trade Facilitation Agreement," he added, "is also a tool that helps cut trade costs, with developing countries and LDCs to benefit most. We need to make a difference in all of these areas – and this is why Aid for Trade is so important."
Since the Aid for Trade initiative was launched, almost $300 billion has been disbursed for Aid-for-Trade support in 146 developing countries and LDCs, DG Azevêdo said, pointing to data in the WTO-OECD publication titled 'Aid for Trade at a Glance 2017', which was launched at the opening session. "A huge body of research, including some 500 case stories, illustrate further the difference Aid for Trade has made," DG Azevêdo added.
Likewise, UNCTAD secretary-general, Mukhisa Kituyi highlighted the constraints faced by developing countries and LDCs in participating in trade, particularly online. "At a time when global commerce is going electronic, if you are not visible, you are not existent," Kituyi said.
Aside from digital connectivity, physical connectivity remains an important factor for trade, secretary-general of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurría said, adding that trade facilitation and the offline infrastructure for trade - roads, ports, and bridges - are ever more important in the digital world.
"Aid for Trade is central in ensuring benefits from cross-border trade reach women, small firms, entrepreneurs, farmers, everyone everywhere,” senior director of the World Bank Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice Anabel Gonzalez said, adding that Aid for Trade initiatives work best when they are done in a coordinated manner in partnership with all stakeholders.

Lords Hotels to launch four hotels in Nepal by year end

Lords Hotels & Resorts plans to open two hotels in Nepal this year. The hotel group is focusing towards achieving 68 per cent growth in their overall average room occupancy by the end of fiscal year 2017, according to the group that presently operates 26 hotels with an inventory of 1,544 rooms under its belt.
"Last year, Lords Hotels Group recorded an average room occupancy of 64 per cent," said Lords Hotels & Resorts vice president Rishi Puri. "We recently opened a 110-room hotel in Nepal and will add four more hotels to our portfolio by the end of 2017," he said, adding that considering the expansion spree, the company is hopeful of achieving 68 per cent average room occupancy.
The mid-market hotel brand currently operates 15 hotels in Gujarat alone apart from in some other popular destinations like Agra, Bengaluru, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Kerala.
Overall, corporate travel segment has been the best performing traveller segment for the Lords Hotels & Resorts followed by the pilgrim travel segment. "Corporate travellers since the start have been the main contributors for us across all our hotels," explained Puri.
We have to trade with caution. Though the government decisions have hit us hard, we are trying to adjust,” he said.

Fertility and mortality rates fast declining in Nepal: Report

A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report revealed that the fertility and mortality rates in Nepal have been fast declining in the recent years.
The average annual population growth rate in Nepal between 1961 and 2001 was 2.25 per cent, which declined to 1.35 per cent between 2001 and 2011, reads the report released on the eve of the Population Day today.
Nepal, like other the South Asian countries, has been undergoing rapid demographic changes during the last few decades. The working age population between 15 to 64 years has been increasing in Nepal.
In 1991, the working age population was 52.9 per cent of the total male population and 55.3 per cent of the female population. In 2011, the male working age population had increased to 57.9 per cent and the female working age population had increased to 61.6 per cent. The relatively lower proportion of working age men to women is likely attributed to the fact that many men leave the country for foreign jobs, according to the UNFPA report.
“The circumstances in which the average Nepali lives is still far from the targets the SDGs seek to achieve," it reads, adding, "Overall, poverty has declined but it has worsened in the high mountain region and in urban centers."
"School enrollment for girls has improved substantially but the drop-out rate is high," it further reads, adding that sexual discrimination is high among women and girls in the Tarai, among Dalit and women with no education. "Sex-selective abortion practice appears to be increasingly evident in some parts of Nepal as 12 of Nepal's 75 districts, which comprise over 25 per cent of the total population, show sex ratio at birth over 110, per 100 females."
Spatial distribution of population shows an ever declining share of the mountain and hill population compared to the Tarai population. In 1971, the proportion of the total population living in the mountain and hill regions combined was 62 per cent, this declined to 50 per cent by 2011.
It is projected that by 2031 this proportion will shrink to 47 per cent although the land mass in the mountain and hill regions is 77 per cent, the UNFPA report reads, adding that among the seven federal provinces, Province 3's share of total population is 21 per cent followed by Province 2 with 20 per cent, provinces 1 and 5 have 17 per cent each, Province 7 ten per cent and Province 4 nine per cent. "The ranking of the projected populations for the seven provinces remains the same, even until 2031, according to CBS, 2014."
As part of the formulation of its new UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2018-2022, Nepal is aspiring to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) to a middle-income country by 2030 by achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The National Planning Commission (NPC) has also endorsed a new three-year Development Plan, the 14th Plan (2016/17-2018/19).
Given the enormous data need required by the SDGs, Nepal is not currently in a position to produce the data and statistics required for monitoring progress in the attainment of all 17 goals and 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda adopted by the world leaders at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015, it adds, projecting Nepal's demographic transition and resulting population momentum using key demographic variables for the next 15 years (2016-2030) in the context of the new federal structure of the country.
The total population of Nepal comprises of over 125 caste/ethnic groups. The largest group is Janajati (36 per cent) , followed by Chhetri/Bahun (31 per cent), Tarai castes and Dalit both (14 per cent) and the minority Muslim (4 per cent).  In four out of seven provinces, the largest group is Janajati, in two provinces it is Chhetri/Bahun and in one province it is Tarai castes.
The report 'UNFPA Nepal 2017 Population Situation Analysis of Nepal' notes the absence of a large number population estimated at around 1.92 million as of 2011 as they are outside the country for work or study. Nepal's population of 26.5 million as per the 2011 Census is projected to grow to 30.4 million by 2021 and 33.6 million by 2031.

Monday, July 10, 2017

ADB to help Nepal improve customs reform, modernise trade facilitation

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $21-million policy-based loan to support Nepal government’s efforts to simplify, harmonise, and modernise the country’s trade processes and meet international standards.
Issuing a pree note, the Manila-based regional development bank said that its board of directors has approved the loan that will support the government in developing its national policy and legal framework for trade facilitation as well as customs procedures.
The project will support Nepal to develop a national policy and legal framework on trade facilitation and customs procedures. It will also help strengthen the organisational structure of the Department of Customs (DoC) to boost exports and raise export competitiveness.
“It is important for a landlocked country like Nepal to explore better and a more modern trade facilitation as a means to promote exports and, eventually, economic growth and development,” according to ADB senior economist Sonoko Sunayama. "Hopefully, the project can help the government of Nepal achieve this for its growth and development."
The project supported by the Manila-based multilateral financial institution is expected to help the country fulfill commitments on trade facilitation made to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and meet international standards on customs procedures. "The project will also assist Nepal to integrate better, in terms of trade facilitation and customs procedures, with the standards of the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation,” according to the ADB press note.
ADB – based in Manila – is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB is celebrating 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members, 48 from the region.
In 2016, ADB assistance totaled $31.7 billion, including $14 billion in cofinancing. 

Central bank bars Axiata from repatriation of dividends

The central bank has barred Axiata from repatriating its dividend until the issue of capital gains tax related to the Ncell deal is settled.
Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has barred the Malaysia-based foreign investor Axiata from repatriating its dividend, as the tax administration is in the process of taking necessary steps to recover the Capital Gain Tax (CGT). The seller of Ncell – TelaiSonera – has left the country without paying the CGT, which now  sems to be the responsibility of the buyer Axiata. The CGT issue has been under discussion in the parliamentary committees, though they have different interpretation on who has to pay the CGT, the buyer or the seller.
The Malaysian telecommunication company Axiata had acquired Ncell’s stake from the Swedish company TeliaSonera last year. TeliaSonera has already repatriated its dividend till fiscal year 2011-12.
According to the share purchase agreement between TeliaSonera and Axiata, the latter will repatriate the dividend after fiscal year 2012-13. Axiata has already submitted a request to the central bank for dividend repatriation. As the custodian of the foreign exchange reserve, the central bank is authorised to issue the final approval for dividend repatriation.
According to central bank officials, Ncell has set aside Rs 72 billion for dividend repatriation for the period between fiscal year 2012-13 to fiscal year 2015-16.
After the central bank's directive, Axiata will not be able to take away dividend until the selling company TeliaSonera clears its tax liability.
According to income tax law, of the 25 per cent applicable CGT in any major deal, it is the responsibility of the acquiring company to directly pay 15 per cent to the government as tax deducted at source and the remaining 10 per cent needs to be filed by the selling company.
Axiata – the buyer of Ncell – has so far filed Rs 23.56 billion in two installments as CGT and has claimed that it has cleared all its tax liabilities.
TeliaSonera – the seller – is accountable to pay the remaining 10 per cent of CGT, it has claimed in a response to the letter from the Large Tax Payers’ Office, that it has met all the tax requirements while operating Ncell between 2008 and 2016.
The central bank has also said no Nepali company or person can transfer funds to firms associated with TeliaSonera as it has not cleared its liability.
The central bank has also flagged other foreign companies including Renold Holdings; St Kitts and Nevis; TeliaSonera UTA, the Netherlands; TeliaSonera Asia Holding, Norway; TeliaSonera Norway Nepal Holding; and SEA Telecom Investment BB, the Netherlands.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lack of infrastructure hits Nepali ICT sector

Lack of reliable supporting infrastructure has prevented the country's information and communication technology (ICT) to take maximum advantage offered by the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Services Waiver provision accorded to the least-developed countries (LDCs), according to the stakeholders.
Speaking at a half-day workshop on 'WTO Services Waiver: Exploring opportunities and challenges for Nepal' organised by Ministry of Commerce, together with South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE),  executive chairman of SAWTEE Dr Posh Raj Pandey explained the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) under the WTO and the Services Waiver provision accorded to the LDCs.
Pandey also presented the status and trend of services sector in the Nepali economy.
The workshop organised with an objective to discuss the status of services sector in the Nepali economy and its role in export promotion also discussed the multilateral rules governing the services sector, including Services Waiver, and explored ways to benefit from the waiver provided to the LDCs by the developed and developing WTO members.
WTO members adopted a decision to provide preferential treatment for services and services suppliers of the LDC members at the Bali Ministerial Conference, and is generally known as the ‘Services Waiver’.
The preferences are subject to terms, limitations and conditions specified in the schedule of services commitments of the member countries. In response to the collective request of LDCs, the members of the WTO have submitted their services waiver commitment to the WTO Council for Trade in Services. So far 23 WTO members have submitted their Waiver commitments. The LDCs have 15 years from the day the Waiver is notified to the WTO to benefit from the provision.
Pandey's presentation focused on various Waivers provided by the developed and developing WTO members within the 12 sectors and four different modes of services trade defined under the WTO regime. He highlighted the market access and national treatment provisions in the Waiver notifications of countries that may be possible destination of services export of Nepal, such as the European Union, China, United States, India, and Australia. He explained the Waivers provided in sectors such as Communication services, Construction services, Education services, Financial services and Tourism and travel related services.
Speaking on the occasion, commerce secretary Naindra Prasad Upadhyaya opined that there is a need for wider consultation with the private sector to understand the nature and direction of the services sector in Nepal to be better prepared to undertake negotiations in the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.
Likewise,  president of Federation of Computer Association of Nepal (FCAN) and chair of ICT Development Committee under Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) Binod Dhakal commenting on the presentation, highlighted the difficulties faced by the ICT sector in Nepal. There are difficulties related to the use of forex, visa restrictions while visiting their counterparts in the developed countries, ambiguous national laws, among others, as factors hindering Nepali ICT sector. Unreliable electricity supply and weak internet connection has further weakened Nepal’s capacity, he said, adding that there should be a single ministry to handle the ICT-related matters in Nepal. ICT sector is currently governed by the Ministry of Information and Communication and Ministry of Science and Technology. He also pointed out that there are numerous Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies operating from Nepal but they are not in the formal regulatory ambit to avoid regulatory hassles.
Likewise, joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce Toya Narayan Gyawali, on the occasion, informed the floor that the government puts ICT on the forefront while designing its development strategy. He also opined that the LDC Services Waiver can also be instrumental in achieving the SDGs in the long term. He also pointed out the lack of reliable data pertaining to service sector as one of the impediments while designing policies.
Steered by rapid growth in telecommunications, tourism and financial sectors, services sector is now the largest contributor to the GDP. The share of services in the GDP increased from 26 per cent in 1980 to 52 per cent in 2014-15, whereas agriculture and industry contributed 33 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. In 2015, services exports contributed to 63 per cent of the total exports and reached $1.4 billion by value. The services exports are largely driven by travel and telecommunication (80 per cent in 2014), including an informal and rudimentary IT sector. Nepal’s export of labour services (Mode 4) in the form of labour migrants is specifically important as the workers’ remittances in 2014/15 contributed to 29 per cent of the GDP.
The workshop brought together government officials, practitioners, private sector representatives, media personnel, academics and various other stakeholders to share their knowledge and experience in services trade. A total of 40 participants attended the programme.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Central bank bans cash transaction of Rs 1 million or more

The central bank has banned cash transaction of Rs 1 million or above from July 16.
"Payments of Rs 1 million or above should not be made in cash from July 16," the central bank said in its directives. "Instead, people and firms should use banking instruments like cheques and electronic to settle payments."
Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) – the central monetary authority – has brought the new rule as a measure to curb money laundering and other illicit activities.
This rule applies to every individual, firm, company and organisation while depositing money in banks or withdrawing money from banks, the central bank notice reads, adding that the rule will come into effect from the first day of the fiscal year 2017-18, which falls on July 16.
“However, the banks and financial institutions can extend Rs 1 million or more in cash based on special request and if the reason is logical,” the notice further reads, adding that the person, who withdraws the cash has to produce the identity card.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Share trading to go fully automatic in November

Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) is planning to go fully automatic from November 7.
The stock exchange has planned to launch a fully automated online trading system so that the share traders can be able to post buy and sell orders and observe related information on their computers, freeing them of the need to depend directly on stockbrokers, Nepse general manager Sita Ram Thapaliya said at a press meet today.
The semi-automated system currently in operation since 2007-08 allows stocks to be traded electronically via stockbrokers. Currently, the rest of the process has to be done manually.
Prior to the fiscal year 2007-08, brokers used to buy and sell hares through open outcry system by shouting prices and offers to each other at the Nepse floor. However, investors will have to obtain a user ID and password from their stockbrokers after the new automated system comes to operation. The Share traders can then post their buy and sell orders and observe the market depth. They will need to have a bank account to conduct online stock trading.
Currently, 13 systems including settlement, matching listing, security and surveillance, among others, are handled by a single integrated router.
According to the him, the fully automated online trading system will incorporate all these actions under separate routers ensuring efficiency in the stock trading system.
The new system would feature a risk management system to safeguard the interest of share investors. “The risk management system will be monitored via the concerned stockbrokers, Nepse and CDS and Clearing,” Thapaliya, said adding that they would increase the transaction limit for stockbrokers to increase access to their clients. "Nepse will open the fully automated online trading system on a trial basis in mid-August."
Based on the feedback, we will make the necessary changes within two months to ensure that the fully automated system is foolproof,” he added.
As part of the preparations to implement the fully automated online trading system, Nepse has introduced an electronic stocks system and allowed stockbrokers to open remote work stations outside the Kathmandu Valley. Currently, stock trading can be done from 22 locations in various parts of the country.
Nepse – the front line regulator – has been mulling to install a fully automated system since last one decade but the process speeded after the court cleared the way for its software vendor YCO six months ago.
In March 2016, Nepse awarded a contract to create software to YCO but the software company was unable to start the work after Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon) – the capital market regulator – disqualified it for not meeting the criteria.
Nepse general manager Sita Ram Thapaliya – who is on the final day of his four-year tenure as Nepse GM – said that the vendor had completed most of the platforms necessary to implement a fully automated trading system.
He also presented financial details of the Nepse. The Nepse witnessed a turnover of Rs 178.93 billion – in the 10 months of current fiscal year – compared to a total turnover of Rs 21.56 billion in the fiscal year 2012-13.
According to Thapaliya, the total turnover in fiscal year 2013-14 had gone up to Rs 77.25 billion, but dropped to Rs 66.53 billion in the subsequent fiscal year 2014-15.

SBI introduces digital village programme

SBI Nepal has launched a digital village initiative by installing a cash recycling centre in Jarisingpouwa in Shankarapur rural municipality, some 25-km east of Kathmandu.
The centre was inaugurated jointly by the Nepal Rastra Bank governor Dr Chiranjibi Nepal and SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya.
The newly launched cash counter will enable the villagers to deposit and withdraw money through the automatic machine.
On the occasion of SBI Nepal's 25 years of establishment – on July 7 – in Nepal.
The bank has, on the occasion, also distributed 430 debit cards among the people of the locality, which is a hillside location, though it is not very far from Kathmandu city. The bank also helped install solar street lights in the area.

Nepal ranks third in South Asian SDG index

Nepal has secured third position – among South Asian nations – in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index, indicating that the country is better-off in achieving the United Nations-backed targets within 2030 than many others in the neighbourhood, according to the SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 titled ‘Global Responsibilities: International Spillovers in Achieving the Goals’ released today.
Nepal trails Sri Lanka and Bhutan in the index, but has performed better than India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whereas the index has not covered the Maldives.
Although Nepal’s performance in the South Asia remains strong, it lags behind in the global index – which covers some 157 of the 193 UN member states – securing 105th position with an overall score of 61.6, according to the report. "The score indicates the country, on average, has travelled 61.6 per cent of the way towards attaining all the SDGs."
Although the latest report has placed Nepal in a better position than many other South Asian nations in terms of proximity to the global goals, the country still needs to make lots of efforts to meet targets related to ending hunger (Goal 2), promoting good health and well being (Goal 3), ensuring access to affordable and clean energy (Goal 7), and promoting decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), says the report jointly prepared by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German social responsibility foundation, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a group that works with the UN to promote the SDGs.
Nepal also needs to put in lots of effort to build resilient industry, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation (Goal 9), create sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11), and promote peace, justice and strong institutions (Goal 16).
The report acknowledges that poorer countries, like Nepal, tend to be closer to the bottom of the rankings, as they lack adequate infrastructure, and the mechanisms needed to manage key environmental issues that are the focus of other SDGs.
Also, rich countries tend to generate adverse 'spillovers' that hinder the ability of poorer countries to achieve the SDGs. "We assume that all high-income countries should aim for the internationally agreed threshold of providing 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in official development assistance,” it adds.
SDGs – a follow-up on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired at the end of 2015 – are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues. These goals have to be achieved by all UN member states by 2030.
One of the primary objectives of SDGs is to end poverty and hunger from the world. The SDGs also aim at promoting well-being of all the people, sustainable industrialisation, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and employment and decent work for all.
Likewise, reducing inequality, making cities inclusive, safe and resilient, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns and taking urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts are other goals.
The SDGs also aim at bridging all forms of inequality, raise access to basic public services, ensure access to justice and promote sustainable economic development. “For example, the high consumption levels, banking secrecy and tax havens, and weapons exports, by the rich countries may severely inhibit sustainable development in poorer and more vulnerable countries,” reads the report.
It calls for considerable global assistance to supplement national leadership, says the report. The assistance, according to the report, should come in many forms: foreign direct investment, global tax reform to enable the poor countries to fight tax evasion by international investors, technology sharing, capacity development, and more official development assistance.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Amarasekera appointed as new Ncell managing director

Ncell has replaced its managing director Simon John Perkins with Suren J Amarasekera.
Perkins, according to the company, will assume a new role at the head office of Axiata – Ncell’s parent company – in Kuala Lumpur supporting South Asia operations.
Amarasekera brings with him 25 years of extensive experience in the telecommunications industry, including nine years of experience as chief executive officer and 16 years of senior management experience in globally renowned telecom companies such as Singapore Telecommunications, Sri Lanka Telecom’s Mobitel, Maxis Berhad in Malaysia and Aircel in India, reads a press note issued by Ncell.
"I am proud to have been given this opportunity," he said, adding that he will be looking forward to joining Ncell and building on the brand to be one that is loved by its consumers, while contributing to the vision of digital Nepal and delivering on Axiata’s vision of advancing Asia.
Amarasekera has previously served as strategic projects director in Axiata Group Berhad’s corporate headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, focusing on key group initiatives across its South Asian operations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The board directors of Ncell have stated they are confident that Ncell will achieve new milestones under his leadership, including digital inclusion for the overall advancement of the country.

Insurance Board cuts cost of riot, protest insurance products down

Insurance Board (IB) – the insurance sector regulator – has reduced premiums on insurance products that cover damages inflicted by riots, strike, malicious attacks and sabotage terrorism by up to 50 per cent.
The new premium rates will come into effect on July 16. The board had made it mandatory for those buying insurance products to protect themselves from risks related to riots, strikes and acts of terror after the Maoist insurgency reached its peak. The regulator has now reduced the premium on coverage of these risks following decline in the number of such violent incidents.
According to the board's director Shree Man Karki, the board had revised the premium rates to relieve customers from extra financial burden, as cases of riots, protests and acts of terrorism are not heard very often.
The board has reduced premium on riot and strike insurance coverage for private and commercial buildings to 0.02 per cent of the coverage amount from 0.026 per cent of the coverage amount.
Similarly, premiums on riot and strike insurance coverage for warehouses range from 0.035 per cent to 0.060 per cent of the coverage amount.
Previously, the premiums on these products ranged between 0.044 per cent to 0.08 per cent. Premium on riot and strike coverage for factories, on the other hand, has been reduced to 0.04 per cent from 0.05 per cent of the coverage amount.
Likewise, premium on riot and strike coverage for shops has been reduced to 0.08 per cent down from 0.104 per cent of the coverage amount.
For movie theatres, exhibition halls and parks, premium has been brought down to 0.05 per cent of the coverage amount – down from 0.07 per cent – while media houses and telecom companies have to pay a premium of 0.035 per cent of the coverage amount – down from 0.044 per cent – to protect their assets from risks related to riot and strike.
The board has also revised premiums on riot and strike insurance coverage for power houses, electricity transmission and distribution systems, and buildings under construction.
As per the revised rate, power houses and electricity transmission and distribution systems will have to pay a premium of 0.035 per cent of the coverage amount, while buildings under construction will have to pay premium of 0.02 per cent of the coverage amount.
Likewise, the board has reduced the premium for malicious damage under fire insurance policy to 0.05 per cent of the coverage amount.
The board has also fixed the premium for household insurance at 0.1 per cent of the coverage amount.
Meanwhile, the Insurance Board has also revised premium on personal accident insurance coverage. From July 16, personal accident insurance product with coverage of up to Rs 2 million can be bought upon paying 0.01 per cent of the coverage amount. Currently, this premium rate is only applicable for personal accident insurance with coverage of up to Rs 1 million. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

GMR to sell Upper Karnali electricity to Bangladesh

GMR Upper Karnali Hydropower is planning to sign a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Bangladeshi government.
GMR Upper Karnali Hydropower – a subsidiary of GMR Energy India – is preparing to sign grid connection agreement with Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) and Haryana Power Generation Corporation (HPGC) to sell at least 300 megawatts (MW) to each.
A team from the Bangladeshi government is likely to visit the project site in western Nepal soon and start PPA negotiations with the developer.
"We have already signed the memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with them,” said chief operating officer of Hydro Business of GMR Energy Harvinder Manocha. "After BPDB and HPGC sign power purchase agreement with us, we will be able to obtain loans for financial closure."
The GMR Upper Karnali Hydropower is close to achieving financial closure.
GMR Energy India – the developer of the 900 MW Upper Karnali Hydroelectric Project – will evacuate energy produced by the project to Bangladesh via India.
Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with India’s NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam (NVVN) to import electricity from Upper Karnali via India during Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in April 2017. "The tariff rate will be mutually finalised by GMR and Bangladesh after negotiations."
According to GMR, as Indian laws don’t allow private developers to export electricity produced in third countries over Indian transmission lines, Bangladesh signed a MoU with the state-owned cross-border electricity trading agency while GMR was the witness. "It is clearly written in the MoU that the energy that NVVN will supply to Bangladesh will come from Upper Karnali."
Manocha said that some international lenders have shown interest to provide loan for GMR’s Upper Karnali project as the developer is gearing up to sign PPA for 600 MW of the energy out of installed capacity of 900 MW. Developer has to achieve financial closure within the deadline of September 18, 2017 given by the Investment Board Nepal (IBN).
"Everything is moving ahead smoothly," he said, adding that the company wants to develop Upper Karnali as a regional project. "It will be a model project for foreign investors willing to come to Nepal."
When the project development agreement (PDA) was signed in September 2014, the cost of the 900-MW project was expected to hover around $1.03 billion. However, the developer believes that cost could escalate to $1.5 billion.
GMR has also shortlisted the bidders for civil and electromechanical works and bidders will be finalised soon. Once the project begins construction, around 5,000 people are expected to get employment opportunity. Nepal will receive 27 per cent free equity and 12 per cent free energy from Upper Karnali project.
Apart from that, Nepali suppliers of construction materials will also stand to benefit, according to the developer that had been given seven years to conclude the construction. The project must be handed over to the government after 25 years from the date of power commissioning, according to the PDA.
Despite all these positive developments, the project is facing a major roadblock from the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation as it recently introduced a new guideline ‘Utilisation of Forest Area by National Priority Projects’, which requires ‘land to land’ compensation for the utilisation of land in the forest area.
Earlier, the ministry was willing to provide 5,000 ropanis of government land for nominal lease fees and sought compensation for land area where permanent structures like dam, power house would be built. The developer is going to purchase 1,000 ropanis of private land in Dailekh and Achham districts.
On the other hand, as per the new forest rules, the developer needs to plant 25 saplings in another area of similar topography for chopping every tree for the project and nurture the saplings for five years.
The developer has complained about the recent stringent forest rules to the government. Private sector developers have also been urging the government to respect the PDA as a bilateral document and ensure policy stability for the development of the power sector.

Japan provides eight ambulances to Nepal Red Cross

Japan has provided eight ambulances to Nepal Red Cross Society (NRSC) under its grant assistance for Grassroots Human Security Project (GAGHSP) of the Japanese government.
According to a press release issued by the Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu, Japanese ambassador to Nepal Masashi Ogawa handed over the keys of the ambulances to NRCS chairperson Sanjeev Kumar Thapa amidst a function held at NRCS office today.
The total amount needed to procure the ambulances is Rs 9.8 million ($90,440). "The ambulances provided through the project are four-wheel-drives, providing safe and reliable service even under the challenging road conditions in Nepal," reads the press note.
Out of the eight ambulances, four have already been sent to Pyuthan, Gulmi, Udayapur and Morang districts last November. According to the statement, the NRSC plans to send three new ambulances to Jajarkot, Rautahat and Dhankuta later this month. The remaining ambulance will be sent to Khotang district after the monsoon.
The branches of the NRSC in those districts used to have only one ambulance, with some areas having no ambulance at all before these ambulances were sent. “It was difficult to respond to local calls for service, even in case of accidents or to transport urgently-needed blood,” further reads the release.

Nepse to go fully-automated from mid-November

Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) is planning to test an automated online-trading system from mid-August. It is also planning to replace the existing semi-automated system used for trading of stocks by mid-November.
According to Nepse, the fully-automated online trading system will be tested in mid-August while such system will be readied for the implementation by mid-November after incorporating necessary feedback and suggestions received from Nepse officials during the test phase.
"Currently we have intra-net trading system, which will be replaced by internet system whereby investors can place their trading orders from their computers from their home without requiring to come to broker's office," said the Nepse general manager Sitaram Thapaliya.
With the new online trading system, there will be new components of member portal system, surveillance system, and collateral system. "Like watching replay of a football game, we can go back to a certain transaction and check whether there has been any manipulation and take corrective measure if there has been any problem," he said, adding that an automated debit and credit system of cash from bank account and stocks from the dematerialised account of investors will be in place once the orders are matched and trading is executed through the online system.
The fully-automated online-trading system being developed by YCO – an information technology firm – will allow investors to put their orders to buy or sell shares online while everything, including payment, clearing and settlement, will be carried out electronically.
Following a long legal battle and tussle with Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon) – the capital market regulator – over the selection of YCO, the Nepse had signed the agreement with the firm for supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of the fully-automated online trading system in February after a court ruling came in favour of the vendor. The vendor has agreed to deliver the system within 14 months.
Issuing a statement today, Nepse said that the YCO has informed Nepse officials at a meeting that it has been working on various modules of the proposed project in a parallel way and will make the system available for test in mid-August.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rs 221 billion in cash government budget surplus

The government's treasury has hit Rs 221 billion cash surplus mainly due to the failure to effectively execute the budget, rise in revenue mobilisation and carryover of huge cash balance from the previous fiscal year.
According to the central bank, the budget surplus is more than two-thirds of the funds that the government had planned to spend in various development projects for the current fiscal year 2016-17.
The government – in its budget for the current fiscal year 2016-17 – has allocated Rs 311.95 billion for capital expenditure. However, it has managed to spend only Rs 136 billion (43.88 per cent) of the allocation by yesterday.
Through the government failed to expedite capital expenditure, it has almost met its revenue target. "As of yesterday, the government has mobilised a total of Rs 551 billion in revenue compared to the target of Rs 565.9 billion," according to the Office of Comptroller general. "The mismatch of disappointingly low spending and high revenue moblisation has sent the government treasury into surplus," according to officials of Finance Ministry.
Last fiscal year, the government had transferred Rs 59.41 billion of cash balance to the current fiscal year's budget.
The expansionary budget – for the current fiscal year – had estimated to finance the budget deficit of the current fiscal year partly through the cash balance which is expected to remain at Rs 102.73 billion. "But, given that the low development expenditure and revenue mobilisation exceeding the target, the government is likely to have far higher amount of cash surplus in the current fiscal year," the Finance Ministry official added.
According to the vice chair of National Planning Commission (NPC) Min Bahadur Shrestha, the development spending was also affected due to election code of conduct. "As the local level elections were held in different phases, the code of conduct was in place for a long period," he said, adding that the government had to deploy many employees for election which affected implementation of many development projects. "Labourers and contractors as well as many people went to vote in the polls which created shortage of human resources in the project."
He, however, claimed that capital expenditure will cross 80 per cent by the end of the fiscal year.

Airliners reduce fare

Domestic airlines are marginally reducing the airfare to different destinations effective from tomorrow.
The Airlines Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN) meeting today decided to slash fuel surcharge rate following the recent reduction in the price of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF). The Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) had from Monday reduced the price of ATF by Rs 4 per litre to Rs 82 per litre for domestic airline companies.
"Along with reduction in fuel surcharge, domestic airlines will reduce airfares to different destinations from tomorrow," said AOAN spokesperson Ghanashyam Acharya. "The price will come down from Rs 40 to Rs 181 depending on distance."
Though, the AOAN revises fuel surcharge when price of ATF fluctuates by at least Rs 4 per litre, the new airfare can vary depending on the respective airline companies.
According to AOAN, the new airfare to Dhangadi – the furthest destination from Kathmandu – will come down to around Rs 12,019 – including a Rs 3,620 fuel surcharge and a Rs 200 airport tax – from Rs 12,200 from tomorrow with the implementation of new fuel surcharge rate. Likewise, air travel to Simara – the shortest destination from Kathmandu that takes 15 minutes – will be lowered to around Rs 3,005 from Rs 3,045. "The fuel surcharge has been slashed by Rs 40 to Rs 735, according to AOAN.
The mountain flight is also expected to cost Rs 10,862 from tomorrow as against the current rate of Rs 11,000.
The fuel surcharges for Kathmandu-Nepalgunj and Kathmandu-Tumlingtar routes have been reduced by Rs 135 and Rs 77; respectively. Likewise, fuel surcharges for Kathmandu-Bharatpur and Kathmandu-Pokhara routes have been slashed by Rs 47 and Rs 66.
The NOC had been selling aviation fuel at rates much higher than market prices. Airlines have been passing the burden of fuel price on to travellers in the form of fuel surcharge, taking airfares beyond the reach of people.
Airlines currently have over 90 per cent occupancy rate due to poor highway road conditions, particularly the Mugling-Narayangadh highway section.
The people have been resorting to air transport service to travel inside the country. After witnessing a constant fall in passenger numbers in the last four years, the domestic aviation sector rebounded strongly in 2016, recording an all-time high air traveller movement.
According to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the domestic air passenger movement jumped by 28.85 per cent to 1.75 million, as travellers chose to fly rather than drive over ‘bone-jarring’ national highways.
According to deputy at the Air Transport Division of CAAN Subhash Jha, lower fuel surcharge will provide some relief to travelers.
Domestic carriers received 393,548 more flyers last year.  The figure includes 27,893 passengers flown by nine domestic helicopter companies. The passenger movement was on a constant decline since 2012, marking a departure from the robust growth rates seen since 2008 when airlines were flying high due to competitive airfares, constant protests and road blockades, forcing travellers to take it to the air. At that time, rise in NGO/INGO staff movement during the peace process and a real estate boom also helped airlines to do a brisk business.
Airlines saw a heady growth of 13 per cent in passenger movement in 2008. The growth rate jumped to 33 per cent in 2009, as fares were cut amid stiff competition. Although passenger movement increased 12.83 per cent in 2010, the growth rate started dropping in 2011 and recorded negative growth from 2012 to 2015.
The trend reversed in 2016. Nepali skies saw 73,876 flights during that year, up by 12.16 per cent than in 2015.

ICAO team starts aviation standard audit from today

A team of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) formally started audit of Nepal's aviation sector from today.
In an interaction with officials of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) in Kathmandu, the two-member team – captain Eugene Voundri and aeronautical engineer Edmund Bohland – of ICAO presented its mission and work schedule.
According to the spokesperson of CAAN Birendra Prasad Shrestha the ICAO team started its work. "The team presented its work schedule for conducing audit of four areas of aviation safety; aviation legislation, flight operations, personal licensing and air worthiness," he said, adding that the team has kept both site inspection and study of documents in their schedule. “They are likely to audit documents related to Nepal's aviation safety and also make site inspections till Friday, and compile all their study reports by Sunday."
The team will brief CAAN officials about the findings of their study next Tuesday.
CAAN is hopeful that ICAO will remove Significant Safety Concern (SSC) tag given to Nepal after studying report prepared by the team. The SSC indicates that aviation sector needs to make improvement on safety aspects. "It is not that Nepali aviation sector is blacklisted by ICAO,” Shrestha added.
ICAO had given SSC tag to the Nepali aviation sector in 2013.
The Safety Management Division of CAAN has spared no effort to improve Nepal's air safety standards, claims the aviation sector regulator.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Research identifies main factors that influence low birth weight in Nepal

According to a research, 27 per cent of all children born in Nepal have low birth weight and over three-quarters of the newborn deaths in Nepal occur in these low birth weight babies.
The research article in the Journal of Nepal Paediatric Society has identified age, economic status, nutrition and health check-up during pregnancy as the main factors affecting low birth weight in Nepal.
"Children born to mothers above 35 years of age, living in joint families and having low economic status were found to have given birth to babies with low birth weight," according to the lead author of the article Dr Manju Shrestha.
Children weighing less than 2.5 kg at the time of birth are considered to be low birth weight, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition. "Low ante-natal care (ANC) visits, not using folic acid and smoking and drinking habits were also associated with low birth weights," she added.
The research was carried out among 350 children admitted in Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Tertiary Care Teaching Hospital, Chitwan, Nepal between October 2012 and September 2014.
As low birth weight is the main cause of child mortality in Nepal, finding out the causes behind it and working on improving them is crucial to improving child health. Nepal still has a neonatal mortality rate of 33 per 1000 live births, which, according to Dr Shrestha, is very high compared to the neighboring countries.
"There is no option to addressing the factors affecting low birth weight if we want to decrease child mortality rates," she said, suggesting for increased number of training on neo-natal health, better access to nutritious food and vitamin and iron supplements during pregnancy to reduce low birth weight.

Fiscal year end junket of government officials cost country dearly

The fiscal year end junkets of the government employees cost the country billions.
Most of the government officials have already embarked on study and observation tours to foreign countries and remaining are packing their bags spending over billion of the taxpayers’ money.
According to a Finance Ministry official, the foreign junkets in the last months of the fiscal year could cost over billion to the government exchequer. The bill includes over 1,200 trips of civil servants since last 2 months. "But the visits made to India have not been counted."
Though some visits from India to European destinations – including field trips, exposure visits, study tours, familiarisation and observation tours – were sponsored by organisers, most of the travel bills have been paid by the taxpayers' money, according to the official.
Government officials get between $150 to $200 in travel and daily allowance depending on their designation. According to existing provision, government secretaries get $200 in allowance for day, while joint-secretaries and under-secretaries get $175 and $150 respectively, the official insormed.
However, the allowance could be much higher, in case of a trip is sponsored by big donors and multilateral agencies. UNDP provides a minimum of $350 per day.
Four teams from Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry including secretary Shankar Prasad Adhikari and joint secretaries Suresh Acharya, Ghanashyam Upadhyay and Bharat Mani Subedi – totaling to 30 officials – have left for Poland, Pakistan and other countries, leading separate delegations from the ministry today, though the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) team is visiting Nepal for a safety audit of the country’s aviation sector last evening. Likewise, director general at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Sanjiv Gautam has already left for a week-long Myanmar tour, while the two-member ICAO team began air safety audit today,” according to CAAN.
Similarly, Ministry of Agriculture Development has also forwarded a proposal to the Finance Ministry for its approval to send at least 95 – including 60 ministry officials – on a study tour to East Asian countries. Agriculture secretary Suroj Pokhrel and joint secretary Kashi Raj Dahal have already left the country to attend international seminars, a ministry official informed.
The Finance Ministry has also approved foreign tours of over 50 officials. According to a record, at least 33 officials have already left for China, Belgium and USA, while 13 have been waiting for tickets to fly to European countries.
Yet another ministry that has sent its employees to the foreign junket is Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. Some 21 officials of the ministry are already on a visit to the Philippines and Cambodia last month.
Likewise, Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development Secretary Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya returned from a 10-day tour to London today, while another joint secretary from the ministry has already embarked on a tour of Indonesia.
Senior officials have embarked on foreign trips at a time when the Parliament has also been holding ministry-wise budget deliberations. It is mandatory for secretaries and senior officials of the concerned ministries to be present for budget discussion during the House debate.
Though the government has restricted foreign junket, the attraction of civil servents seems not to be decreased due to also good travel allowances. The government had, in 2015, introduced a policy to discourage such visits, but it could not deter the civil servants from making all-paid trips to foreign lands.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

NOC revises petroleum prices downward, still makes hefty profits

Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has slashed petroleum products' prices effective from midnight. But state-owned petroleum monopoly is still making hefty profits.
The NOC has reduced price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – popularly known as cooking gas – by Rs 25 per cylinder, domestic aviation fuel by Rs 4 per litre, whereas petrol, diesel and kerosene prices dropped by Rs 2 per litre.
After the downward price revision, a cooking gas cylinder will cost Rs 1,350, but the NOC is till making profit on every cylinder of LPG.
Despite the new price drop, NOC has projected that its monthly profit will stand at more than Rs 800 million.
Similarly, petrol will cost Rs 98 per litre, whereas diesel and kerosene will each cost Rs 74 per litre. Air turbine fuel (domestic) has been reduced by Rs 2 per liter for domestic airlines and by Rs 4 liter for international airlines to Rs 84 per liter (domestic) and Rs 73 (international). The domestic airliners will reduce surcharge on air fares, though the public transportation – run by both petrol and diesel will not reduce the fair.
The NOC has revised the fuel prices downwards based on the new price list that it received from Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) – the sole supplier of petroleum products to Nepal – according to the NOC spokesperson Sitaram Pokharel. He said that the Indian supplier had lowered the price in the new price list that was sent to NOC on July 1. The NOC receives the new price list fortnightly.
The fuel monopoly has reduced the price after facing criticism for not lowering price despite the drop in fuel price in the international market. It had slashed prices two weeks ago, though the price of cooking gas remained unchanged then citing loss.
 Though the NOC had claimed that it has adopted auto pricing system – based on IOC price every fortnight – it has not been regularly adjusting the prices claiming the loss it had incurred in the past.
The state-owned fuel monopoly had also claimed that lower prices in Nepal would promote fuel smuggling at the Nepal-India border. Due to huge profits it has been making, it has however separated profits for bonus, despite huge public pressure not to 'socialise the loss and privatise the profit.'
"US crude futures have slumped about 15 per cent so far this year to about $46 per barrel, and as of Friday, ended its worst half-year performance in 19 years,” according to the international market that reported that an agreement between the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers to cut output had kept oil prices stable in the last few months. But OECD total oil inventories are still above 3 billion barrels due to an unexpected recovery in Libyan and Nigerian supplies and a rebound in US shale production.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Stock transaction to resume on Sunday

Stocks transaction – which could not take place on Thursday in the secondary market due to high-headedness of share brokers – is going to resume on Sunday, according to the brokers.
The stockbrokers launching a protest to condemn the government’s decision to bring in stockbrokers to value added tax (VAT) regime had closed the market on Thursday 'forcefully' as the capital market regulators – Securities Board of Nepal (SEBON) and front line regulator Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) – both remained mute spectators.
"We have agreed to open the transaction on Sunday after the talks with Finance Ministry officials on Friday," said chairman of Stockbrokers’ Association of Nepal (SBAN) Priya raj Regmi after the emergency meeting of the brokers today.
Stockbrokers had completely halted share transactions on Thursday – hurting the investors' sentiment and against the market norms – after the Inland Revenue Offices (IROs) directed two stock brokerages to clear the due VAT levied on commission amounts of the last four years.
The IROs on Wednesday sent letters to Investment Management asking to clear dues of Rs 15 million. Likewise, it also wrote Sundhara Securities asking to submit VAT amount of Rs 6 million. The IROs’ move took brokerage companies by surprise as VAT was never levied on commission generated by stockbrokers before. However, it is not known why the IROs wrote only 2, out of the total 50 broker firms.
The stockbrokers – showing their disagreement – had declined to take purchase and sale orders from the investors on Thursday in a 'syndicate' decision.
Revenue secretary Shishir Dhungana summoned the brokers yesterday – a day after they launched the protest – to discuss on their grievances.
The Finance Ministry has however said that it would not roll back its decision to slap VAT on commission generated by stockbrokers, though it is ready to revise the due amount of the last four years. "The ministry has agreed to find out an alternative to recover the VAT of last four years," the Finance Ministry added.

NAC expands market share to 12 per cent thanks to new aircrafts

The national flag carrier – Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) – has expanded its market in the civil aviation market to 12 per cent from five per cent a year ago, thanks to new aircrafts.
Addressing the 59th anniversary here today, managing director of NAC Sugat Ratna Kansakar said that the national flag carrier's market share a year ago used to be only five per cent, which has now more than doubled to 12 per cent this year. "The number of passengers served by NAC also has also increased by 17.6 per cent," he said, attributing the increase in the market hare to the two 158-seater A320 aircraft added to its international fleet. "NAC has been carrying 200,000 passengers annually for the last one decade. But for the past two years –previous fiscal year and current fiscal year – the number of NAC's passengers has increased by 24 per cent to 384,000.
Similarly, though the number of arrivals at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) has increased by 4.7 per cent, the passengers traveling by NAC aircraft have increased by 17.6 per cent this year, he added. "Though NAC's annual transaction has reached Rs 100 billion, international airlines operating in the country enjoy a majority market share.
Increasing the market share and number of passengers is commendable as NAC has to compete with 26 international airlines,” Kansakar said, adding that NAC will bring two wide-body aircraft within a year and increase market share to 18 per cent from the current 12 per cent. "NAC has attached high priority to improving its management besides adding aircraft."