Friday, May 31, 2019

Asia-Pacific governments adopt regional actions to fulfil promise of leaving no one behind

Senior government representatives from across Asia and the Pacific today called for greater efforts to advance equality and empowerment for over four billion people across the region.
Over 800 delegates attended the 75th session of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) – held from May 27 to 31 in Bangkok – concluded with the adoption of nine resolutions aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and partnerships towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Addressing the closing ceremony, UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Alisjahbana said that the decisions reached by member states will help guide the work of the regional body. "The resolutions are firmly anchored in the 2030 agenda and provide solid foundations on which to build upon," she said, adding that many are aligned with the priorities and set out earlier this week are essential to achieving a transformed and resilient society in Asia and the Pacific. "To deliver against these priorities, and others set by the 2030 agenda, our ability to work effectively at the sub regional and regional level is critical."
The theme of this year’s week-long meeting highlighted the need for greater empowerment and inclusion of marginalised groups. A report released to coincide with the meeting highlighted that the region was not on track to meet any of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Despite significant increase in the availability of SDG indicators since 2017, data gaps remain for two thirds of the global SDG indicators. Endorsing the Declaration on Navigating Policy with Data to Leave No One Behind, member states recognised reliable and timely statistics as indispensable for evidence-based decision making, transparency, accountability and inclusive societies.
Innovation and use of new technologies for sustainable development and building community resilience also featured prominently among the resolutions passed. Delegates endorsed a call to advance science, technology and innovation, as well as implementation of the Asia-Pacific Plan of Action on Space Applications for Sustainable Development (2018 – 2030), and the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway.
Member states, on the occasion, also agreed on the urgent need for regional cooperation to tackle air pollution challenges, and diversification of energy sources in this respect. Air pollution has increased considerably in recent years leading to a rise in premature deaths, threatening livelihoods and the sustainable development in the region, particularly in many cities with growing populations where air pollution is a major public health hazard.
Strengthening the development of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies was also underlined as a priority, through the Asia Regional Plan and Action Plan 2018-2020 for Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The Commission further committed to strengthen the link between national, regional and global follow-up and review to the 2030 agenda, and to continue providing capacity building assistance to landlocked developing countries towards the smooth implementation of the six priorities of the Vienna Programme of Action.

Business icon Prabhakar Rana passes away

A pioneer of Nepali tourism industry Prabhakar SJB Rana passed away while undergoing treatment in New York yesterday. Rana, 84, was admitted to the hospital one year ago.
Starting his career in the hotel industry, Rana built an empire with his honesty and moral in business. Engaged in multiple business including tourism, trade, automobiles, and hydropower, Rana believed in earning credibility and transparency in his business rather than making profits because ‘that’s what makes businesses successful’, according to him.
The first generation of Nepali entrepreneurs, chairman Emeritus of Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Rana was not only recognised for his initiative to bring an international hotel chain to Nepal but also for promoting tourism through hotel.
Rana was the founding chairperson of Soaltee Crowne Plaza and later on the chairman emeritus of the five-star hotel, though Soaltee was founded in 1966 by late prince Himalaya Bikram Shah and late princess Princep Rajya Laxmi. Rana later converted the hotel to a public limited company in 1975. Soaltee Crowne Plaza is one of the three hotels listed in the Nepal Sock Exchange (Nepse).
Until recently he was working on Soaltee Westend Hotel in Nepalgunj expanding the Soaltee brand outside the Kathmandu Valley.
Starting from the hotel industry, Rana expanded his business to travel and trekking, automobiles, tea garden and hydropower projects. He is also the founder president of Hotel Association Nepal (HAN) and Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal chapter.
Issuing press notes, both HAN and PATA said Rana could solely be credited for introducing international standards in the hospitality sector of the country.
Rana established Sipradi Trading – the authorised dealer of Tata Motors in Nepal – in 1982. In 1986, he invested in Surya Nepal, a multinational undertaking in joint partnership with firms of India and UK. Likewise, He started Bhotekoshi Power Company (BPC) – the first privately funded, run-of-the-river (ROR) power project in Nepal – in 1996.
Besides, he has also invested in Himalayan Tea Garden and Amravati Travels.
Rana was both professionally and personally close with late kings Mahendra and Birendra and in recent times with former king Gyanendra. But he never misused the power as usually is seen. He kept his freidship and professionalism separate though he was business partner of forme king Gyanendra.
He is survived by a son Siddhartha and a daughter Maya. Siddhartha Rana is currently looking after the entire business operations. The final rites of Rana will be performed in New York tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Government presents 1.53 trillion deficit budget

Finance Minister Dr Yuvaraj Khatiwada today presented Rs 1.53 trillion deficit budget – targeting to achieve 8.5 per cent economic growth, and containing inflation under six per cent – for the next fiscal year 2019-20 in the Federal Parliament.
Presenting the federal budget in the joint session of the House, Dr Khatiwada said that the government has increased the total budget size to Rs 1.53 trillion – some 17 per cent bigger – for next fiscal year from Rs 1.31 trillion in the current fiscal year. "The capital budget has also increased from Rs 313.99 billion to Rs 408.59 billion."
The government has earmarked Rs 408.59 billion (26.6 per cent) for capital expenditure and Rs 167.85 billion (11 per cent) for financing provision, he said, adding that the government will mobilise Rs 981.13 billion from revenue, Rs 57.99 billion from foreign grants, Rs 298.83 billion from foreign loan and Rs 195 billion from domestic borrowing.
Though, finance minister – presenting his second budget in the row – claimed that the government has planned to achieve 8.5 per cent economic growth on the base of infrastructure development, the capital budget – aimed at expediting the development activities – seems completely dependent on the foreign aid and grants, as he has allocated Rs 957.1 billion under recurrent expenditure and projected to mobilise Rs 981.13 billion in revenue. The projection of revenue could meet only the recurrent expenditure, if he is able to meet the target, but going by the current fiscal year’s trend, the government has failed to meet both the revenue mobilisation – because of disappointing mobilisation of VAT, customs, excise and income tax (both corporate and personal) and also spending target.
The government has, however, revised the tax structure claiming to make it more sustainable source generated through internal economic activities rather than existing import-based revenues.
But the minimum income tax threshold for individuals has been raised to Rs 400,000 per annum and Rs 450,000 for married couples – though they will have to pay 1 per cent social security tax – from Rs 350,000 for single and Rs 400,000 for married couples. It is expected to give some relief for the working class people.
With an ambitious economic growth target but few tangible bases, the budget has also focused on increasing cash-based social security allowances – as promised in the election manifesto – salary hike for the government employees – the regular process every 2 -year – and hefty amount for the parliamentarians – the most opposed dole out that is the wastage of public money – even after the election of local governments.
Bowing to the political pressure, finance minister allocated fund for Parliamentarians. But in the past parliamentarians were allocated budget as there was no local government for two decades but the budget allocation for them now will encourage gross financial indiscipline. The fund – named Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme – has been increased by 50 per cent – from Rs 40 million to Rs 60 million, he said, adding that the salaries of non-gazetted officers have also been hiked by 20 per cent and those of gazetted officers by 18 per cent. “The budget has earmarked Rs 64.50 billion for the social security scheme, under which the monthly allowance for the elderly has been increased by Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000.”
The scheme is expected to benefit around 1.3 million people above the age of 70, he added. “Likewise, allowances for widows and single women have been increased to Rs 2,000 from Rs 1,000.”
The budget has also allocated Rs 220 million to provide air transport facilities for pregnant women and has further promised to provide access to clean drinking water to 92 percent of the population by the next fiscal year.
“Overall development is only possible through high economic growth and its equitable distribution,” Dr Khatiwada said, adding, “Our socialist goal is to fulfill the basic needs, such as employment, food security, basic health and education services, and clean drinking water, for all citizens.”
He said that the budget has also focused on social justice, increment in exports to reduce the trade deficit, and increase in general productivity, apart from completing incomplete projects. Khatiwada has also allocated budget for education, health, science and technology, agriculture, drinking water and hygiene, social security, employment tourism, industry, commerce and supplies, energy, transportation, urban development, presenting the rosy picture of the economy, which seems not in track.
“The budget expects hydroelectricity capacity to be double and manufacturing activities may improve on the back of a stable and adequate supply of electricity,” he said. “The budget has promised that 1,000 MW of electricity will be added to the national grid in the next fiscal year, along with a new, ambitious project to generate 3,500 MW of electricity from a combined 18 projects by raising funds from the public under the slogan ‘Nepal ko pani, Janta ko lagani’.” But the programme ‘Nepal ko pani, Janta ko lagani’ has been blamed to be a step to governtisation of private hydro power projects, according to the independent power producers.
The budget has also continued the Prime Minister’s Employment Programme with an allocation of Rs 5 billion. The budget also revitalised the old programme ‘Afno Gaun, Afai Banau’ – let’s build our villages ourselves – that was first introduced some 25 years ago in 1994 by the late leader Bharat Mohan Adhikari.
The budget has allocated the largest chunk to the education sector, which gets Rs 163.76 billion, followed by roads, infrastructure and railway transportation at Rs 163.52 billion as the budget for Upper Tamakoshi, Budhi Gandaki and Budi Ganga hydroelectric projects;  Rani-Jamara-Kulariya and Bheri Babai irrigation projects; Nijgadh, Bhairahawa and Pokhara international airports; Kathmandu-Tarai expressway; Postal and Mid-Hill highways; and the East-West Electric Railway Line have been allocated for their completion.
Dr Khatiwada has also allocated Rs 141 billion for post-earthquake reconstruction, Rs 83.49 billion for the energy sector, Rs 68.78 billion for health, Rs 40.73 billion for urban infrastructure and housing, Rs 34.80 billion for the agricultural sector, and Rs23.63 billion for irrigation.
The budget has allocated Rs 8 billion for the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernisation Project – started by the earlier Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ – and increased state subsidies on chemical fertilisers by 50 per cent to Rs 9 billion. Similarly, he has allocated Rs 950 million for subsidies to encourage sugarcane farmers. The government has also announced the enforcement of anti-dumping tariffs for imports on agriculture products.
The budget has announced raising Re 1 from every litre of petrol and diesel as infrastructure tax to finance road projects. Currently, the government has been levying infrastructure tax of Rs 5 from each litre of fuel to fund to the construction of Budhigandaki Hydropower project. Around Rs 30 billion has been raised for the hydel project but remained largely unutilised, and the government has been in dilemma on who is going to construct the much-controversial Budhigandagi Hydropower project.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

ILO assistant director general concludes her four-day mission to Kathmandu

ILO assistant director general and regional director for Asia and the Pacific Tomoko Nishimoto has wrapped up her four-day visit to Nepal today with a call to all constituents to ‘work beyond the normal’ to help realise social justice and decent work for all.
The visit was part of her commitment to reinforce relations with ILO constituents, comprising the government, and organisations of employers and workers, and to generate general public discourse on the ILO Centenary Initiative on the Future of Work.
Nishimoto paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli yesterday where she briefed the premier on the ILO's Centenary Initiatives on the Future of Work. On the occasion, Prime Minister Oli highlighted the reforms being made by Nepal, including increment on minimum wages, launching of contribution based social security scheme and labour legislations. He also appreciated the role of the ILO in promoting fundamental rights at work, equality and social justice.
Likewise, in her meeting with finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada, she discussed the challenges and opportunities of Nepali labour market and translating provisions outlined in the contributory social security law for workers. She also shared the ILO initiative on the Future of Work, and made references to the experiences of ASEAN countries in this regard. Dr Khatiwada highlighted some of the key initiative taken by the ministry in support of application of minimum wage, contribution-based social security, labour rights, and strengthening of labour administration including inspection.
Also, the ILO assistant director general called on minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Gokarna Bista and took stock of the developments in the labour administration of Nepal. Bista, on the occasion, spoke on the key priorities of the government including application of labour legislations, contribution-based social security scheme and creation of employment in the country. He also emphasised on the need of more ILO technical support as Nepal is passing through a very crucial stage of political transformation. Similarly, secretary at the Ministry Mahesh Prasad Dahal briefed Nishimoto about the initiatives of the ministry, the need to enhance capacity of labour administration towards protecting and promoting the rights of Nepali workers. He also said that the government is mulling to ratify some ILO conventions relevant to Nepal this year.
Similarly, Nishimoto held separate meetings with Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) president Bhawani Rana and prominent trade union leaders on contemporary issues related to labour, social and economic changes unfolding in the world of work and how growth could go alongside unionism. During her stay in Nepal, she also had separate discussions with representatives of a number of development partners in Nepal, including UN Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Traffic jam on Mt Everest as climbers make a final summit push

The highest peak of the world has witnessed a traffic jam after more than 200 climbers are making a final push this morning and waiting at the final camp hoping to reach the top of the world by Wednesday morning as the season is expected to close by May 26.
According to a liaison officer at the Everest base camp Gyanendra Shrestha, climbers who have been camping at the 7,900-metre point of the mountain – popularly known as Camp IV – early this morning complained that they have been waiting more than two hours in queues on their way to the summit point.
Some 200 climbers – including high-altitude climbing guides – have headed from the South Col to the summit point early this morning after they found a second weather window to attempt to stand atop the roof of the world. But the traffic jam has created a long queue of climbers above Camp IV.
The increasing high number of climbers aiming to make it to the top on the same morning has however raised fears of overcrowding not only a traffic jam but accidents and deaths, though the officials claimed that huge number of climbers waiting to make a push at the final camp is nothing to worry about.
If all the waiting climbers successfully scale the highest peak on Wednesday, it would be the largest single-day ascent of Mt Everest. In 2012, some 264 climbers stood at the top of the world. That year, 179 climbers successfully reached the top, but not before causing what many referred to as a ‘traffic jam’ on the Hillary Step – a vertical rock with a sharp slope considered one of the most dangerous parts of the climb – due to a small weather window.
This season, the Mt Everest climbing season started on May 14, with a team of eight rope-fixing high-altitude climbers opening a climbing route. The first two-day weather window was closed on May 16 after over 150 world climbers made it to the summit.
According to the Department of Tourism, some 381 individuals have been permitted to climb the Mt Everest this spring. 

Nepal Krishi, Bayer BioScience to pilot hybrid paddy seeds project

Nepal Krishi Company and Bayer BioScience of India signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to begin a pilot project to use two hybrid paddy seeds this summer which have the potential to double productivity.
The use of hybrid seeds by farmers to grow paddy is insignificant compared to 90 per cent for vegetable cultivation, they claimed.
Morang-based Nepal Krishi Company, which is working with farmers’ groups for commercial production of cereal crops, will be using Arize 6444 Gold and Arize Idea hybrids as per the agreement.
Likewise, managing director of Buddha Air Birendra Bahadur Basnet, who is also a board member of Nepal Krishi Company, said that he is amazed by the productivity when Arize 6444 Gold was tested in the field last year. “We will see the result, the actual cost of production and productivity, of the hybrid varieties after four months,” he said, adding that the paddy planting season in Nepal normally begins in June. “It’s not only using hybrid seeds but also bringing advanced paddy cultivation technology to Nepal.”
Nepal Krishi Company will be piloting these hybrid varieties on 70 bighas of land by distributing 100 kg of seeds to farmers. There will be a demonstration plot of 20 bighas – known as centre for excellence –  where paddy will be cultivated with the latest technology and tools, the company said.
According to business unit head of Bayer BioScience Surendra Prajapati, these hybrid seeds are free from ‘bacterial leaf blight’ disease that causes yield losses in the range of 20 per cent to 60 per cent annually.
The disease can afflict rice plants in any of the growing stages and cause visible wilting of the seedlings and yellowing and drying of the leaves. Nearly 33 rice seedlings of these varieties should be transplanted in a one square metre area. “They are stress tolerant as well,” he said.
Prajapati said that Arize 6444 Gold is India’s highest selling hybrid rice seed and 20,000 tonnes of this variety are sowed across Asia. The ideal harvest time is between 135 and 140 days after planting. “In Uttar Pradesh, the maximum productivity of this variety was recorded at 13.7 tonnes per hectare,” he said, adding that a multi-location testing of these two varieties was conducted before being registered by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council.
According to Prajapati, the productivity of Arize 6444 Gold was recorded at 8-tonne per hectare in Kapilvastu. Arize Idea is a short slender grain or fine rice having ‘excellent’ cooking quality, the company said. The ideal harvest time is between 125 and 130 days after planting, and it yields 20 per cent to 25 per cent more grain that other varieties.
Likewise, senior scientist and Nepal representative of the International Rice Research Institute Krishna Dev Joshi said that Nepal would benefit greatly if hybrid paddy seeds are produced in Nepal. “There are only a few hybrid seeds of paddy registered in Nepal, as a result, farmers are bringing them through the porous border with India,” he said, adding that as productivity is double, more and more farmers are being attracted towards hybrid varieties. “The government should promote the production of hybrids in Nepal to increase production in order to feed the growing population.”
Hybrids have a higher yielding ability of 15 per cent to 25 per cent compared to open pollinated varieties, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. “For this reason, there is an increasing trend of using hybrids among farmers.” The first hybrid variety officially released in Nepal was maize (Gaurav) in 2004. However, it was not successful due to the non-synchronisation nature of inbred lines.
A hybrid variety of tomato (Srijana) was registered in 2010. Recently, hybrid maize and paddy seeds are also increasingly becoming popular among farmers in the Tarai and lower hills. Many of them are imported, the ministry said.
The government’s National Seed Vision 2013-25 has envisaged developing and promoting 40 hybrids – 20 vegetable hybrid seeds, 12 maize hybrids and eight paddy hybrids – by 2025 to meet the growing domestic demand and also as an import substitution measure. The private sector too is expected to develop and promote 20 hybrids, 10 vegetable, five maize and five paddy hybrids.

South Asia has made progress in education enrollment but quality remains a challenge

The South Asian countries, including Nepal, have made remarkable progress in increasing school enrollment. The number of out-of-school children at the primary level has decreased three times in two decades, from over 35.7 million in 1999 to 10.3 million in 2017. There has been significant improvement even at the lower secondary and secondary levels.
Reports of the UN agencies show girls outnumber boys in the school system in most of the countries in the region, including Nepal. If Nepal government’s data is anything to go by, the net enrollment rate for grade one is over 97 per cent in Nepal with less than 90,000 students remaining out of the school system. However, maintaining the quality as envisioned in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.1 remains a challenge in the region.
According to education specialist at UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia Ivan Coursac, on current trends, only 34 per cent children of school going age will learn minimum secondary level skills in 2030. He said 27 per cent students will not even learn basic primary level by that time.
Different researches by the Education Review Office, under the Ministry of Education, show a drop in the learning achievement of the school level students. One of the recent reports made public last year shows the performance levels of eighth graders in Mathematics and Science has dropped considerably in 2017 compared to 2013.
The study, carried out among 46,266 grade eight students in 1,950 public and private schools in 26 districts, shows the students do not even grasp half of what they meant to learn in the particular grade. “Mobilising more and better domestic financing and increasing international financing for education could be a step towards improving the learning achievement,” said Coursac during his presentation on South Asia level workshop on SDG 4, which is related to inclusive and equitable quality education, in the capital today.
He said South Korea presents the perfect example to the world in improving the education system both in terms of access and quality. The country first invested hugely on pre-schools than gradually to elementary, middle and high schools. The Korean school level education, in terms of learning and access, is considered among the best in the world.
An educationist, who has long experience in working on education policy in Nepal and abroad, Min Bahadur Bista says though the progressive incremental approach – where the different levels of education is prioritised gradually – might not be relevant to ‘our country at this point’, however, Korea provides ample cases on how education education sector needs to be prioritised. “Korea made adequate investment realising human resource development, laying the foundation for country’s prosperity which we are yet to realise,” he added.

Kami Rita Sherpa sets another world-record

Veteran climber Kami Rita Sherpa has conquered the Mt Everest second time in a week – breaking his own record – this morning making it the 24th time on top of the world.
A liaison officer at the Mt Everest base camp Gyanendra Shrestha confirmed that the 49-year-old climber scaled Mt Everest for the 24th time becoming the only mountaineer in the world to hold the record. Earlier, Kami Rita scaled Mt Everest on May 15 for the 23rd time. But after a brief rest, he set off for the mountain on May 18 to repeat the feat.
Kami Rita from Thame village of Solukhumbu district successfully climbed Mt Everest at 6:38 am today morning from Nepal side breaking his past record for most summits on the roof of the world, Shrestha added.
Kami Rita – guiding the Indian Police team from the Seven Summit Treks expedition – has stood atop the roof of the world today morning, Shrestha said, adding that Kami Rita started his summit push from Camp IV on Monday night and reached the summit point on Tuesday morning.
Kami Rita, who is currently working as a senior climbing guide at Seven Summit Treks, has been saying that he wanted to climb Mt Everest for at least 25 times. He climbed Mt Everest for the first time on May 13, 1994.
In 2017, Kami Rita became only the third person to climb Mt Everest 21 times, equalising Apa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi Sherpa's summit record. He set a record for the most number of Mt Everest summits in 2018. Apa and Phurba Tashi have already announced their retirement from mountaineering. But 30-year-old Ngima is young enough to overtake Kami Rita's record.
Born in a remote Thame village in Solukhumbu, Kami Rita – initially a climbing guide – started out in life as a trekking boy at the age of 12 to help support the family.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Axiata moves to international arbitration against Nepal government

The tax dispute between Ncell and the government has entered into a formal process of international arbitration as Axiata and Ncell has formally registered a case against the government of Nepal –  over capital gains tax (CGT) levied by the tax authorities in Nepal – at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
According to a notice published on the ICSID website today, Axiata UK filed a request for arbitration before the ICSID – a body under the World Bank Group – three weeks ago as it was dissatisfied with the Nepal government’s decision to charge CGT worth Rs 39 billion. Axiata UK and Ncell filed the case at the ICSID on the basis of a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) signed between Nepal and the UK in 1993. The treaty talks about taking the investment-related dispute to the ICSID, based on a multilateral treaty. With the ICSID registering the case, the process of formation of a tribunal begins under the Bilateral Investment Treaty, though it is not yet clear that the BIT between Nepal and the UK is applicable to companies in Saint Kitts and Nevis and Malaysia or not as Nepal has not signed any BIT with those countries.
The Axiata – the new owner of Ncell – was dissatisfied with the tax evaluation on the purchase of an 80 per cent stake in Ncell, via Reynolds Holdings Limited which is based in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean.
“Axiata has to send a proposal on the number of arbitrators within the next 10 days,” according to corporate lawyer Sementa Dahal. “The number of arbitrators may vary from one to three,” he said, adding that the government gets 20 days to respond to Axiata’s proposals. “Once there is agreement by both parties the arbitration proceedings will be initiated.”
Failure to agree means the case will go into default and ICSID shall mediate the process for appointment within the next 30 or 60 days from the date of registration of the arbitration case. The ICSID shall have three members for settling the matter. Likewise, Axiata UK and the government of Nepal shall appoint one arbitrator each and another will be chosen as agreed by both parties.
In case the parties fail to do so, the international arbitration body itself will form a tribunal within the next 30 to 90 days from the date of registration and go ahead with the arbitration proceedings. “Before the formal arbitration proceedings begin, both parties may also choose to conduct pre-hearings for an amicable settlement,” Dahal said, adding that it may take two to three years for a final verdict through arbitration though it’s hard to predict the timing of the final verdict.
A case filed by Ncell – the subsidiary of Axiata – is sub judice at the Supreme Court as they have lodged a petition at Supreme Court on April 22, which issued an interim order to the tax authorities to put the tax assessment issue on hold. Ncell has claimed that the CGT liability is only Rs 14 billion, not Rs 39 billion as fixed by the Large Tax Office (LTO), as interests and fines are not applicable as the tax was assessed recently. After the Supreme Court verdict in April, the LTO had assessed the tax and asked Ncell to pay a total of Rs 62 billion, including additional payables of Rs 39 billion.
Though, it’s not the first time that Nepal has been challenged in the international court, it is not yet clear how the government – that has been informed of the case filing by Axiata UK at ICSID – will respond to the matter. 
Given the complicated process, the legal battle between the tax authorities and Ncell and Axiata is set to prolong. With the new turn in the dispute, the government’s chance of getting windfall tax from Ncell and meeting the revenue target for the current fiscal year also seems far-fetched.

ILO calls for investment in people’s capabilities for a brighter future

With technological advances changing the nature of many jobs, and leading to the need for new skills, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has pointed out the urgency to expedite the human –centred agenda for the future of work.
As part of marking its 100 years, ILO country office organised a special programme in Kathmandu  to share the key findings of the Global Commission Report, which calls for investing more in building people’s capabilities to enhance skills, reskills and upskills  for social justice and decent work. 
Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Gokarna Bista, on the occasion, said that  recommendations of the Global Commission Report on the 'Future of Work' have fittingly incorporated challenges that Nepal is facing in the labour market and expressed commitment to implemement the ILO Declaration on the future of work when it comes up.
“The government has embraced the plan to provide decent employment opportunities to all people as their constitutional right,” he said, adding that social contract will be the basis to ensure social justice to all workers. He also urged the ILO to start a global campaign to urge countries to pay equal wage for work of equal value, done abroad for migrant workers.
Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security Mahesh Prasad Dahal said that the government is making efforts to address skills mismatch in the labour market and stressed the need to address the challenges of youth population.     
Likewise, Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) president Bhawani Rana said that small and medium scaled enterprises should be promoted to ensure decent employment, especially to women. "FNCCI is ready to team up with the government to promote jobs at home,” she emphasised.
Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) president Pushkar Sharma, on the occasion, said that effective implementation of social security schemes and newly agreed minimum wage will build trust between workers and employers.
Assistant Director General of the ILO and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Tomoko Nishimoto said that the ILO is seriously considering, country by country in Asia how it can realize the concept of decent work, with much focus laid on challenges posed by climate change, shifting demographics and new technologies.
“The core issue concerning labour markets relates to the nature and portability of workforce skills and building an agile workforce for the future of work transformation,” she added.
Likewise, head of ILO Economic Analysis Unit Sara Elder presented the highlights of the report, whereas economists Dr Govind Nepal and Dr Swarnim Wagle commented on the report. They also suggested that its recommendation will be a good reference for the government, employers and workers to prepare strategies for implementation of the future of work. 

Private sector asks to lower corporate tax

The private sector has asked the government to reduce corporate income tax by five per cent, give 50 per cent waiver on tax levied by local governments on land and housing registration, especially for those meant for industry and hotel business. They also want excise duty scrapped on all merchandise, except tobacco and liquor.
During a meeting with the finance minister Dr Yuba raj Khatiwada – a week before the announcement of budget for fiscal year 2019-20 – today the private sector reminded the government that it has failed to fully implement past budgets. “In this context, the incumbent strong government should bring a budget that ensures implementable budgetary programmes and policies.”
“The country has historically failed to execute budgetary programmes and policies,” president of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) Bhawani Rana said, adding that the budget for the next fiscal year should focus on it.
Submitting a joint recommendation – for the first time – to finance minister Khatiwada, the FNCCI, Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) and Nepal Chamber of Commerce (NCC) urged for the measures to be adopted in banking, industrial, financial, tax administration, tourism and agriculture sectors to encourage business.
“The government should introduce effective project monitoring and policy implementation mechanism through the budget,” CNI president Satish Kumar More said, adding that the private sector expects policies and programmes that will accelerate business growth and overall development. “But it is crucial to focus on implementation.”
The private sector has also urged the government to simplify tax rules and ensure businesses do not face the problem of double taxation. Seeking policy intervention to stabilise bank interest rate, they asked the finance minister to focus on addressing the problem of credit crunch in the market. “The government should boost development expenditure and improve credit flow in the banking sector.”

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Nepal posts Rs 64.68 billion BoP deficit

The outflow of money from the country has surpassed inflows by Rs 64.68 billion as the value of imports exceeded Rs 1 trillion mark, which is over 31 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), in the first nine months of fiscal 2018-19.
The macroeconomic report of the first nine months of the current fiscal released by the central bank today revealed that the balance of payment (BoP) remained at a deficit of Rs 64.68 billion compared to a deficit of Rs 14.6 billion in the same period of the last fiscal year. “In terms of US dollar, the overall BoP recorded a deficit of $568.3 million in the nine months compared to a deficit of $144.1 million in the same period of last fiscal year.”
Nepal’s import bill increased by 21.3 per cent to Rs 1,061.63 billion against increment in exports by 16.9 per cent in the first nine months of 2018-19 creating pressure on the overall BoP situation. As a result, the Nepal’s total trade deficit has widened by 21.6 per cent to Rs 991.81 billion, the central bank statics revealed.
Likewise, the current account has also registered a deficit of Rs 204.43 billion against a deficit of Rs 172.67 billion in the same period of the last fiscal year, the report reads, adding that consumer price inflation stood at 4.4 per cent in mid-April 2019 compared to 5.3 per cent a year ago. “Food and beverage inflation stood at 2.8 per cent in mid-April 2019 compared to 4.7 per cent a year ago, whereas the non-food and service inflation stood at 5.7 per cent in mid-April 2019 compared to 5.8 per cent a year ago.”

First food tourism conference launched

The World Food Travel Association – along with partners in Nepal – today announced the launch of the country’s first food tourism conference under the name FoodTreX Kathmandu. The FoodTreX brand was created by the World Food Travel Association (WFTA), as the umbrella brand name for the Association’s food and beverage travel trade events.
“Despite having an extensive food and drink culture, Nepal has not been able to tap the immense potential in gastronomic tourism,” the conference organiser and certified World Food Travel Association ambassador Suraj Pradhan said, adding, “With facts and figures to back them up, we strongly believe that food is the way to a tourist’s heart.”
FoodTreX Kathmandu Regional Food Travel Summit will take place on May 24-26 at the Park Village Hotel by KGH Group at Budhanilkantha in Kathmandu. Delegates will enjoy a three-day event full of food-loving activities, face-to-face networking opportunities and inspiration from some of the industry’s leaders, said the organisers, who have included Two Tables, the U-Turn Events and Social Tours.
“FoodTreX Kathmandu represents first formal step into Asia,” the WFTA’s founder and executive director Erik Wolf said, adding that the organiser is pleased to be working with Nepal ambassador Suraj Pradhan and his team to deliver an outstanding first food tourism event for Nepal.

Remittance inflow records growth

Nepal has received Rs 653.19 billion remittances sent by Nepali migrant workers from various countries across the world in the first nine months of the current fiscal year 2018-19.
Despite the the number of Nepalis leaving home for foreign employment is on the decline, the remittance receipt is 20.9 per cent more than the remittance Nepal received in the same period in the last fiscal year, according to the central bank, which has claimed that the receipt of remittance has significantly improved from mid July 2018 to mid April 2019. “The overall remittance growth rate was 5.6 per cent in the last fiscal year.”
However, the receipt of remittance in the US dollars that has also increased by 9.5 per cent in the current fiscal year is almost the same in the last fiscal year. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

House panel recommends to prioritise budget

A House panel has recommended the government to prioritise industrial sectors that help generate employment in the budget for the nest fiscal year.
The Finance Committee of the Legislature Parliament – submitting a 12-point recommendation to the government for the budget of next fiscal year – suggested to focus on road connectivity, energy generation and construction of tourism infrastructure.
Likewise, the budget should maintain balance while delegating authority to local and provincial governments so that no work responsibility is duplicated, the recommendation reads adding that the budget should address issues related to modernising the agricultural sector, promoting new agricultural technologies and scientific researches for the development of the agricultural sector. “Besides, the government should complete the reconstruction and resettlement of earthquake victims without being biased towards any one particular area.”
The major target of next fiscal year’s budget should also concentrated on promoting exports and substitute imports, the panel recommended, adding, “Besides, the budget should be implemented in such a manner that it secures the fundamental rights of the people such as health, education, shelter and social security.”
The Finance Committee has been holding pre-budget discussions with stakeholders since mid-April. During the discussions, the full-committee meeting today has provided recommendations to the government related to public procurement law, budget management, development project management, agriculture, industry promotion, infrastructure development and revenue management.
The panel has also recommended distribution of grants and royalty, control on corruption and promotion of financial good governance along with smooth flow of services, generating jobs and labour management. “The budget should focus on development and improvement of local and provincial governments, data collection and management, market monitoring, education and research along with the health sector,” chairman of the committee Krishna Prasad Dahal said, adding that the House panel’s recommendation has already been submitted to Finance Minister Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada and the National Planning Commission.

India extends 30 million aid to Nepal to build educational institution

Nepal has received financial aid from India amounting Rs 30.20 million to construct an educational institute in the Udayapur district. The financial aid was extended today to inaugurate Shree Narad Adarsha Education in Chaudandigadhi Municipality of Udayapur district. The institute was inaugurated by former Urban Development Minister and Nepali Congress leader Narayan Khadha, in the presence of Indian deputy chief of Mission Ajay Kumar. It is a two-storied building and is affiliated to the Tribhuvan University (TU), according to a press note issued by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. Tribhuvan University is one of the oldest public universities in Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal that was established in the year 1959.
With the new infrastructure in place, students from adjoining districts, including Bhojpur, Khotang, Sunsari and Saptari will also get access to higher education.
India extended financial help to Nepal due to its ongoing project for the Small Development Programme Scheme under the India-Nepal Economic Cooperation Programme. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has already been signed between both the nations in September 2016 for the construction of the building.
India has helped Nepal's education institute to further extend its operations. Although the institute was established in the year 1971, it could only extend education till secondary level. The institute was upgraded later to a bigger campus in the year 2003. After 2003, it is now that Shree Narad Adarsha Education will add additional buildings to enhance the intake of the students. The current capacity of the institute is of 770 students. Candidates seeking admission in the institute can pursue 10+2 level education and can also enroll for the 3-year Bachelor's degree course.
Till date, 135 students have enrolled for the Bachelor of Education programme and about 70 per cent of these candidates are girls. The new infrastructure will see 12 new classrooms, separate toilets for boys and girls, furniture, library, and meeting hall.

Friday, May 17, 2019

FCAN objects to Public Procurement Regulations

Federation of Contractors’ Associations of Nepal (FCAN) has objected to some points of Public Procurement Regulations (Sixth Amendment)-2075, recently issued by the government.
The federation has objected to some clauses of the Regulation, saying it would displace domestic entrepreneurs as it has given priority to foreign entrepreneurs, according to a press release issued by FCAN.
The release issued by FCAN general secretary Roshan Dahal reads that the government lost the opportunity of formulating construction-friendly acts. “The government has issued the Regulations against the suggestions of the FCAN and is trying to finish the domestic contractors,” it reads, adding that the goal, of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’, could not be achieved due to such Regulations. Dahal said that the FCAN would be compelled to protest against the Regulations.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Chinese firm signs contract to build dry port in Timure

Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board signed an agreement today with a Tibetan construction company to construct the dryport at Timure of Rasuwa district to help ease bilateral trade via land route with the northern neighbour. 
The inland container depot – to be constructed with Chinese aid – is expected to cost 124 million Yuan.
Deputy director of the board Harey Krishna Mishra and project manager of the Chinese company Yang Enlin signed the agreement to construct the project that is expected to be completed in the next 30 months. Under the agreement, the Chinese government appointed company will construct the dry port on five hectares of land in Timure Rural Development Committee. The government has already acquired the land to construct the structure, a parking yard with capacity to park 350 trucks and containers.
The Chinese company will also construct a five-storey administrative building in 5,000 sq m of land. The building will incorporate a fire fighting system, a quarantine office, a customs office, banks and post office. “The dry port will house two customs clearance chambers built in an area of 2,080 sq m and a 750 sq m parking yard, cargo warehouse and litigation warehouse,” according to Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board.
According to a civil engineer of the NITDB Pramod Acharya, the board will only facilitate the construction process. “The Chinese construction company will build the dry port in two phases,” he said, adding that the design of the works to be completed in the first phase has already been approved by the Nepali and Chinese governments. “The design of the dry port was designed earlier on January 15 in Chinese city of Chengdu. The design of the project has been prepared by Architectural Reconnaissance and Design Institute of Tibet.”
Nepal and China, in April 2015, signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) to construct the dry port that will be at 2.5-km distance from the Nepal-China border. The Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board, in association with the Architectural Reconnaissance and Design Institute of Tibet Autonomous Region, had finalised the design of the dry port in 2016.
The port will not only reduce overhead costs, promote competitive transport services and open opportunities to private sector operators through their involvement in management and operation of the dry port but will also help reduce the whopping trade deficit.
The dry port at Rasuwagadhi will be the second of its type that the northern neighbour has been constructing for Nepal as athe first one that has been under construction at Tatopani is almost at the final stage of completion.
The Rasuwagadhi customs point is not only an alternative gateway to China also due to damage of Arniko Highway – linking the Chinese border further east – because of devastating earthquake in 2015.

Government opens Simara GPZ for investment

The Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Authority Nepal has called for applications from interested parties to invest inside the Garment Processing Zone (GPZ) in Simara.
Publishing a notice, the SEZ Authority has asked firms to submit their applications within May 31 to set up their factories across 68 blocks inside the GPZ. It has also fixed rental fee of Rs 20 per square feet for investors to establish their factories inside the Simara GPZ.
According to executive director of SEZ Authority Nepal Chandika Bhatta, the authority will analyse the applications that it receives for Simara GPZ and soon award the blocks for investors to invest in.
The authority will provide necessary land to investors on lease for 30 years with the possibility of an extension, according to the notice of the SEZ Authority Nepal that is hopeful that all 68 blocks will be booked within the application submission deadline
Bhatta claimed that investors in the Simara GPZ will be assured of basic infrastructures including internal road, electricity and water supply, sewage system, weighing bridge, waste water treatment plant, petrol pump, banks and insurance service.
The government had came up with the concept of GPZ after the US extended zero tariff preference for 66 products, including apparels, into its market through the ‘Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act’ in February 2016. Construction of the GPZ is expected to bring down the production and export cost of garments, which is relatively higher compared to other nations in the South Asian region, apart from reducing the cost of production and exports. The GPZ is also expected to slash the high transport and shipment costs incurred by Nepali garment traders due to the country’s landlocked status, as the Simara GPZ is located near the country’s only rail-linked dry port in Birgunj.

Average daily capital spending drops to Rs 41 million

Despite the two-third majority stable government, the capital spending has dropped down. Though, this is the time for paying bills of large amounts – mostly submitted by the contractors against works done in February and March – the government has spent only Rs 41 million in an average in the last 11 days, according to Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO).
Though, the contractors have been blaming the government for withholding their payment without any valid reason, the government has only spent Rs  458 million capital expenditure in the past 11 days, which is is against the trend, as government payments would speed up in the months from May to June, during the last trimester. Of the total capital expenditure of Rs 313 billion, capital spending hovers below 40 per cent till date, while only two months for the fiscal year to end.
Not only the capital spending, the government has not been able to spend recurrent expenses, which are meant for regular salaries and adminitsrtive works, too. The government has spent Rs 724 billion, according to the FCGO.
The government has not made payments against works at Gautam Buddha International Airport, different sections of Mid-Hill Highway and other road projects bringing the development works to a halt as the contractors are cash strapped at this moment," said former president of Federation of Contractors Association of Nepal (FCAN) Jayaram Lamichhane. “The government has to immediately pay an estimated Rs 72 billion to contractors and different parties related to development projects,” he said, adding that lack of payment has been affecting their work, while banks and financial institutions have been facing further liquidity crunch and shortage of lendable cash. “It seems the Finance Minister is not aware of this gloomy picture of project management.”
While releasing mid-term report of the budget for the current fiscal year in March, Finance Minister Dr Yubaraj Khatiwada had said that he could not do much toward making timely payments to contractors though he had been receiving several complaints on the matter.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Gautam Buddha airport contractor stops work after not getting paid

The Gautam Buddha International Airport – that is expected to play a major role in the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign – construction has been halted again, albeit this time due to lack of budget. After the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation could not pay the Chinese contractor, Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Company has halted construction work from today.
The contractor of Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa – which has been facing endless delays since construction started in 2013 – has halted work complaining that it has not received its payment. According to Chinese contractor, the ministry still has to pay it around Rs 200 million.
As the CAAN has submitted documents to the ministry on April 19, the ministry was supposed to forward the details to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the documents have however stuck at the ministry. Officials at the CAAN, thus blamed Tourism Ministry as according to them the ministry has ‘intentionally’ delayed payment – by not forwarding paperwork of the national pride project to the Finance Ministry – that was supposed to release payment of around Rs200 million to Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group.
According to a source at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) – the project executing agency – the delayed payment could cause the government more loss as the contractor would claim compensation, if the payment is not released within two weeks.
Though the contractor will also not restart work until payment is made, Tourism Ministry has blamed the CAAN for not acting in time to get additional funding. But the budget approved by the project financer Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already been spent, the Tourism Ministry has requested the Finance Ministry to arrange financing from another source. ADB holds 62.6 per cent share of investment to upgrade the Gautam Buddha International Airport. The project has sought Rs 100 million in additional financing. The CAAN has asked for more money only on May 3.
CAAN has awarded the Rs 6.22 billion airport upgradation contract to Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group in November 2013.
Of the total project cost, the ADB provided $58.50 million ($42.75 in loans and $15.75 million in grants) and the OPEC Fund for International Development provided a $15 million loan. The CAAN was supposed to bear the rest of the cost as counterpart funding.
The airport was initially slated to be ready in December 2017. The shortage of fuel and building material due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation work by six months, and its operation deadline was pushed back to June 2018. Around 300 workers are currently working on this project on a daily salary basis. In such a situation the contractor will be compelled to halt work, if it does not receive the budget on time.
Earlier too, a dispute over payment between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, stalled work for more than six months. The project deadline has been extended many times after the initial extension. After the first phase of upgradation, the airport’s handling capacity will increase to 760,000 passengers annually and become Nepal’s second international airport. It will serve as an alternative to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) during the emergencies.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Ncell managing director Suren J Amarasekera steps down

Weeks after Ncell’s tax dispute reached the Supreme Court and also the International Centre for the Settlement of the Investment Disputes in Singapore, the managing director of the Ncell Suren J Amarasekera has resigned from his post.
Amarasekera notified Ncell this week that he was stepping down from his post citing personal and family reasons, according to a source at the telecom company. “Friday will be his last day in the office as according to him,” he added.
Before joining Ncell in Kathmandu, Amarasekera had worked as the strategic project's director for Axiata Group Berhad’s corporate headquarters in Malaysia, focusing on key group initiatives across its South Asian operations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Amarasekera was appointed the managing director of the telecom service provider in July 2017, a year after Ncell’s majority ownership was bought by Malaysia-based Axiata Group Berhad from TeliaSonera.
Ncell moved to Supreme Court and also International Centre for the Settlement of the Investment Disputes in Singapore after the Large Taxpayers Office asked it to pay Rs 39.06 billion as capital gains tax (CGT).
Though, the tax dispute is said to do nothing with Amarasekera’s resignation, the Supreme Court – last week – continued an earlier interim order barring the Large Taxpayers Office (LTO) from collecting the dues it had determined after Ncell filed a writ challenging the procedure adopted and the amount determined by the tax authority.
Axiata has notified its shareholders on April 26 that its subsidiaries – Axiata, UK and Ncell – had filed a request for arbitration at the Singapore-based settlement centre, claiming that Nepal’s conduct with regards to the CGT contravenes international law obligations under the Bilateral Investment Treaty between the two countries.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Elke Wisch is the new UNICEF Representative for Nepal

UNICEF has welcomed Elke Wisch as the new UNICEF representative for Nepal, succeeding Tomoo Hozumi.
Wisch is a German national with a long record of realising the rights of children and women. She brings a wealth of experience and insight to UNICEF’s work in Nepal, according to a press note issued by the UNICEF office in Kathmandu.
“I have wanted to come to Nepal for a very long time,” Wisch, said, adding that she felt very privileged to be in this beautiful country and to have the opportunity to serve the children and women of Nepal.
For over 23 years, Wisch has been working to improve the lives of children and women and their communities in a range of development, transition and emergency contexts. Wisch joined UNICEF in 1996 as Child Protection Officer in Rwanda, and subsequently served as Child Protection Chief in Liberia. Between 1999 and 2001, she worked in the Balkans region as Programme Coordinator during the Kosovo Emergency and as acting FYR Macedonia Representative. From 2001 to 2003, Wisch held senior positions in Emergency Coordination and Child Protection during the Afghanistan Emergency Operation prior to serving as the UNICEF deputy representative in Myanmar from 2003-2007.
In 2008, Wisch took on the role of Senior Peace building and Recovery Coordinator for Northern Uganda within the UN Country Team, and then held the position of UNICEF deputy regional director for the Eastern and Southern Africa region from 2009-2014.
She was appointed as the UNICEF representative in Madagascar in 2014, a position she held for four years. In August 2018, Wisch joined the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, serving as the Deputy regional director ad interim, until taking up the representative posting Nepal.
Wisch holds a Master of Arts in Social and Political Sciences from Munich University and a Master of Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Prior to joining UNICEF, Wisch worked for various conflict resolution organisations and academic institutions in Germany and the United States.

NMB Bank signs MoU to support returnee migrant

NMB Bank has signed a tripartite agreement with National Youth Council and Returnee Migrant Nepal with the objective to promote youth entrepreneurship and to provide subsidised loan to returnee migrants in predominant sectors including agriculture, tourism, forestry, medicinal herbs, minerals, hydro and science and technology.
The three parties shall work to support in implementation of the Finance Ministry – Government of Nepal’s initiative to provide interest subsidy loan to promote entrepreneurship amongst the youth in the productive sector thereby opening avenues to generate employment, self-employment opportunities amongst the youth.
The terms of the MoU dictate that, in accordance with the Integrated Working Procedure for Subsidised Credit 2018, subsidised loan upto maximum of Rs 10 lakhs shall be availed to eligible returnee migrants in coordination of Nepal Youth Council upon recommendation of Returnee Migrant Nepal.
The bank shall also avail loans in sectors apart from the ones listed under the Subsidised Loan scheme. Additionally, the NMB Bank shall also establish an Advisory Service Desk to provide advisory services to prospective customers, support in enhancing technical skills, introduce savings and loan products specifically designed for returnee migrants.
All three signatory institutions believe that this initiative will encourage migrant workers abroad to return home and utilize the skills acquired to generate employment opportunities and support in building a prosperous Nepal.

Monday, May 6, 2019

India submits pre-feasibility report of Kathmandu-Raxual railway project

India has submitted the pre-feasibility report of Kathmandu-Raxaul railway project to Nepal.
“The Indian government had submitted the report last week through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs aiming at conducting a further feasibility and detailed project report,” according to the foreign ministry.
“We have received the report and will soon forward it to Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport too,” a source at the ministry said, adding that a joint engineering team of Department of Railways (DoRW) and the consultant team of Indian Railways had started conducting the pre-feasibility study of the project on June 8 last year. “The team comprising of members of the technical teams of both the countries has recommended the project to be feasible.”
The joint team had proposed Himal Cement Factory in Chobhar of Kathmandu as a railway station.
Though the government was planning to establish a company to construct the railway, but the process is put on hold because the Indian government has promised to build the railway through its own resources. The Indian Prime Minister had – during his visit to Nepal last May – assured that the entire cost to construct the railway project from Kathmandu to Raxaul would be covered by the Indian government, including establishment of an office, pre-feasibility study, detailed feasibility study (DFS), detailed project report (DPR) and as well as construction.
The works of the feasibility and detailed feasibility study will start by next fiscal year, according to the department that has estimated the railway project to cover a total length of 113-km, of which around 20 per cent will comprise of tunnels and bridges. “The proposed route of the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway will start from Kathmandu and will pass along the Bagmati River all the way to Nijgadh extending through Birgunj to Raxaul.”
Though, a railway track connecting Birgunj to Raxaul already exists, it is yet to be used to transport passengers.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

NRA allocates Rs 156 billion for next fiscal year

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has allocated Rs 156 billion budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 to expedite reconstruction and rehabilitation works.
A meeting of the NRA’s directorate committee chaired by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli took a decision today evening, reads a press release issued by the NRA today.
During the meeting, PM Oli directed the NRA authorities to accomplish the remaining tasks of the reconstruction while expressing satisfaction to the pace of ongoing reconstruction efforts.
On the occasion, finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada said that the Finance Ministry has been holding consultation with the various development partners for additional financial resources required for remaining reconstruction works. "The development partners are positive to extend support for remaining reconstruction works," he informed.
NRA's chief executive officer Sushil Gyewali briefed the committee that the NRA is unlikely to complete its task of reconstruction within its stipulated five-year tenure. "We are expediting the reconstruction works given the budget," he said, adding that the NRA hopes to complete the main tasks of the reconstruction within next 20 months. "The NRA is not in favour of its term extension."
"Once the tenure of the NRA expires, the remaining reconstruction-related works can be handed over to the proposed National Disaster Management Authority or other concerned government agencies," he said.
Though, the NRA has already spent three years of its five-year term, some of the mega reconstruction projects like Dharahara and Ranipokhari has just started. Amid political squabbling, the NRA was established nine months after the 2015 devastating earthquake.

One-stop service centre for investors to open next week

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies is establishing a one-stop service centre on May 15 to facilitate investments. Publishing a directive in the Nepal Gazette on April 29, the ministry has announced that the centre will be established on the premises of the Department of Industry at Tripureshwor.
The policy and programmes presented by the president on Friday also reads that the centre would start work in mid-May. "The construction of necessary infrastructure is at the final stage," the ministry said, adding that it has asked the concerned government agencies to appoint officials to the centre. "The centre will house the offices of various government agencies to streamline the legal processes that investors have to follow to transfer capital to the country."
It will provide services ranging from registration and operation to exit of an industry from a single window, also simplifying the repatriation process for foreign companies. The centre – that will serve enterprises with a capital of more than Rs 100 million to Rs 6 billion – is not only expected to help foreign investors but also domestic financiers by giving them one stop service. Foreign investments of more than Rs 6 billion will be handled by Investment Board Nepal (IBN).
The companies will receive almost all the services from approval of investment to labour permit, and visa facility, environmental impact assessment and approval of foreign exchange from under a roof.
"The centre will contain dedicated offices of 14 government agencies – Nepal Rastra Bank, Office of the Company Registrar, tax office, Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Ministry, Forests and Environment Ministry, Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Ministry, Labour, Employment and Social Security Ministry, Physical Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, Department of Customs, Department of Immigration, Department of Supply Management and Protection of Consumer Interest, Nepal Electricity Authority and Nepal Telecommunications Authority – under a roof."
The ministry has already prepared a draft working guideline to operationalise the centre and has sent it to the concerned government authorities for their consent.
The Industrial Enterprises Act 2016 has also provisioned establishing a one-stop service centre but the government moved to set it up only after the Investment Summit 2019 held in March. 

NEA to set up 10 electric vehicle charging stations in Valley

Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) - that has one charging station inside its head office premises at Ratnapark in kathmandu - is setting up 10 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across Kathmandu Valley within the next six months as the demand for charging stations has increased due to increasing number of electric vehicles in the country in recent years.
The power utility – publishing a notice – said that it is seeking land space for lease for the establishment of such vehicle charging stations to promote government’s plan to prioritise electric vehicles. NEA has asked government agencies, business complexes, supermarkets, hotels and hospitals to submit applications.
According to the NEA, it aims to set up electric vehicle charging stations especially in areas where vehicular movement is relatively high. "The NEA will give priority to leasers especially from areas with high vehicular movement,” the notice reads. "The government power utility plans to publish a tender notice for the procurement of necessary machinery and equipment to set up charging stations soon."
The authority has also estimated the construction cost of the 10 electric vehicle charging stations to stand at around Rs 100 million.
NEA also plans to set up charging stations – in the second phase – across different places in Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Chitwan and Biratnagar, after Kathmandu Valley.
The government has prioritised electric vehicles due to growing concern regarding pollution issues, due to low cost factor because of reduced import duty, and also huge imports of fossile fuel that comes to around Rs 200 billion – almost one fourth of the total budget. NEA estimates that there are almost 600 electric vehicles plying on the Valley’s roads. But due to lack of charging stations, electric vehicles owners are forced to charge their vehicles at home.
The government – in its policies and programmes presented at the parliament on Friday – has announced about giving special treatment to electric vehicles and setting up charging stations across the country.
The government has – in its budget for the current fiscal year – reduced import duty on electric vehicles (public vehicles) to one per cent from 30 per cent. Similarly, import duty on private electric vehicles had been slashed to 10 per cent from 30 per cent, apart from excise duty exemption on electric vehicles.
But due to lack of necessary infrastructure like charging stations and route permit from the Department of Transport Management (DoTM), the electric vehicles have yet not got as much attention as it should have.

Foreign investment pledges witness steep drop to one-third

The two-third majority communist government led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli seems not very favourite for the foreign investors as the foreign investment pledges in the first nine months of the current fiscal year 2018-19 dropped sharply to one-third of the amount pledged during the same period of the last fiscal, also due to lack of mega projects like hydropower plants in the review period.
Foreign investors made investment commitments totalling Rs 11.57 billion during the period mid-July to mid-April of the current fiscal year, according to the Department of Industry (DoI) that had recorded foreign investment pledges amounted to Rs 35.35 billion in the same period in the fiscal year 2017-18.
“The department registered some 268 projects with foreign capital during the review period, up from 229 last year, which is a 17 per cent rise,” it added.
The steep decline in investment pledges was also a reflection of the reluctance of investors to put money in mega hydro projects. According to the department, none of the foreign investors proposed to invest in the energy sector while the country received investment proposals of Rs 22.3 billion in the energy sector, during the same period in the last fiscal year, which have proposed to generate 9,202 jobs.
Though, the number of projects and volume of investments are expected to increase after the new Foreign Investment and Technology Transfer Act (FITTA) is issued but there has not been any viable project which the foreign investors are interested in, especially after the controversy of Budhigandagi Hydropower.
Compared to the last fiscal year, tourism and the service sector accounted for the largest portion of investment pledges in the current fiscal year. “Investors proposed to invest Rs 3.76 billion in 87 tourism businesses and Rs 1.85 billion in 85 service enterprises,” the department data revealed.
Apart from service sector, agriculture, forestry, information technology, manufacturing and mining are some of the key sectors that have attracted foreign investors. “Investors from 30 countries proposed to invest in Nepal in the first nine months of the current fiscal year,” the date revealed, adding that financiers from India, China and Singapore topped the list of potential investors. “Indian investors are planning to inject Rs 5.59 billion in 45 projects, up from Rs 3.99 billion in 35 projects last year, followed by Chinese investors have proposed investments of Rs 2.31 billion in 110 projects.”
The data also revealed a remarkable fall in investment pledges from China as in the same period of the last fiscal year, Chinese investors had pledged Rs 28.82 billion. “Investors from Singapore proposed to invest Rs 1.5 billion in five projects in the first nine months of the current fiscal year.”

Friday, May 3, 2019

ADB's private sector operations commitments reach record high of $3.1 billion

The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) private sector operations in 2018 climbed by 37 per cent to reach a record high $3.1 billion, lifting ADB’s overall portfolio of private sector operations to $12.4 billion, according to the bank’s Development Effectiveness Report of Private Sector Operations 2018.
According to the report released at the 52nd Annual Meeting of ADB's Board of Governors in Nadi, Fiji, there were a record 32 new private sector projects committed in 2018, compared with 27 the previous year. Direct financing was complemented by a record $7.2 billion in commercial cofinancing last year, representing almost 50 per cent of all cofinancing mobilised by ADB.
"The performance of ADB’s private sector operations is helping the region address many challenges including improving its infrastructure, creating jobs, and enhancing access to finance,” said ADB vice president for Private Sector Operations and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Diwakar Gupta. "ADB will continue to expand private sector assistance by diversifying into new and frontier markets, scaling up financing for agribusiness, health, and education, and moving into emerging infrastructure sectors such as water, waste, and sanitation.”
Private sector transactions by ADB in 2018 are expected to create nearly 26,000 new jobs across the region. They will generate enough electricity annually to serve 2.6 million average-sized households in Asia, while wastewater projects will help treat 1.8 million cubic meters of wastewater per year when fully operational. More than 6.1 million people as well as micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) will benefit from better access to financial services. Agribusiness projects committed last year aim to improve the livelihoods of more than 3 million farmers and improve their food security.
Active private sector operations have already contributed to the region’s economy, providing jobs for an additional 313,308 people and training 322,303 beneficiaries, mostly in financial literacy. Access to finance has been improved through active private sector projects for more than 6.8 million people and MSMEs, while other projects have contributed to the education of 9,455 additional students. ADB’s private sector clients have achieved carbon emissions reductions of 11.4 million tons annually.
Energy projects dominated the commitment portfolio of ADB’s Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) in 2018, accounting for $1.7 billion or around 54 per cent of total commitments. The volume of financial intermediary projects committed last year almost doubled to over $900 million, while PSOD’s Microfinance Risk Participation and Guarantee Program achieved record volumes by facilitating $271 million in local currency loans to microfinance institutions.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. In 2018, it made commitments of new loans and grants amounting to $21.6 billion. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 from the region.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Government must uphold press freedom, ensure the Constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Expression

Amnesty International Nepal (Amnesty Nepal) urged the Government of Nepal to ensure press freedom both in law and practice allowing journalists an independent and autonomous working environment to practice their profession.
“The government must uphold press freedom and rectify legal provisions that are contrary to the constitutional guarantees of the freedom of expression,” said director of Amnesty Nepal Nirajan Thapaliya. “Amnesty International reaffirms its support to press freedom,” he said, adding, “For us, journalists are the frontline rights defenders, who bring to light the abuses and violations suffered by people. Journalism is not a crime, and journalists should not become subjects of violence in the exercise of their profession. It is a fundamental responsibility of the state to ensure security of journalists and freedom of the press.”
The 26th World Press Freedom Day this year presents a stark reminder of Nepal’s steady decline from 100th to the 106th position in the World Press Freedom Index as recorded by Reporters Without Borders. According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), some 36 journalists have been killed since 1996, while dozens of reporters and editors have been arrested, detained and fined in the last decade since the Electronic Transaction Act came into effect in 2006. FNJ has reported some 60 incidents of violation of press freedom in the last one year.
The past couple of years has witnessed the tightening of laws and regulations in various countries, including Nepal, aimed towards restricting the free operation of media and silencing of the dissenting voices critical of the establishment. In April, a Pokhara-based journalist Arjun Giri was charged under the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) for reporting a financial fraud case. In 2018, there were a number of arrests of journalists under cyber-crime charges. In September 2018, Raju Basnet was arrested merely for posting a news also on a case of financial fraud published by a weekly paper. FNJ has recorded the arrest of six journalists in 2018.
The state must show its unflinching support to the constitutional promises of the free press and bring improvements to this bleak picture of press freedom in Nepal. It is only by ensuring the freedom of expression as enshrined in Nepal's constitution that Nepal will be able to strengthen a free, fair and truly democratic society,” Thapaliya added.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has made a broad commitment to the ‘full freedom of the press’ including civil liberties, fundamental rights and human rights. Article 17 (2) (a) of the Constitution guarantees citizens' right to the freedom of opinion and expression. Likewise, Article 19 has outlawed the censorship of any "publication and broadcasting or dissemination or printing of any news item, editorial, feature article or other reading, audio and audio-visual material through any means".
Nepal is also obligated under various international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  to "respect and ensure" everyone's freedom of expression. The UN Human Rights Committee, a body mandated to monitor the implementation of the Covenant, states in its General Comment No. 34 that "a free, uncensored, and unhindered press is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression . . . and it constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.

KU, Embassy of Israel mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Embassy of Israel jointly with the Kathmandu University (KU) marked the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day ‘Yom HaShaoh’ today.
A memorial ceremony was organised amidst the presence of the professors, teachers and students of Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust between 1939 and 1945. Israel marks the Holocaust Remembrance Day one week prior to its Independence Day, which is on 9 May this year.
“We are here to share norms and abnorms, things we can do and not, with the future generations,” vice chancellor of KU Prof Dr Ram K Shrestha said speaking during the memorial. “The Holocaust, where millions of people were murdered including 6 million Jews in Europe, should not repeat.”
“During World War II (1941-1945) around two- thirds of the Jewish populations of Europe were systematically murdered by Nazi Germany aided by local collaborators,” ambassador of Israel Benny Omer, on the occasion, remarked, adding that one of the worst events occurring in the history of mankind, this event was conducted in ghettos or concentration camps where large number of Jews were brought in, forced to work in terrible conditions and murdered in Gas chambers.
This is the first time the Holocaust memorial ceremony was organised outside Kathmandu. The event has been an important milestone in spreading the message of tolerance and fighting against racism and educating the future generation not to repeat such brutality in any form, according to a press note issued by the Embassy of Israel in Kathmandu.
The memorial ceremony was followed by a display of an exhibition entitled ‘Beyond the Duty’, which portrays role of diplomats during World War II who acted against their own government instructions to save lives of thousands of Jews, risking their own lives, the press note reads, adding that the exhibition remains open to public from May 2 to May 15 during office hours at the Gallery of Kathmandu University premises, Dhulikhel.