Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Provincial leaders commit to implement findings of federalism stocktaking report

The Chief Ministers of five provinces expressed appreciation of the process and agreement of the findings and recommendations of the Federalism Capacity Needs Assessment (FCNA) at a special briefing event on the FCNA held today.
The briefing – jointly organised by the finance ministry amd ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration – was delivered by the country manager of the World Bank in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal and in the presence of international development partners.
“Nepal’s transition to federalism significantly increases the need to develop capacity at all levels of the government and to modernise the governance system and institutional framework as an ongoing process,” stated finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada, on the occasion.
“This will help in taking on new service delivery responsibilities as required in the federal set-up, and also meet growing demand for better public services,” he said, adding that the FCNA is an assessment of Nepal’s capacity needs in the provincial and local governments to implement federalism, along with a roadmap of priorities for all three levels of government over the short and medium terms.
Led by the government with the support of the World Bank and UNDP, the FCNA was jointly undertaken by the Georgia State University and Nepal Administrative Staff College, which was initiated in September 2018 and completed in December 2019. The assessment covered the federal government, seven provincial governments and a representative sample of 115 local governments using informant interviews, desk reviews and questionnaires, and focused on three main elements of capacity: organisational, institutional and regulatory, and physical infrastructure.
“Nepal has made a historic move from a unitary form of government to a federal system that builds accountability of three levels of the government,” minister of Federal Affairs and General Administration Hridayesh Tripathi said, adding that the success of federalism in Nepal implies success in all three levels of government which requires that they work together as one in meeting the aspirations of the people.
The FCNA identifies measurable progress since the adoption of the federal constitution in 2015 with the set up of key institutional structures, strengthening of the regulatory environment and strong initial progress in the adjustment of personnel in all levels of the government. Provincial and local governments account for about 34 per cent of total national expenditure, suggesting strong government acknowledgment of the importance of fiscal federalism. However, the FCNA notes that gaps still exist between the needs and existing capacity at all levels of government to manage new functions.
During the interaction, chief ministers, who attended the meeting expressed their views that relate to the need for infrastructure building, technical support in better planning and execution of projects, capacity building of human resources both at the provincial and local levels, and better coordination within provincial governments and with the federal government. They also appreciated the cooperation from development partners to support the implementation of federalism and welcomed the plan of dissemination of the FCNA in two provinces.
The assessment calls for a strategic approach to capacity building for federalism, including the need to prioritize measures to strengthen the foundations for intergovernmental and inter-ministerial coordination and monitoring of the implementation of federalism. The FCNA recommends a roadmap essential to help improve Nepal’s capacity readiness for federalism.
The FCNA was first disseminated at the federal level in December 2019. The report dissemination process, which seeks to mainstream findings and recommendations in all three levels of the government, will be completed by disseminations organised for provincial and local government officials and other stakeholders within the first quarter of 2020.
“The FCNA is a dynamic document that is intended to facilitate discussions on the way forward,” World Bank country manager for Nepal Faris H Hadad-Zervos said, adding that identifying the capacity needs for federalism is just one part of the equation. “The other and important part is to operationalise the FCNA findings and recommendations.”
“We are committed to support this process and the broader implementation of federalism in Nepal,” he added.
“It is all about bringing basic facilities and services like education, drinking water, food, basic health and roads faster to those really in isolated places,” UNDP resident representative Ayshanie Medagangoda-LabĂ© said, adding that it is also about having the will and expertise to work in a different way. “We hope the FCNA will give the evidences for a strong foundation on which we the partners can rally to complement each other and deliver on the commitment.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

PATA Nepal Chapter postpones NICE

The ‘Nepal India China Expo (NICE)’ scheduled initially for February 22-25 has been postponed due to some unfavourable circumstances, and limitations on the travel of Chinese delegates due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, according to PATA Nepal Chapter.
 The executive committee meeting of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter held today decided to postpone the event as a matter of precaution to the health and safety of all the delegates and invitees.
“At the moment, we are closely monitoring the ongoing crisis (coronavirus pneumonia) in China, and shall endorse an appropriate future date for NICE once the situation seems controlled and favourable for this historic tri-national tourism expo,” the chair of PATA Nepal Chapter Bibhuti Chand Thakur said, adding that they have requested all its registered delegates, invitees, and stakeholders to stay tuned for further updates from the association.
The National Programme Coordinator of Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY2020) Suraj Vaidya said that NICE is one the top priority event, which shall play an instrumental role for the growth of tourism in Nepal, and we will be working together with PATA for making this a successful event of 2020.
Likewise, PATA Nepal Chapter chief executive Suresh Singh Budal informed that the necessary preparation is almost completed with confirmed participation of 120 buyers and 50 exhibitors however, due to the present unfavourable scenario, the association has decided to organise the event on later dates this year. “It's a high time to come together to show our solidarity for speedy control and recovery of health crisis; meanwhile, we have to take precautions and work together for the possible risk mitigation and crisis management in tourism,” he added.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

WB approves additional credit to support reconstruction

The World Bank has approved an additional credit of $200 million to the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project (EHRP) in Nepal.
The project and the second additional financing contribute to the Nepal’s umbrella Housing Reconstruction Program (HRP), which aims to rebuild earthquake-resistant core housing units by providing housing grants to eligible beneficiaries who have enrolled in the programme. The second additional financing will scale up EHRP’s support to the government’s HRP by financing reconstruction of an additional 86,680 houses in the 32 districts affected by the 2015 earthquakes. The impact of the earthquakes is estimated at 35 per cent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with recovery needs of about $7 billion.
“It is our aim to ensure that no one is left behind as Nepal builds back better from the devastating earthquakes of 2015,” World Bank country director for Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives Idah Z Pswarayi-Riddihough is quoted in a press note issued by the World Bank office in Kathmandu. “We support the Government of Nepal’s efforts in reconstruction to help Nepalis rebuild not just homes but also lives,” he added.
The EHRP, approved in June 2015 supported resilient reconstruction of approximately 55,000 houses in the districts most affected by the earthquakes while an additional IDA credit of $300 million was approved in December 2017 to scale up the EHRP and help bridge the financing gap in the HRP by supporting 96,000 additional households under the project.
The EHRP adopts an owner-driven housing reconstruction approach that promotes earthquake-resistant building techniques and materials and aims at improving long-term resilience through a culture of safer and sustainable housing and settlements.
Under the project, eligible beneficiaries receive grants of Rs 300,000 (approximately $2,730) each for reconstruction of houses in compliance with approved reconstruction guidelines in three tranches. As of January 2020, out of 685,193 beneficiaries enrolled under the government’s HRP in 14 most affected districts, 99 per cent received the first tranche, 81 per cent received the second tranche, and 70 per cent received the third tranche of the housing grant.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Construction of New Butwal substation nearing completion

Planned to be completed and bring into operation by this March, the construction of New Butwal substation at Sunwal of Nawalparasi is nearing completion.
According to the Nepal Electricity Authority, the substation is part of the move to reinforce the transmission system to facilitate bilateral and regional power trade, and enhance the national grid for domestic energy distribution.
“The project will be completed within the targeted time,” Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) managing director Kulman Ghising said, after a visit of the construction sites. Taking updates of the project with the the contractor company, he directed to complete the project within time. “Only the installation of the equipment is left," he said, asking to complete the civil structures and focus on the installation of equipment. “The NEA is there to help whenever there is any problem.”
“After the substation comes into operation, the technical leakage will be reduced by 4 per cent to 5 per cent, Ghising said, adding that the consumers will get reliable and sufficient power supply, and the problem of power cuts during summer will also be solved.
The Indian contractor Tata Project Ltd is planning to operate the substation by mid-April. The state power utility plans to evacuate electricity generated by schemes in the Kali Gandaki River basin through 220KV Kaligandaki Corridor transmission to New Butwal substation and to the national grid. The New Butwal substation aims to promote domestic power consumption and cross-border or regional electricity trade.
The second cross-border transmission line for electricity trade between Nepal and India will start from New Butwal substation. Nepal and India have agreed for electricity trade, construction, and implementation of New Butwal-Gorakhpur 400kV double-circuit transmission line. Built in about 20 bighas of land, New Butwal will be the second largest electricity hub after Dhalkebar substation at Dhanusha.
According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Strategic Energy Analysis Centre of the US, Butwal in south-central Nepal is strategically located for cross-border energy trade between India and Nepal because of its proximity and ability to connect with India’s Uttar Pradesh state and the Northern Regional Load Dispatch Centre via Gorakhpur where power demand is high during the monsoon.
New Butwal substation is also the starting point of the second high capacity transmission link between Nepal and India for bulk movement of hydroelectricity. Another 400kV substation has also been planned at the site for cross-border energy exchange.
The government will construct another substation with a capacity of 400kV will be built at New Butwal from the grant provided by the US through Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC will also build transmission line from Damauli of Tanahun to New Butwal.
Electricity transmitted through 132kV transmission line from Hetauda of Makwanpur to Bharatpur will be supplied to the area after trapping the electricity at East Chitwan substation.
Nepal and India – in October – agreed to fund the transmission line connecting Butwal to Gorakhpur in India through a commercial entity with both countries pledging equal entity in the funding of the project. The proposed transmission line is also a major component of the $630 million Nepal Compact, an agreement between the government of Nepal and Millennium Challenge Corporation of the US, which has stirred political controversy in Nepal.
Millennium Challenge Account-Nepal, the implementing agency of the transmission and road projects under the US grant, plans to set up a 400 kV transmission line from Damauli in Tanahu and connect it to New Butwal substation.
Also, the Nepal Electricity Authority is building a 220 kV Bardaghat-Butwal transmission line financed by the World Bank (WB) another 400 kV link to western Nepal, from Butwal to Kohalpur and to Upper Karnali via Surkhet, has been proposed to be built with preparatory studies ongoing under a $21 million grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Nepal is currently trading up to 250 megawatts of electricity with India through the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur setup, and work is underway to upgrade Dhalkebar substation to 400kV capacity in a bid to relay a larger amount of power. The move is also expected to allow the two countries to run their electricity grid in synchronous mode, and facilitate a smooth and reliable flow of electricity.

Gold price sets new record by trading at Rs 76,000 per tola

The price of precious yellow metal today set a new record by increasing Rs 1000 per tola overnight to be traded at Rs 76,000 per tola (11.667 gm), according to the Federation of Nepal Gold and Silver Dealers’ Association (Fenegosida).
The gold price was fixed at Rs 75,000 per tola yesterday but it soared by Rs 1000 overnight in the global markets due to escalating tensions between the United States and Iran after Iran's top military officer killed in the US airstrike a few days ago, the association said, adding that the conflict has forced investors to turn to safe havens like gold.
The price of gold has been rising steadily in the domestic market since July. It had climbed to Rs 73,500 per tola on September 4 and December 31 last year.
The rising price of the gold has, however, pulled down demand of gold in the domestic market. According to the association, the daily demand for gold used to be around 50 kg during this season but with the rising price the demand has dropped to more than half.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Nabil Bank partners with ICICI Bank

Nabil Bank and India’s leading private sector bank ICICI Bank today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that sets out a framework for co-operation and strengthen the existing relationship between the two institutions across various businesses like trade, remittances and treasury.
Nabil chief executive Anil Keshary Shah and head of International Financial Institution Group under ICICI Bank Ranju Sigtia signed the MoU at Nabil Bank’s head-quarters in Kathmandu.
The banks will work in close co-ordination with each other to support the trade and treasury needs of their customers seamlessly. The initiative will enable both the banks to effectively leverage the combined strengths of Nabil Bank’s deep market access in Nepal and ICICI Bank’s expertise in banking and the distribution franchise across India and in key global markets, reads a press note issued by the Nabil Bank.
“We are proud to partner with ICICI Bank,” said Shah after signing ceremony. “This MoU creates a platform for sharing knowledge and deepening network connectivity between Nabil Bank and ICICI Bank - especially for our customers doing business with India,” he added.
Speaking on the occasion, Sigtia said that Nepal has a strong and growing, trade and investment corridor with India. “The ICICI Bank has been actively working with partner banks to connect customers in Nepal with India and other overseas locations, where ICICI Bank has its presence,” she said, adding that in line with the bank’s continuing commitment to furthering participation in the growing India-Nepal economic corridor, the bank is delighted to sign this MoU with Nabil Bank.

Gold price soars to record high of Rs 75,500 per tola

Increasing by Rs 1,000 overnight, gold price has set a new record of Rs 75,500 per tola (11.664 gram) in the domestic market today.
According to the Federation of Nepal Gold and Silver Dealers’ Association (Fenegosida) confirmed that the precious yellow is traded at Rs 75,500 per tola today, from yesterday’s Rs 74,500 per tola.
Gold price has been breaking its own record every day due to tensions amid middle east after Iran’s top military commander was killed in an airstrike. The price went up for the third time this week between December 29 and January 4, the association informed, adding that the gold price was fixed at Rs 73,300 per tola on Sunday and remained constant on Monday. “But on Tuesday, gold price went up by Rs 200 a tola to be traded at Rs 73,500, and remained constant till Thursday,” it said, adding that however, on Friday gold price rose sharply by Rs 1,000 per tola to close the trading week at Rs 74,500 per tola.
The Iran-US conflict led investors to invest in gold – which is considered a safe haven investment –pushing up the price of gold in the international market. The increase of the gold price in the international market subsequently pushes the domestic market price too, apart from the rising US dollar against Nepali rupee that also pushed gold price up in Nepal.
Last June, gold was traded at Rs 59,500 per tola following a jump in prices due to trade tensions between the US and China and also a hike in Nepali import duty by Rs 800 per 10 gm. The customs duty was again raised by Rs1,500 per 10 gm in November.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Pyakural to lead Nepal Economic Association

Nepal Economic Association (NEA) has elected a new executive committee led by Prof Dr Bishwhambher Pyakuryal for the next three years.
The association of the economists through its 29th annual general meeting elected the 17-member executive committee under the chairmanship of economist Prof Dr Bishwambher Pyakuryal, reads a press note issued by the association.
The association has elected Bhawani Dhungana as senior vice-chairman, Govinda Nepal as vice-chairman, Gopal Tiwari as general secretary, Khom Raj Kharel as secretary, and Shanta Singh as treasurer, the press note reads, adding that the association has been working as an independent think tank to facilitate discussion on the country's economic issues.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Investment board completes pre-qualification assessment of Rs 1.18 trillion worth projects

The Investment Board Nepal (IBN) claimed that it has completed the pre-qualification process of 14 projects worth Rs 1.18 trillion, out of the 50 projects that the investors showed interest during the Investment Summit 2019 held last March.
The board has already selected the company to conduct detailed feasibility study (DFS) of 756-megawatt (MW) Tamor Hydropower Project, IBN’s chief executive officer Maha Prasad Adhikari informed at a press meet orgainsed by the board today.
Likewise, the board has signed the initial investment agreement with Korean company Motrex to set up a vehicle manufacturing and assembly plant project worth Rs 10.54 billion, he said, adding that of the 77 projects that the government had showcased at the Nepal Investment Summit held in March, investors had submitted expression of interest (EoI) for 31 different projects amounting to more than $25.3 billion. “The board is continuously signing agreements with investors, who had expressed their interest in projects showcased at the investment summit.”
The board has also signed an agreement with a foreign firm to develop the Rs 64.6 billion worth Nepal-China Friendship Park Project in Province 1. “Similarly, the board has inked an agreement with two separate companies to conduct the DFS for developing the Rs 13 billion worth Multi-Model Logistic Parks in Biratnagar, Birgunj and Bhairahawa,” he said, adding that the board – as of today – is in the phase of implementing nine different projects worth Rs 565 billion. “Of this, development of Arun-III hydroelectric project is ongoing, while Hongshi Cement will soon start the second phase of production.”
These projects also include Kathmandu Outer Ring Road Project with a proposed cost of $1.87 billion, Lower Arun Hydro Power Project ($1.3 billion) and Nijgadh International Airport ($3.45 billion). Likewise, the applications for remaining 16 projects were not qualified during the evaluation process. “Similarly, the screening report has been prepared for Kathmandu Sky Train Project ($310 million) and Integrated National Agriculture Infrastructure ($70 million).”
Out of the total applications, the board disqualified 16 proposals and 20 did not receive any applications,” he said, adding that those projects which did not draw any eligible applicants will be still in the 'project list' of the board.
Adhikari, on the occasion, also sought government’s support in addressing few difficult legal processes that has been creating hassles in approving projects in a timely manner.

Paddy output drops by 1 per cent

Against the government’s projection of 6 million tones output in the current fiscal year 2019-20, paddy production dropped by 1.1 percentage point – some 59,133 tonnes – to 5.55 million tonnes compared to the record high production of 5.61 million metric tonnes last fiscal year.
Releasing an initial estimate of paddy harvest, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development confirmed that the paddy output declined by 59,000 tonnes in the current fiscal year from the record high production of 5.61 million tonnes in the last fiscal year 2018-19.
The ministry attributed barren land due to low plantation coverage, delay in monsoon arrival, damage wrought by insects to the major cereal crops and problem related to seeds to the lower output of the paddy, a press note of the ministry reads, adding that the paddy productivity has, however, gone up by 1.17 per cent to 3,804 kg per hectare from 3,760 kg per hectare in the last fiscal year. “Though, the production figure is less compared to the last fiscal year, the current fiscal year has recorded the second highest paddy output, and also the record high in terms of productivity despite a series of misfortunes ranging from a delayed monsoon, fertiliser shortage and supply of fake seeds to an armyworm invasion, apart from supply of faulty Garima brand paddy.
The faulty Garima brand paddy did not yield rice grains across the country including in Chitwan, Rautahat, Nawalparasi, Nuwakot, Lamjung, Gorkha and Tanahun districts. The Garima brand paddy was planted across 1,500 hectares of land, affecting production of almost 8,500 tonnes of paddy.
Compared to the last fiscal year, paddy production has dropped in Province 2, Province 3, Gandaki Province and Lumbini Province, while the output has increased slightly in other provinces. Paddy production has increased by 0.6 per cent each in Province 1 and Karnali Province to 1.24 million tonnes and 134,407 metric tonnes, respectively. Similarly, paddy output has increased by 6.7 per cent compared to last year’s production in Sudurpaschim Province to 646,059 metric tonnes. “Paddy production this year dropped by five per cent to 1.42 million tonnes in Province 2, some 2.2 per cent to 510,210 metric tonnes in Province 3, some 4.4 per cent to 408,737 tonnes in Gandaki Province and 0.3 per cent to 1.18 million tonnes in Lumbini Province,” the press note reads.
The lower paddy production is going to hit the economic growth as the agriculture contributes to around 28 per cent in the gross domestic production (GDP), and paddy contributes highest to the agriculture gross domestic production (AGDP). The agro experts thus blamed government for manipulating the data to show that its ambitious growth target of 8.5 per cent or something close was achievable.
Likewise, the experts are also surprised by this year's production data as they have also estimated the paddy crop could drop by at least 8 per cent and the ministry had also initially estimated that production could drop by 7 per cent to 8 per cent in the current fiscal year.

Paddy Outout (metric tonnes)
Provinces Last FY         This FY 
Province 1 1,237,952 1,245,545
Province 2 1,495,044 1,420,436
Province 3 521,446         510,201
Gandaki         427,689         408,737
Lumbini 1,188,675 1,185,493
Karnali 133,579         134,407
Sudurpaschim 605,626         646,059
Total 5,610,011 5,550,878
Source: MoALD

Local bodies to issue licence for hydel projects below 3MW

The Electricity Act 2076 Bill has proposed delegating the authority to issue licence for the construction and operation of electricity projects up to the capacity of 3 megawatt (MW) to the local governments.
At a meeting on the draft of the Electricity Act 2076 Bill in Kathmandu today, joint secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Toyanath Adhikari confirmed that the Bill has proposed to give local level governments the authority to issue license to electricity generating project up to 3 MW. “ If the project lies in two or more than two local level territories, the project has to get the license from the provincial government,” he said, quoting the draft. “An electricity project with generation capacity of 3MW to 20MW should get license from provincial government, whereas if the project falls in more than one province, the project would need to be licensed from the central government's secretary."
According to the draft, a project gets the license for electricity generation within 15 days after operator submits needed documents. Likewise, the license for electricity transmission or distribution will be issued within 120 days and for electricity trade or customer service license, it will take 45 days, the draft reads, adding that it has also reduced the term of license to be issued for generation of hydroelectricity to 40 years, which is 10 years less than the one mentioned in Electricity Act 2049. “The licensee generating electricity from sources other than hydro can operate the project for 25 years,” the draft reads, adding that the term of license to be issued for generations, transmission or distribution of electricity may be of 50 years in maximum.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation Barshaman Pun said that the government will not ignore provincial and local level governments, and stakeholders while getting the 'Electricity Act 2076' Bill endorsed in the parliament.

Nepal can join MCC: Chinese envoy

Though a section in the country is opposing implementation of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant suspecting that it could be tantamount to joining a US-led military alliance, China claimed that it has no problem with Nepal joining MCC Compact Programme.
“Nepal as a least-developed country needs international support and assistance, not only from China, but also from other countries,” Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi said speaking at a press briefing organised at the Embassy this morning.
China welcomes any kind of assistance to Nepal, if it is in the area of economic cooperation,” she said, adding that Nepal can decide on its own without any external intervention. “Economic cooperation should be forged equally and should benefit the Nepali people and promote Nepal’s national interests.”
“Nepal can take its decision on its national interest,” she added.
She however, said that the China-India Plus – or ‘Two plus one’ – concept of cooperation mooted by Beijing essentially meant trilateral cooperation. “The concept did not deem Nepal as a very small country but China and India will play leading roles,” she said, explaining that the trilateral cooperation will be a win-win cooperation. “We have successfully started this cooperation model from Afghanistan," she said.
Though, Nepal is still not comfortable with China-India Plus one – Two plus one – she said that the trilateral cooperation could be forged in the areas of infrastructure, telecommunications and training courses.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi – during Wuhan Summit on April 27-28, 2018 – have proposed the China-India Plus concept. But the leaders of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) – including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli – are against the China-India Plus concept. Chinese President Xi – during his visit to Nepal last October – also floated the idea to Nepal as China seems interested in further enhancing India-China Plus concept to develop a common strategy for Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Africa.
Nepal however is suspecting that China and India will have bigger roles and Nepal will have little role under ‘Two plus one’ cooperation model.
Likewise, speaking on recent arrests of more than 120 Chinese nationals in Nepal, the ambassador said that the Chinese authorities had communicated with their Nepali counterparts after they found the individuals’ involvement in cyber crime. Saying that investigations against them are underway in Nepal, the envoy also said it is up to the Nepali side whether to deport them or not. 

Ex-Gurkhas threaten to halt Gurkha recruitment process

Ex-British Gurkhas Satyagraha Joint Struggle Committee today threatened to disturb Gurkha recruitment possess scheduled for next week in Pokhara to pressurise the government and the United Kingdom to address its long-standing demands.
Issuing a press note today, chief coordinator of the committee Krishna Bahadur Rai warned that they are also planning pressure campaigns in Nepal and the UK, simultaneously. “Issues raised by ex-Gurkhas are not just related to the retired servicemen, but to Nepal and all Nepalis sovereignty and dignity,” the press note reads, adding that they will continue their protest until both the governments form a high-level talks team and hold dialogue to address the demands of ex-Gurkha servicemen.
The committee has served an ultimatum until February 15, 2020 to the Government of Nepal and the Government of the UK to form a high-level talks team as soon as possible. “A prompt dialogue between the two governments on the Report of Technical Committee – that comprised the ambassador of Nepal to UK, minister of defence (UK) and representatives of British Gurkha ex-servicemen’s associations – has to be started without further delay,” the press note further reads, adding that the dialogue should be held in line with the report of the International Relation Committee of the Federal parliament of Nepal as guiding instrument.
According to the committee, imposition of Indian Pay Code on British Gurkhas after 1948 is unfair and against the national sovereignty and independence of Nepal. The Indian Pay Code on British Gurkhas after 1948 – in the name of Tripartite Agreement-1947 that came with mutual understanding between India and Britain – is against the national sovereignty and independence of Nepal, the committee argued, warning that the movement of equality and dignity that was started by Gurkha veterans against the British government will be advanced at national as well as international level in the form of patriotic movement.
The ex-Gurkhas have demanded an end to discrimination and injustice imposed on Gurkha veterans and on their families and pay compensation to the families of thousands of soldiers, who had lost their lives in wars. The compensation, according to them, comes to around Rs 120 billion. The British Government is ready pay compensation – based on the Report of Technical Committee – but Nepal government must start government-to-government talks immediately, they claim, adding that they also want to their pension to be paid directly from British Government not through the Indian government.

Gold hits new record of Rs 74,500 a tola

The price of gold hit a new record of Rs 74,500 per tola (11.664 grams) in the domestic market today.
The price of precious yellow metal has increased by Rs 1,000 in a single day to set a new record, according to Federation of Nepal Gold and Silver Dealers' Association (Fenegosida). Gold was traded at Rs 73,500 yesterday.
There are more chances of gold price increasing in coming days, the association informed, adding that the price of gold will increase further to touch Rs 80,000 a tola due to conflict between Iran and America. “Likewise, fluctuations in Indian currency will also push the price of gold higher up.”
Earlier, the price of gold was recorded high on September 4 and December 1 at Rs 73,500 per tola.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

ATM cash withdrawal limit raised

The central bank has raised the daily limit of cash withdrawal from bank ATMs.
Releasing the Unified Directives to all licensed institutions today, the central bank increased the daily limit for cash withdrawal from the debit cards to Rs 100,000 from the existing limit of Rs 60,000. 
Earlier, the central bank had – on September 6 – reduced the daily limit to Rs 60,000 per day from Rs 100,000 in the wake of ATM heist in Kathmandu.
Likewise, the central bank has also increased per transaction limit to Rs 25,000 from Rs 20,000.

Industry minister vows to solve sugarcane farmers’ problem

Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta vowed to solve problems of sugar mills and sugarcane farmers by the third week of January.
Taking time in the meeting of the National Assembly today, he informed that the sugar mills have been directed to clear their dues. “The government has formed a task force that will submit its report to the government within 15 days,” he said, adding that the discussions have also been held between the representatives of sugar mills and sugarcane farmers. “The mills have been instructed to immediately pay the dues they owe to the farmers.”
He also said that the government is serious regarding the 11-point demands of the sugarcane farmers, whereas it is also facilitating in the purchase and sale of sugar that the mill owners have in their store.
Bhatta also informed the National Assembly that customs levied on import of sugar has been increased by 40 per cent and importation of this commodity has been prohibited to help mill owners sell their stock of sugar.
The lawmakers, on the occasion, also suggested him to seek a long-term solution as the problem between the farmers and mill owners have been recurring every year. Earlier this week, the sugarcane farmers from various parts of Tarai districts assembled and started a stage sit-in at the Maitighar Mandala in Kathmandu to pressurise the government.
The communist government with a comfortable majority is steering the nation, and the farmers are staging the protest against the government that claims to be championing for the cause farmers and labourers.
Agitating farmers claim that Annapurna Sugar Mills needs to pay a total of Rs 500 million, while Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills owes them Rs 210 million. The government has fixed minimum support price for a quintal of sugarcane at Rs 536.56. Of the total amount, sugar mills should pay Rs 471.28 per quintal, while Rs 65.28 is to be paid by the government as subsidy.
Earlier yesterday, during a meeting with sugarcane farmers held at the Industry Ministry, deputy prime minister Ishwar Pokharel, industry minister Lekhraj Bhatta and agriculture minister Ghanshyam Bhusal vowed to clear all the outstanding payment of the sugarcane farmers by January 21. But the sugarcane farmers have demanded to clear 80 per cent outstanding payment by January 10 and the remaining 20 per cent payment by January third week.
According to sugarcane farmers, the mills are yet to clear outstanding payments for the past five years amounting to Rs 1.33 billion. The farmers have yet to recover Rs 420 million from Shree Ram Sugar Mills, Rs 400 million from Annapurna Sugar Mills, Rs 200 million from Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills, Rs 110 million from Bagmati Sugar Mills and Rs 100 million each from Indira Sugar Mills and Lumbini Sugar Mills, the farmers claimed.

Palm oil tops the export basket

Export of high-value products – identified by Nepal Trade Integration Strategy (NTIS) – dropped by 6 per cent year-on-year to Rs14.8 billion in the first five months of the current fiscal year, though government has prepared the NTIS list with much hope and expectation.
The government – with the help of development partners – has prepared NTIS 2016, the third-generation trade integration strategy, with nine high-value products and three services to bridge the ballooning trade deficit. However, a non-NTIS product – palm oil – has topped the list of export basket failing the government’s home work of years. 
According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC), palm oil exports contributes to 25 per cent of the total exports as it rose to Rs 11.5 billion – in the first five months – also nearly eight times the amount shipped in the same period last year.
Tariff exemptions on Nepali exports to India under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) Agreement have domestic traders an incredible advantage. As countries outside of South Asia are slapped with tariffs of 54 per cent on palm oil and 45 per cent on soybean oil, Nepali traders took the advantage of tariff difference to push exports of palm oil and soybean oil to India, according to the World Bank Nepal Development Update released in December. “Nepal capitalised on the arbitrage opportunity and significantly increased exports of the two products,” it reads, adding that it might, however, not be a sustainable option in the long run. “The export performance of products under the NTIS including all fabrics, textile, yarn and rope, cardamom, carpet, footwear, ginger, leather, medicinal and aromatic plants, pashmina, and tea was dismal in the last fiscal year, contracting by 4.8 per cent year-on-year compared with an expansion of 17.9 per cent year-on-year in the fiscal year 2017-18.”
The high-value products – under NTIS – also dropped due to a fall in production, eroding competitiveness of Nepali products because of lack of inspection and quality checks. Though, large cardamom exports soared by 50.7 per cent to Rs 1.86 billion, shipments of all other products including ginger, tea, medicinal and aromatic plants, fabrics, yarn, textiles, rope, leather, footwear, pashmina and carpets were down, compared to the same period last fiscal year.
Exports of pashmina – one of the ‘pride products’ – declined by 17 per cent to Rs 1 billion due to a lack of effective branding and promotional activities in the international market.
The TEPC data reveals that ginger exports slipped by 14.65 per cent to Rs 236 million, whereas tea plunged by 24.88 per cent to Rs 1.45 billion despite 5 per cent cash incentive on exports of processed tea, large cardamom, ginger, leather goods, processed medicinal herbs and oil products with value addition of at least 50 per cent.
According to the World Bank, Nepal’s export value to GDP ratio reached 1.1 per cent, lower than the 4 per cent target set for 2020, due to a lack of raw materials, skilled manpower and required infrastructure like processing centres, lab testing and storage facilities.
The sharp rise in exports of palm oil, which has no ‘value addition’, could largely impact Nepali farmers as it could offset the demand for Nepali products but traders keep exploiting easy loopholes on foreign products that yield them higher profits, and the incumbent government is also encouraging them to show off the increased exports during its tenure.
Time and again, traders have been taking advantage of the duty difference but it has not been sustainable business as there have been instances of betel-nut, vegetable ghee, and many more. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

NOC jacks up fuel prices

The Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has increased the price of petrol, diesel and kerosene by Rs 2 effective from Wednesday midnight.
“With this increment, petrol is priced at Rs 111 per litre while diesel and kerosene will cost Rs 100 in Kathmandu,” confirmed NOC spokesperson Birendra Goit. The NOC has made an adjustment based on revised rates forwarded by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) – the sole supplier of the fuel to the NOC – today.
However, the price of cooking gas and aviation fuel remained unchanged, he said, adding that the price of petroleum products in places close to Nepal-India border areas will be slightly lower compared to the prices in Kathmandu valley.
Earlier, on December 17, the NOC had raised the price of diesel and kerosene by 1 rupee per liter each, while keeping the petrol price unchanged. But on December 2, the prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene were hiked by Rs 2 per liter each.
After lowering the price by Rs 2 per liter on September 10 – after the formal launch of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj, India-Nepal cross border petroleum pipeline – the NOC has already raised the price of petrol by Rs 4 per litre.

Nepal launches Visit Nepal 2020 with much fanfare

The country today launched Visit Nepal 2020 lighting the flame of unity.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari after igniting the Flame of Unity to inaugurate the Visit Nepal 2020 – that is going to be observed throughout a year with the slogan ‘Lifetime Experience’ – said that the country has now focused on economy prosperity.
The economy is dependent on tourism but it had been affected by the long civil war and unstable political system, she said, adding that the country has now overcome the political challenges and focused on economic prosperity. “Tourism is the backbone of the country’s economic development.”
Requesting all Nepalis – inside the country and abroad – to be a part of the campaign and make it successful as Nepali culture equated ‘guest with god (Atithi Devo Bhava)’, she said that Nepal has more to offer than just Sagarmatha, Pokhara, Chitwan and Lumbini.
On the occasion, tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai seconded her saying that Nepal is a unique creation of nature and implored all visitors to come for a lifetime experience. “Nepal is the land of cultural excellence and tourists can visit sacred religious sites and experience our diverse wildlife, flora and fauna,” he said, assuring that the country is moving towards the path of good governance and prosperity. “
Claiming that this year is the starting point to follow the path to mark 2020-30 as the tourism decade, he said, that the target of 2 million tourists in 2020 and the campaign itself is an inadequate for sustainable development of the tourism sector.
The inauguration ceremony of the mega tourism campaign kicked off with chanting of mantras of seven religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Kiratism, Christianity, Jainism and Sikhism – and launching of Viber stickers of VNY2020 and mascot for the campaign, Yeti.
The inaugural ceremony also witnessed tourism ministers from India, China, Myanmar and Jamaica. They also extended their good wishes to Nepal for the grand success of the VNY2020 campaign.
Also present at the function were the Chief Justice, the National Assembly Chairman, former Prime Ministers, political party leaders, heads of constitutional bodies, heads of diplomatic missions, members of parliament and ministers and delegates from various countries including tourism ministers.
The VNY2020 was also officially inaugurated in all the seven provinces today including in Biratnagar of Province 1, Janakpur in Province 2, Sauraha, Chitwan in Province 3, Pokhara in Gandaki Province, Thakurdwar, Bardia in Province 5, Bulbul lake in Karnali and Dhangadi in Sudur Paschim Province.
VNY 2020 Secretariat coordinator Suraj Vaidya, on the occasion, said the inaugural ceremony has focused on highlighting Nepal's culture, heritage, costume and lifestyle while promoting tourism in the country.

Trade deficit drops but government struggles to meet revenue target

Though, the trade deficit has decreased – as it has wished – it failed to meet the revenue mobilisation putting the Finance Ministry under pressure to manage resources.
The Department of Customs data reveals that the trade deficit – in the first five months of the current fiscal year – has widened by only 6.3 per cent to Rs 533.64 billion as the export jumped by around 27 per cent to Rs 47.61 billion, whereas imports fell by 4 per cent to Rs 581.25 billion. “Processed soybean oil and palm oil have knocked juice, jam and footwear off the list of largest exports to India, pushing the exports up,” the department data reveals. However, Nepal does not produce any soybean or palm oil, and traders import crude oils from Brazil, Argentina, Ukraine, Indonesia, Australia and other countries which they process and export to India without paying a penny in tariffs.
Under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement, zero tariffs are levied on goods exported from underdeveloped countries like Nepal, and Nepali traders have been importing crude palm oil from third countries by paying minimum customs duty, and then exporting the finished product to India free of customs duty.
The government, but, failed to meet revenue mobilisation target also due to low imports as the revenue from imported goods shrank by Rs 6 billion between mid-July and mid-December. The department's data reveals that the government collected import taxes worth Rs 150.81 billion, down by Rs 5.52 billion from Rs 156.33 billion collected during the same period last year.
The government has set a target of collecting 45 per cent of the total targeted tax revenue through tariff on imported goods. In the first five months, customs offices collected only 34 per cent of the annual target to collect Rs 447.59 billion from import tariffs. “Out of the total import taxes, the government has targeted to collect Rs 196.62 billion in value added tax (VAT), Rs 187.30 billion in customs and Rs 63.67 billion in excise imposed on the imported goods. But according to Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO) data, the overall tax mobilisation – as of December – stood at a mere 31.24 per cent of the targeted tax revenue of more than Rs 1 trillion.
In the last fiscal year 2018-19, the government had set revenue collection target at Rs 945 billion, which was later revised to Rs 860 billion. However, the government even missed the revised target by almost Rs 25 billion, according to the FCGO data.
And this fiscal year too, finance minister will fail to meet revenue mobilisation target also due to his own policy to discourage imports of luxury items and automobiles.

Preliminary study of Tokha-Rasuwagadi road started

A Chinese technical team has started a preliminary study of the tunnel section of proposed Tokha-Rasuwagadi road.
The Department of Roads (DoR) confirmed that the preliminary assessment of the Tokha-Chhahare-Gurjubhanjyang tunnel section has been started. “The team will gradually begin the study of other sections of the road project too,” director general of the department Keshav Kumar Sharma informed, adding that the team s active in the field. “The team is expected to complete the preliminary study within a few months.”
The government has planned to construct 4.17-kilometre-long tunnel to connect Tokha with Gurjubhanjyang and a 24-kilometre-long tunnel to connect Betrawati with Rasuwagadi. But the Nepali Army is also working on opening the track of the Betrawati-Rasuwagadi section citing that building a road instead of digging a tunnel would be more cost-effective.
According to a memorandum of understanding (MoU) – signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping on October 13 – Nepal and China had agreed to develop a 50-km road linking Kathmandu and Rasuwagadi. During Xi’s visit, Department of Roads and China International Development Cooperation Agency had signed the agreement.
According to the agreement, China will bear majority of the cost of building the road and tunnel, including the cost of study. The team, which is working in Nepal now, will submit its report and authorities from Kathmandu and Beijing will then start the work on the detailed project report (DPR) and detailed engineering study.
Though, the government is expecting that the Chinese government will finance the strategic project that the Chinese construction companies have expressed interest to build under the build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) model, the funding modality of the project will be discussed after the DPR is finalised.
When the project is completed, it is expected to reduce the distance and travel time between Kathmandu and Rasuwagadi, and also shortens Kathmandu’s distance with the northern border Kerung.
The Kathmandu-Rasuwagadi road is around 125-km long, and passes through Galchhi of Dhading but the distance will be reduced to 50-km once the new route is completed.

Over 1,500 children will be born in Nepal on New Year’s Day: UNICEF

In 2020, UNICEF is calling for world leaders and nations to invest in health workers with the know-how and equipment to save every newborn
An estimated 1,567 babies will be born in Nepal on New Year’s Day, UNICEF said today. Nepali babies will account for 0.4 per cent of the estimated 392,078 babies to be born on New Year’s Day, it adds.
“The beginning of a new year and a new decade is an opportunity to reflect on our hopes and aspirations not only for our future, but the future of those who will come after us,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “As the calendar flips each January, we are reminded of all the possibility and potential of each child embarking on her or his life’s journey, if they are just given that chance,” she added.
Fiji in the Pacific will most likely deliver 2020’s first baby, whereas the United States, its last. Globally, over half of these births are estimated to take place in eight countries:
India – 67,385
China – 46,299
Nigeria – 26,039
Pakistan – 16,787
Indonesia – 13,020
The USA – 10,452
The Democratic Republic of Congo – 10,247
Ethiopia – 8,493
Each January, UNICEF celebrates babies born on New Year’s Day, an auspicious day for child birth around the world. However, for millions of newborns around the world, the day of their birth is far less auspicious.
In 2018, some 2.5 million newborns died in just their first month of life; about a third of them on the first day of life. Among those children, most died from preventable causes like premature birth, complications during delivery, and infections like sepsis. In addition, more than 2.5 million babies are born dead each year.
Over the past three decades, the world has seen remarkable progress in child survival, cutting the number of children worldwide who die before their fifth birthday by more than half. But there has been slower progress for newborns. Babies dying in the first month accounted for 47 per cent of all deaths among children under five in 2018, up from 40 per cent in 1990.
UNICEF’s Every Child Alive campaign calls for immediate investment in health workers with the right training, who are equipped with the right medicines to ensure every mother and newborn is cared for by a safe pair of hands to prevent and treat complications during pregnancy, delivery and birth.
“Too many mothers and newborns are not being cared for by a trained and equipped midwife or nurse, and the results are devastating,” Fore said, adding that they can ensure that millions of babies survive their first day and live into this decade and beyond if every one of them is born into a safe pair of hands.