Friday, July 31, 2020

IFC awards Nepal Investment Bank

Nepal Investment Bank Limited (NIBL) – one of the largest private sector bank in Nepal – bagged an ‘Award of Recognition’ from International Financial Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group – for ‘2019 Best Partner in Low Income IDA Countries, South Asia’, for maximum volume of trade finance from Nepal under Global Trade Finance Programme (GTFP).
IFC partnered with Nepal Investment Bank to promote Trade Finance in Nepal to enable the bank to enhance its support for local enterprises and help boost international trade opportunities. IFC’s Trade Finance support enabled the country’s corporate and small and medium enterprise sector to increase their share of global trade and get recognised by a wider range of correspondent banks globally. The network facilitates transactions in challenging markets, promotes competitive financing, and builds correspondent bank relationships with new institutions at low risk.
International Development Association (IDA) – involved on ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity – is critical for South Asia, world’s fastest growing region to deliver sustained and inclusive growth, human capital development and resilience.
Nepal Investment Bank has been catering to its customer from 82 branches, 124 ATMs, 17 extension counters, 10 revenue collection counters and 56 branchless banking counters, according to a press note issued by the bank. The bank, being the recipient of five Financial Times Bank of the Year awards for exemplary service and business, was accredited with Euromoney awards for ‘Best Bank 2018’ from the international publication – Euromoney. Further, International Credit Rating Agency- Nepal (ICRA Nepal) has also given the bank a credit rating of ‘A’.

Nepal Airlines Corporation grounds all its Chinese aircraft

The national flag carrier has, finally, grounded all its six Chinese aircrafts – from today – citing operational loss.
“Two aircraft had been already grounded earlier and the remaining four have also grounded from today,” Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) spokesperson Archana Khadka confirmed, adding that the NAC will, now onwards, be operating its two Twin Otter aircraft for domestic flights. “We have submitted a letter to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) to do the needful with the four aircraft that were grounded today.”
As the government has the entire ownership of those all aircraft, the NAC has handed over the responsibility to the ministry, which will now take further decision on what to do with these aircraft. The grounded Chinese aircraft could be returned or sold to other airlines company.
NAC had received one MA60 and one Y12E aircraft on aid from the Chinese government, whereas bought one MA60 and three Y12E from Chinese aircraft manufacturer Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC International Leasing) to fly them on the domestic routes.
“The corporation’s board decided to ground all the aircraft, as all the six aircraft were not able to make any profit,” Khadka said, adding that the corporation has already faced losses amounting to Rs 1.90 billion till last fiscal year. “Thus, the national flag carrier cannot afford these aircraft anymore and now the government itself has to decide what to do with these aircraft.”
“The insurance cost of the Chinese aircraft is 35 per cent higher than other aircraft,” according to the NAC that has hired a different sets of pilots as the pilots with national flag carrier cannot fly the Chinese aircraft. “The NAC itself has to train pilots for the Chinese aircraft, which is a very expensive affair,” a board director of NAC said, adding that lack of instructor pilots for these aircraft has also made these aircraft more costlier than for other aircraft.
Similarly, the spare parts of the Chinese aircraft are also 75 per cent more expensive than those required in other aircraft. “It takes almost two months for the company to deliver the spare parts to Nepal,” the NAC claimed, adding that the aircraft had to be grounded for a long period waiting for the spare parts to come from China.
The NAC had signed an agreement with AVIC International Leasing in 2013 which saw the Chinese firm donate one MA-60 and one Y12E on condition that the carrier take three more Y12Es and one more MA-60 using a Rs 3.72 billion ($35.4 million) soft loan from China's Exim Bank. Nepal Airlines has slowly taken delivery of the promised aircraft, but has complained of their unsuitability for Himalayan terrain.
But after five years, and with the loss of above Rs 5 billion, Nepal Airlines Corporation, has completely grounded the Chinese aircraft from today. Nepali aircraft has been banned from flying into the European Union (EU), after Nepal acquired Chinese aircraft.    

Nepal Army plans to expand investment portfolio

Despite criticism for being involved in commercial activities, Nepal Army seems to have been expanding business more without any hesitation.
According to a draft bill for the revision to the Nepal Army Act, it wants to get legal clearance to invest money from its welfare fund in business activities ‘as a promoter’ as it has been lobbying for last few years. “We have submitted the draft to revise the Nepal Army Act (2006) to the government on July 16,” confirmed Judge Advocate General Ranta Prakash Thapa, who is in charge of the Army’s legal department.
“We are expecting that their draft bill soon gets government approval before it goes for parliamentary ratification,” he said, adding that the current Act bars Nepal Army from investing in business enterprises, companies and infrastructure projects like hydropower. “After receiving the draft bill, the Defence Ministry has formed a committee comprising officials from Defence and Law ministries and the Army to study it.”
The Defence Ministry will take a decision about the bill – that seeks revisions to different clauses including the one related to the investment of money from the welfare fund – based on the recommendations from the committee. The draft bill needs an approval from the cabinet before it is tabled in the federal parliament for endorsement.
Nepal Army has been eyeing investments in hydro projects and in the Treasury Bill, which will provide more returns than the interest that banks pay. Though, the bill is yet to be approved, Nepal Army has already approached the Department of Electricity Development, seeking to invest in the 25 MW Dudh Khola and 32 MW Bhimdang Khola hydropower projects.
Currently, Nepal Army has invested is in gas stations, schools, medical colleges and emulsion plants, apart from selling bottled water, but it wants to spread its wing, despite criticism from the different quarters of society.
Though, its primary role is to ensure the national security, the Nepal Army has been increasing interested in commercial activities, which has time and again, tarnished its image, according to the security experts, who are much worried about the Nepal Army’s inclination to business rather than limiting itself to its primary role of ensuring national security, gathering intelligence, protecting national parks and natural reserves and saving people during the times of disaster. “The more the Army is involved in non-military activities, the more it will get weakened professionally.”
Nepal Army was used in development activities by the then king Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, as he thought that the Army has become idle due to his ‘Zone of Peace’ proposal for Nepal. Birendra had proposed Nepal be declared ‘Zone of Peace’, which means the country would not need a big Army.
Likewise, the Army was involved in building roads during the conflict. Slowly, Nepal Army then started to getting involved in contracts for various projects. Currently, the incumbent government has also contracted Nepal Army for constructing the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway, which has also been criticised. 
The Army, however, denies that its involvement in several projects is ‘commercial venture’. But the Nepal Army ‘welfare fund’ has to invest on various projects to give good returns to the depositors.
Constituted in 1975, the Army’s welfare fund currently has cash deposits of Rs 45.86 billion in different banks and financial institutions, apart from an investment of Rs 5.74 billion in different ventures. Every year, it has been adding billions, as the interest and the contribution from those, who are deployed in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, to its coffers. It witnessed an increment of Rs 7.29 billion in its welfare fund in the last fiscal year alone, according to the Nepal Army press note issued today.
The Army wants to expand the business also to ‘expand its welfare fund’, claimed Thapa, in the press meet. “Bank interest is not a sustainable source of income,” he said, adding that the Army wants an investment in the projects that give high return. “The draft bill proposes provisions that would allow the Nepal Army to invest in projects ‘only after the government’s approval.’
Nepal Army has also been criticised, recently, for leasing out a new building it has constructed in Mahakal, in the prime location, to replace the earthquake-damaged Tri-Chandra Military Hospital that was constructed with the help of Britain in 1925 in memory of 20,000 Nepalis, who were killed in Europe in the First World War. The Army had demolished the 85-year-old neoclassical structure to rebuild a new hospital, and leased out for commercial purpose, which has been criticised by almost everyone blaming Nepal Army that it is turning into ‘corporate army’, and the combination of ‘gun and money’ is going to be more lethal weapon against democracy and federalism in the long run.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Pandemic response in South-East Asia must address rising inequalities: UN report

The United Nations (UN) has commended governments in South-East Asia for acting swiftly to stem the most serious health consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Robust regional cooperation, coordinated by ASEAN, has also resulted in South-East Asia reporting significantly lower confirmed Covid-19 cases and related deaths compared to most other global regions.
The UN secretary-general’s Policy Brief ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on South-East Asia’ – issued today – however warns that these early successes must be translated into addressing the serious socio-economic setbacks which threaten to further deepen inequalities across the region.
“As in other parts of the world, the health, economic and political impact of Covid-19 has been significant across South-East Asia, hitting the most vulnerable the hardest,” UN secretary general António Guterres said, adding that the pandemic has highlighted deep inequalities, shortfalls in governance and the imperative for a sustainable development pathway. “And it has revealed new challenges, including to peace and security, while the region has much work to do, it also has formidable capacities at its disposal.”
The new UN report examines how Covid-19 has affected eleven countries in South-East Asia and proposes action-oriented recommendations on mitigating immediate impacts and planning pathways out of the crisis.
“The Brief highlights the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups, particularly workers in the informal economy,” UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, said, adding that the crisis is threatening to push them back into poverty and unemployment. “Responding to the pandemic and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals are closely interlinked.”
“We need a future that is more equitable, sustainable and resilient,” she added.
Moving forward, four areas will be critical in the region’s plans for recovery: tackling inequality, bridging the digital divide, greening the economy, and upholding human rights and good governance.
The uneven landscape of social protection systems has placed tackling inequality at the centre of both short and long-term recovery efforts, according to the report. Increased investments to strengthen health systems and accelerate progress towards universal health care will be critical to support those excluded from formal policy and social protection measures.
Digital technology has also proved to be a critical tool in response to the pandemic. However, the benefits it offers are beyond the reach of the 55 per cent of South-East Asia’s population who remain offline. A regionally coordinated and scaled up effort is needed to put in place next-generation infrastructure networks and ensure universal digital connectivity, highlights the Brief.
The crisis presents an opportunity for countries to re-orient their development towards sustainability particularly through green recovery packages. Stimulus packages should be directed to industries that are low-carbon, resource efficient and aligned with environmental and climate objectives. By phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, countries could finance most or all of their current stimulus packages. Such measures would create massive fiscal space and greatly boost low carbon alternatives such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The Brief further underscores that countries in South-East Asia and their leaders can play an important role in upholding human rights and good governance practices in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders can leverage community-based organizations, promote inclusion, participation and unity; and speak out against discrimination.
The report is part of a series of policy briefs issued by the UN that examine the sectoral and geographical dimensions of the Covid-19 pandemic across the world.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Supreme Court issues show-cause on tax rise on electric vehicles

The Supreme Court today issued a show-cause order against the government decision to raise the taxes on electric vehicles (EVs).
The government – through the budget for the current fiscal year 2020-21 – has increased the customs duty from 10 per cent to 80 per cent and excise duty from five per cent to 80 per cent despite its tall claims of promoting the clean energy and substitute the import of petroleum products that is the largest import of the country.
Due to the hike in the customs and excise duty, traders have stopped import of electric vehicles lately. A single bench of the Supreme Court Justice Ananda Mohan Bhattarai has issued a show-cause order showing concern on the tax hike in electric vehicles as a serious matter. Claiming that the rise in tax has made electric vehicles unaffordable to the general people, Jury Nepal – a non-government organisation – has filed a writ petition against the government move.
The provision – to raise tax on electric vehicles by discouraging the use of environment-friendly automobiles – has been not only against the government’s own policy to substitute the fossil-fuel vehicle by 2030, and also Prime Minister’s pledge to promote the clean energy through the use of electric vehicles.
The government move has also been criticised on the ground that it will hit the aspiration of making the country self-reliant in energy supply and reduce the ballooning trade deficit by substituting the import of fossil fuel.
However, finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada has been defending his move – to increase taxes on electric vehicle against the government policy – claiming that the government is compelled to revoke the scheme to check misuse of the government package due to surge in imports of luxury electric cars.

Nepal Airlines evacuates Nepali students from Bengaluru

Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) has today evacuated stranded Nepali students from Bengaluru in India.
Issuing a press note, the national flag carrier said that Nepali students stranded in the satellite city of India in Bengaluru and nearby areas have been repatriated to Nepal amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is the first rescue flight conducted from neighbouring India,” the press note reads, adding that it has been consistently carrying out rescue operations for stranded Nepalis from several countries during this time of crisis. Though, the airlines has not specified the number of rescued Nepali students, those who arrived from the NAC flight claimed that the NAC has been able to rescue only 81 students. “There are still more stranded Nepali students, who wants to return home but lack of knowledge and information has made the NAC flight bring less passengers,” they said.
Meanwhile, NAC has also conducted its chartered flight to Sudan. It has conducted the second chartered flight to the Africa for UN. Earlier, NAC has conducted chartered flight to Mali and Central African Republic for UN Peacekeeping Force. Today, the NAC flew some 238 Nepal Army Peacekeeping force for UN to Sudan. 

WHO, WIPO, WTO launch updated study on access to medical technologies and innovation

The directors-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) presented a new edition of the Trilateral Study on Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation.
Building on the first edition launched in 2013, the publication seeks to strengthen the understanding of the interplay between the distinct policy domains of health, trade and intellectual property (IP), and how they affect innovation and access to medical technologies, such as medicines, vaccines and medical devices. The second edition provides an improved, evidence-based foundation for policy debate and informed decision-making at a critical time for global health.
In a video message released on the day of the launch, WTO director general Roberto Azevêdo emphasised the need for policy coherence and collaboration. Recognizing the close link between the health, trade and IP dimensions, he noted that “coherent approaches to vital medical technologies that bring together the key determinants for innovation as well as access” were required and needed “to span the entire process, from research to development to manufacturing and delivery to those in need”.
“Close collaboration between our three specialized agencies has yielded important practical benefits,” DG Azevêdo said, adding that similar benefits could be replicated at the domestic level by mirroring this integrated approach. He expressed the hope “that the revised material will support policy debate and help build governments’ capacity to deal with health challenges”. DG Azevêdo recalled that “it is only through joint efforts at the global level that we can achieve our shared public health goals” and that “cooperation is also necessary to prepare for future health crises”, a goal to which the study contributes.
Likewise, WIPO director general Francis Gurry said – in a video message – that the new edition of the trilateral study is an important example of the three international organisations bringing their separate expertise together to address core issues at the intersection of health, trade and innovation. He observed that the original study, published in 2013, was well received precisely because it provided a factual account of the landscape on access to medical technologies and innovation, and of the multiplicity of actors involved.
“Our first duty,” DG Gurry said, “always is to survey what the situation actually is” before determining the best way to improve it. He noted that while the new edition coincides with the current global health crisis, it was completed prior to the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. The study nonetheless includes a separate section on this hugely challenging and complex subject matter. DG Gurry also underscored the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and of cooperation amongst international organisations as “the Covid-19 pandemic is showing the need for health, trade and innovation policy to come together to provide the answers that we need to confront this huge challenge for humanity”.
“Barriers to access must be removed, including unaffordable prices, intellectual property barriers, unjustified tariffs and challenges in ensuring effective and efficient regulatory review,” WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said – in his video message – adding, “We have seen over the past months how countries have mobilized unprecedented investments in collaborative, not-for-profit research and development.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is showing what we can do when we come together to face a shared global health threat, he said, adding that that’s the kind of collaboration that can save lives and transform the health of billions of people globally.
The study discusses key factors determining access to medical technologies and innovation, including regarding medicines, vaccines and other medical technologies, such as medical devices and diagnostics. The second edition draws practical lessons from experiences regarding the intersections between public health, IP and trade within the broader perspectives established by the human rights dimension of health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The study also records numerous significant developments since 2013 when the first edition was launched. Among the new topics covered are antimicrobial resistance and cutting-edge health technologies. The revised edition provides updated data on health, innovation trends in the pharmaceutical sector, and trade and tariffs regarding medical products. It also includes an updated overview of access to medical technologies globally and key provisions in regional trade agreements. In addition, it takes account of developments in IP legislation and jurisprudence.
A Covid-19 section at the start of the publication provides a factual overview of the developments and measures taken to address this extraordinary public health crisis, which began after the work on the second edition of the study had been completed. The section guides the reader to parts of the study that are of direct relevance to the issues that have been raised during the pandemic.
The study is designed to serve as a reference tool for policy-makers in the widest sense – lawmakers, government officials, delegates to international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), researchers, and all others who seek a compendium of the issues at the intersection of global health, innovation and intellectual property and trade. It is also designed to serve as a factual resource for the three organisations’ technical cooperation activities.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

An additional 3.9 million children under 5 could suffer from wasting in South Asia due to Covid-19 : UNICEF

An additional 3.9 million children in South Asia under the age of five could suffer from wasting – and therefore become dangerously undernourished – in 2020 as a result of the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNICEF warned today.
According to analysis published in The Lancet, some 6.7 million children globally could suffer from wasting and over half – some 58 per cent or 3.9 million – would be from South Asia alone. “It’s been seven months since the first Covid-19 cases were reported and it is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore. “Household poverty and food insecurity rates have increased,” he said, adding that essential nutrition services and supply chains have been disrupted. “Food prices have soared.”
As a result, the quality of children’s diets has gone down and malnutrition rates will go up, he added.
Wasting is a life-threatening form of malnutrition, which makes children too thin and weak, and puts them at greater risk of dying, poor growth, development and learning. According to UNICEF, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, some 47 million children were already wasted in 2019, over half of whom – some 25 million – lived in South Asia. “Without urgent action, the global number of children suffering from wasting could reach almost 54 million over the course of the year,” the UNICEF said, adding that it would bring global wasting to levels not seen this millennium.
The Lancet analysis finds that the prevalence of wasting among children under the age of five could increase by 14.3 per cent in low- and middle-income countries this year, due to the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19. Such an increase in child malnutrition, combined with disruptions in vitamin A supplementation and breastfeeding, would translate into over 10,000 additional child deaths per month globally.
The estimated increase in child wasting is only the tip of the iceberg, UN agencies warn. Covid-19 will also increase other forms of malnutrition in children and women, including stunting, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity as a result of poorer diets and the disruption of nutrition services. The UNICEF reports from the early months of the pandemic suggest a 30 per cent overall reduction in the coverage of essential – and often life-saving – nutrition services.
In South Asia, these service disruptions have been more severe. For example, during the initial weeks of lock-down, the treatment of severe wasting ground to a halt in India and Nepal, while a fear of infection and lack of protective equipment for health workers led to an estimated 40 per cent and 75 per cent decline in admissions to treat severe wasting in children in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, respectively.
Furthermore, most countries in the region had to postpone vitamin A supplementation, and so millions of children under five years are missing the immune-boosting effects of vitamin A during a time of greatest need. While essential nutrition services are now resuming, they have not yet returned to prior capacity.
“We are also deeply concerned about the potential impact on breastfeeding practices,” UNICEF regional director for South Asia Jean Gough said, adding that it is essential that mothers are encouraged and supported to continue breastfeeding, even if they have Covid-19 infection. “Breast milk provides the best nutrition for babies as well as protection from a range of life-threatening infections.”
In a commentary to The Lancet report, also released today, the heads of UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is undermining nutrition across the world particularly in low- and middle-income countries, with the worst consequences being borne by young children. More children and women are becoming malnourished due to the deteriorating quality of their diets, the interruption of nutrition services, and the shocks created by the pandemic.
Humanitarian agencies immediately need $2.4 billion to protect maternal and child nutrition in the most vulnerable countries from now until the end of the year. The heads of the four UN agencies appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to protect children’s right to nutrition by:
Safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets as a cornerstone of the response to Covid-19 by protecting food producers, processors and retailers; discouraging trade bans; and designating food markets as essential services; 
Investing decisively in support for maternal and child nutrition by protecting breastfeeding, preventing the inappropriate marketing of infant formula, and securing children and women’s access to nutritious and diverse foods;
Re-activating and scaling up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting while expanding other life-protecting nutrition services;
Maintaining the provision of nutritious and safe school meals by reaching vulnerable children through home delivery, take-home rations, cash or vouchers when schools are closed; and
Expanding social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services among the poorest and most affected households, including access to fortified foods.
“We are encouraged by the efforts being taken across South Asia to resume nutrition services,” Jean Gough said, adding that it is essential that we combine efforts across health and social protection to prevent more children from becoming wasted, and to identify and treat those that do.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Central bank categorically provides relief to Covid-19-hit

The central bank has categorised Covid-19 hit sectors into three segments – highly-affected, semi-affected and least-affected – on the basis of the level of impact, and postponed their loan and interest installment payment schedule.
Issuing a circular today, the central bank classified crisis-hit sectors to provide relief provisions, announced through the Monetary Policy for fiscal year 2020-21, on priority basis. According to the circular, tourism industry – including hotels, restaurants, trekking, travel agencies, home stay and resorts – aviation and transportation, entertainment hubs, poultry farming, bee-keeping and livestock farming and foreign employment recruiting agencies are the sectors highly affected by Covid-19.
Likewise, plastic and home appliances manufacturers, traders, educational institutions and child-care centres, beauty parlours and hair salons, consultancy service providers, hospitals and clinics, construction sector, media houses, pharmaceutical producers, under-construction hydropower and renewable energy projects as businesses are the semi-affected by Covid-19.
Similarly, hydel projects that are already connected to the national grid, e-commerce businesses, essential goods producers, importing trade, petroleum industry, advertising services, internet and telecommunication service providers, liquor and tobacco business and gold and other jewellery business are the least affected sectors by the coronavirus crisis, according to the central bank.
The sectors most hit by the Covid-19 will get loan payment – including instalment and interest payment – period extended by one year, whereas sectors moderately and least affected by Covid-19 will get loan payment period extended by nine months and six months, respectively, the circular reads, adding that the loan repayment period can be extended by two years for the tourist standard hotels.
The central bank has – through the unified directive – also tightened criteria for issuing personal, individual loans and has made it mandatory for individual borrowers to clearly disclose the purpose of the loan. Amending its Unified Directive-2019, the central bank has made disclosure of purpose compulsory on overdraft loans of up to Rs 5 million. “Earlier, Banks and Financial Institutions (BFIs) were allowed to disburse overdraft loans under ‘personal purpose’ heading, within the limit fixed by the central bank.”
The central bank has also reduced or exempted the service charges levied by the BFIs for issuing cheques and statements, and service charges for issuing loan, and so on. The customers have been complaining that the BFIs have been charging them for every services they seek.

Nepal has high potential to be the next regional powerhouse: IFC

Nepal has the potential to be the next regional powerhouse, according to a higher official at the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
“The importance of hydropower for Nepal cannot be overstated and the country truly has the potential to be the next regional powerhouse,” a press note quoted IFC’s country manager for Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh Wendy Werner as saying. “But to exploit the natural endowments without taking a bird’s-eye view of the potential negative consequences throughout the entire river basin could do more harm than good in the long-run,” he said, adding that everyone has to work together to understand and mitigate cumulative impacts from multiple projects to ensure a sustainable development pathway for the energy sectors in Nepal.
A new study conducted by the IFC also calls for cooperative action through a Developers’ Forum to safeguard the environment and people’s livelihoods with all hydropower development on the Trishuli River Basin (TRB).
The year-long study, ‘Cumulative Impact Assessment and Management: Hydropower Development in Trishuli River Basin in Nepal’, which was supported by the governments of Australia, Norway and Japan, recommends a holistic and basin-wide approach to address the environmental and social challenges associated with infrastructure development. There are over 36 hydropower projects in various stages of development or planning in the Trishuli River Basin (TRB), which covers an area of 32,000 square kilometers.
The study found the Trishuli River Basin (TRB) is already impacted by hydropower and other development projects, with the effects compounded by other stresses such as climate change, slope instability, sand mining and urbanisation. It shows that, without action, the river and its fish could be seriously, to critically, affected, with adverse impacts on people’s livelihoods and the future of the already globally endangered Golden Mahseer.
The study also warns that there is also likely to be an increase in sand-mining activities while exacerbating the displacement impacts associated with land-acquisition, if no management measures at Trishuli River Basin are implemented. It would require at least 640 hectares of land should all the projects currently planned for the Trishuli River Basin be implemented.
“In the absence of a basin-wide environmental and social approach, individual efforts at the project-level to mitigate impacts will likely fall short and as a result biodiversity, people’s livelihoods and ecosystem services could be significantly impacted,” the press note quoted Global Environmental and Social Hydropower Lead of IFC Pablo Cardinale as saying. “This assessment is part of IFC’s deep commitment to promote a holistic, beyond-individual-projects’, approach to environmental and social risk management practices in Nepal, with the clear aim to minimise any accumulated harm to the environment and communities through multiple development projects in the same river basin.”
The study recommends the proposed Trishuli Hydropower Developers’ Forum to include developers, lenders, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), environmental and social regulators, and other relevant government agencies. Under the recommended high management scenario, hydropower developers across the basin would need to sign on to a cumulative impacts management charter that goes beyond the usual compliance requirements of environmental and social management plans of individual hydropower projects.
According to the press note, the study was an integral part of the World Bank Group Board of Directors’ approval of the $650 million for the 216-MW Upper Trishuli-1 Hydropower Project (UT-1), located in the upstream of the Trishuli basin. The IFC is leading a consortium of eight international lenders in financing UT-1. High environmental and social standards have been put in place for UT-1 and it is the first project in Nepal to undertake a consent process with affected indigenous communities.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

सरकार हराएको सूचना

एकादेशमा होइन । सन् १९९२ अर्थात् वि.सं. २०४९ सालमा जब बिल क्लिन्टन तत्कालीन राष्ट्रपति बुसका विरुद्ध अमेरिकामा चुनाव लडदै थिए, उनका चुनाव रणनीतिकार जेम्स कारभिलले अमेरिकी मतदातालाई आकर्षण गर्न एउटा नारा बनाए, ‘इट्स इकोनोमी स्टुपिड’ । वास्तवमा जेम्स कारभिलले आर्कान्सस राज्यका तत्कालीन गभर्नर क्लिन्टनलाई चुनाव जिताउन तीनवटा नारा बनाएका थिए । २८ वर्षपछि आज अन्य दुईवटा नारा कसैलाई पनि याद छैन, तर एउटै नारा ‘इट्स इकोनोमी स्टुपिड’ ले क्लिन्टनलाई राष्ट्रपतिमात्र बनाएन, करिब तीन दशकदेखि अमेरिकामात्र होइन, संसारभरका व्यावसायिक एवं गैरव्यावसायिक ब्यक्ति तथा संस्था एवं सरकारको मूलमन्त्र नै बन्यो ।
संसारभर कुनै पनि सरकारको सफलताको मापन उक्त सरकारले अर्थतन्त्र बनायो वा डुबायो भन्ने मापदण्डका आधारमा गरिन्छ । अमेरिकामा बिल क्लिन्टनले राष्ट्रपतिको चुनाव जित्नुमा उनको आर्थिक दृष्टिकोण नै प्रमुख थियो । आज पनि विश्वका विकसित एवं सम्पन्न मुलुकमा आर्थिक मुद्दाका आधारमा नै चुनाव लडिन्छ । नेपालजस्ता गरिब देशमा मात्रै वृद्धभत्ता, युवाभत्ता, बालभत्ताजस्ता वितरणमुखी नाराका आधारमा चुनाव लड्ने गरिन्छ । त्यसैले नेपालको अर्थतन्त्रको समस्याको चुरो चुनावबाटै छ । आय बढाउने, उद्योग गर्न सहज बनाउने, रोजगारी सिर्जना गर्ने होइन; भत्ता बाँड्ने प्रतिस्पर्धाबाट चुनाव जितेपछि अर्थतन्त्रमा सुधार आउँछ भन्नु भोगटे रोपेर सुन्तला फल्छ भन्नुजस्तै हो ।
एकादेशमा होइन । सन् १९९० अर्थात वि.सं. २०४६ सालको राजनीतिक परिवर्तनदेखि वि.सं. २०५२ सालमा तत्कालीन माओवादी जंगल पस्नुअघिसम्म अर्थात् अमेरिकामा ‘इट्स इकोनोमी स्टुपिड’ को नारा घन्किँदै गर्दा नेपालले तत्कालीन परिवेशमा आर्थिक सुधारमा ध्यान दिएका कारण आजसम्म आर्थिक तथा सामाजिक परिसूचकमा निरन्तर सुधार गरिरहेको छ । नेपाली कांगे्रसको तत्कालीन सरकारले लिएको आर्थिक उदारीकरणका कारण नै नेपालले आर्थिक तथा सामाजिक परिसूचकमा निरन्तर फड्को मारेको कुरामा कुनै शंका छैन । बहस जति पनि गर्न सकिन्छ, तर अन्तिम सत्य के हो भने वि.सं. २०४६ पछिको आर्थिक नीतिले नै आजसम्म नेपालको अर्थतन्त्र धानेको हो । हो, तत्कालीन समयमा केही गल्ती नभएका होइनन् । निजीकरणको प्रक्रियामा पक्कै केही गल्ती भएका थिए र ती गल्ती सुधार गर्न पनि सकिन्थ्यो । र, दोस्रो चरणको आर्थिक उदारीकरणमार्फत नेपालमा आर्थिक क्रान्ति गर्न सकिन्थ्यो । किनकि आर्थिक उदारीकरण भनेको निजीकरण मात्रै होइन । निजीकरण त आर्थिक उदारीकरणको एउटा अंशमात्र हो ।
वि.सं. २०५२ देखि २०६२ सम्मको एक दशक नेपाल आन्तरिक द्वन्द्वमा फस्यो र राजनीतिक अस्थिरता, असुरक्षा, नीतिगत अनिश्चितताको दुश्चक्रमा फसेका तत्कालीन सरकारहरूले अर्थतन्त्रका बारेमा सोच्ने मौकै पाएनन् । लगातारको राजनीतिक अस्थिरताले नीतिगत विचलन एवं आर्थिक नीति कार्यान्वयनमा समस्या आए । झन् सैद्धान्तिक विचलन र स्पष्ट आर्थिक मार्गचित्रको अभावमा अर्थतन्त्रको बाटो र गति कहिल्यै निर्धारण हुन सकेन ।
तर, २०६२ सालपछि राजनीति सङ्लिँदै आयो । तर पनि स्थिर सरकार नभएका कारण अर्थतन्त्रले चाहेजसरी विस्तार हुन पाएन, व्यवसायीहरू स्थिर सरकार भएपछि अर्थतन्त्रमा चमत्कारै हुन्छ भन्ने विश्वास गर्न थाले । यसै सेरोफेरोमा, २०७४ फागुन ३ गते आयो— एउटा बहुमतप्राप्त स्थिर सरकार र आर्थिक क्रान्तीको सपना बोकेर । विगत दुई वर्ष आधादेखि नेपालमा शासन गरिरहेको बहुमतप्राप्त स्थिर सरकार छ । एउटा गतिशील तथा प्रजातान्त्रिक समाजमा समस्याहरूको पूर्ण निरुपण हुन समय लाग्छ, किनकि एकतन्त्रात्मक राजतन्त्र वा कम्युनिस्ट सरकारमा झैं त्यहाँ फरक विचारको निषेध गर्न सकिन्न र सबैको कुरा सुनेर समाधान खोज्दा समय लाग्छ नै । तर पनि विगत दुई वर्ष आधादेखि नेपालमा बहुमतप्राप्त स्थिर सरकारले शासन गरिरहेको छ । नेपाललाई आर्थिक विकासको मार्गचित्रमा अगाडि बढाउने योभन्दा रामो अवसर न कहिल्यै थियो, न भविष्यमा पाइने लक्षण नै देखिएको छ । तर, सरकारको धृतराष्ट्रपना तथा साँघुरो सोच, नीतिगत एवं सैद्धान्तिक विचलन, असंख्य भ्रष्टाचारका काण्ड र कुशासनले पछिल्ला तीन वर्ष (२०७४÷७५, २०७५÷७६ र २०७६÷७७) को औसत आर्थिक वृद्धि ५ प्रतिशतभन्दा बढी नहुने केन्द्रीय तथ्यांक विभागकै तथ्यांकले देखाउँछ ।
सरकारका पछिल्ला तीन बजेटले अर्थतन्त्रलाई दोहोरो अंकको वृद्धितर्फ लान कुनै सुधारात्मक नीति ल्याउन सकेन । न त यसले अर्थतन्त्रको संरचनात्मक परिवर्तनमा कुनै योगदान गर्न सक्यो । न अर्थतन्त्रको पुनर्संरचना गर्ने कुनै सुरसार ग¥यो, न आर्थिक सुधार लागू गरेर अर्थतन्त्रलाई फड्को मार्ने तत्परता नै देखायो । त्यतिमात्र हो र ? पछिल्ला तीनै बजेटले न त राजस्वका लक्ष्य भेटे, न त विकास खर्च गर्न सहजीकरण गर्न सके । संसद्बाट पारित भएका पछिल्ला तीनवटै बजेट प्रत्येकपल्ट मध्यावधि समीक्षामा आकारमा मात्र घटाइएन, राजस्व र विकास खर्चका लक्ष्य पनि घटाइए, अनि सरकारले लक्ष्य भेटेको प्रचार–प्रसार गराइए । संसद्बाट पारित बजेटलाई अर्थमन्त्रीको स्वेच्छाले घटाउन पाइन्छ कि पाइन्न, यदि घटाउन पाइन्छ भने बजेट संसद्बाट पारित किन गर्नुप¥यो ? त्यसको नीतिगत, कानुनी, संवैधानिक अर्थ के हो ? यसमा सरकारले बोल्दैन, चुनाव जितेर आएका जनप्रतिनिधि पनि बोल्दैनन् । तर, सरकार र जनप्रतिनिधि कुन व्यवसायीलाई ठेक्का दिने र कसको उद्योगमा ताल्चा लाउने, कसको मुख बन्द गर्ने, कसका कार्यकर्ता कता परिचालन गर्ने, बालुवाटारमा खाजा खाने पालो कसको ? यस्ता झिनामसिना कुरामा छलफल गर्छन्, अझ गम्भीर विचार, विमर्श, विश्लेषण तथा संश्लेषण पनि गर्छन् ।
यतिखेर, संविधानसभाबाट नेपालीले आफैंले आफ्नो संविधान बनाएका छन् । तीन तहको संघीय सरकार सक्रिय छ । त्यसभन्दा पनि महŒवपूर्ण कुरा नेपाली नागरिकले आफ्ना वर्षांैदेखिका आर्थिक एवं विकासका सपना पूरा गर्न प्रधानमन्त्री केपी ओलीको नेतृत्वमा बहुमतप्राप्त स्थिर सरकार चुनेका छन् । तर पनि नागरिक हप्तैपिच्छे माइतीघरमा सरकार खोज्न आइरहेछन् । कहिले कार्यपालिकाविरुद्ध, कहिले ब्यवस्थापिकाविरुद्ध र कहिले न्यायपालिकाविरुद्ध माइतीघरमा युवाहरू भेटिन्छन् । राज्यका कुनै निकायले काम गर्दैनन। किनकि बहुमतप्राप्त सरकार बालुवाटारभित्रै हरायो । माइतीघरका युवाहरू मात्र होइन, नेपालमा आज धेरैको जिज्ञासा एउटै हुन्छ, बहुमतप्राप्त स्थिर सरकार कता हरायो ?
पछिल्लो करिब पाँच महिनादेखि कोभिड–१९ को महामारी र अझ पछिल्ला साताहरूमा बाढीपहिरोको आतंकले अर्थतन्त्रलाई आहत बनाएको मान्ने हो भने पनि त्यसभन्दा अघि सरकार के गर्दै थियो ? प्रश्न सोध्न निषेध छ । मानौं, प्रश्न सोध्नु हतियार उठाएर क्रान्ति गर्नुभन्दा खतरा हो । प्रश्नले राष्ट्रियता, सार्वभौमसत्ता तथा राष्ट्रिय एकतामा गम्भीर असर पार्छ । देशमा गरिबी बढोस्, बेरोजगारी बढोस्, अर्थतन्त्र तहसनहस होस् तर प्रश्न सोध्न पाइन्न । मन्त्रीहरूले करोडौं, अर्बौं भ्रष्टाचार गरून्, प्रश्न सोध्न पाइन्न । मानौं, भ्रष्टाचार गर्नु मन्त्रीहरूको जन्मसिद्ध अधिकार हो । उनीहरूले आजसम्म गरेको त्यागको ब्याजसहित उठाउन पनि मन्त्रीहरूले भ्रष्टाचार गर्नैपर्छ । मन्त्रीको भ्रष्टाचारको फड्के किनारको साक्षी बस्न बनाइएको एउटा बुख्याचा छ — अख्तियार, जो २०–३० हजारका भ्रष्टाचारमात्र देख्छ ।  प्रधानमन्त्री भ्रष्टाचारको मुखै हेर्दिन भन्छन् र गम्लंग अंगाले मारेर बस्छन् ।
यता, सरकारका लागि अर्थतन्त्र भनेको कर्मचारीले तलब खाने, राजनीतिक दलले चुनाव लड्न तथा विदेश घुम्न चाहिने खर्चबर्च ब्यापारीले बहन गरिदिने तथा आफ्ना कार्यकर्तालाई जागिर खुवाउनु मात्र हो भन्ने बुझाई छ । आफ्ना कार्याकर्तांले काम नगरिकनै तर्साएर, धम्काएर भए पनि पैसा कमाउनु अर्थतन्त्र हो, बाँकी उद्योग चलाउने, रोजगारी सिर्जना गर्ने वा औपचारिक आयबाट कर तिर्ने भनेका मूर्ख हुन्, सरकार नेपाली समाजमा आर्थिक क्रान्तिको नयाँ भाष्य स्थापना गर्न उद्यत छ । नेपालमा सबैभन्दा फाइदा हुने ब्यवसाय राजनीति हो । धेरैभन्दा धेरै राजनीतिक दल खोलौं, यसमा आय–व्ययको हिसाब पनि लटरपटर गरे हुन्छ, कर पनि तिर्नु पर्दैन र शतप्रतिशत नाफामात्र छ । तर, प्रधानमन्त्रीको बहुचर्चित सपना ‘सुखी नेपाली ः समृद्ध नेपाल’ बनाउने हो भने त सबल एवं आत्मनिर्भर अर्थतन्त्र बनाउनुको विकल्प छैन । सबल एवं आत्मनिर्भर अर्थतन्त्र नबनिकन रत्नपार्कमा टायर बालेकै भरमा राष्ट्रिय स्वाधीनता र सार्वभौमसत्ता जोगिँदैन पनि, किनकि अन्त्यमा फेरि ‘इट्स इकोनोमी स्टुपिड’ । 

Anti-graft body wants to investigate corruption in private sector

The anti-graft body has again asked the government to allow it to probe the private sector, though the constitutional body has been blamed for arresting only ‘small fishes’ leaving the corrupt-sharks Scot free.
Speaking during an interaction on the annual report of the commission at the Parliamentary Committee on Good Governance today, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has said that it should be allowed to investigate the corruption cases of the private sector. “The commission should be authorised to investigate the corruption cases in the private sector that are directly concerned with the public,” secretary at the CIAA Suresh Adhikari said. “The investigations into the irregularities in banks and financial institutions (BFIs) – where the public has a huge investment – should be under the domain of the CIAA,” he claimed, adding that the CIAA should have the authority to look into the corruption in the cooperatives, banks and financial institutions. “We are not talking about all private institutions.”
The private sector, however, is against the CIAA demand. They have met with the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and complained about the government’s proposed bill that is going to give the CIAA extra teeth to bite private sector also. The premier has then halted the bill for the time being.
The participating lawmakers have, however, blamed the CIAA for not taking action on bid corruption cases and focusing on the small cases only. “The trend of political appointment in the CIAA has helped corruption flourish in the country,” lawmaker Bijay Subba said, arguing that the rate of corruption can be significantly brought down, if the system of political appointment to the public posts is not practiced. “Political pressure is a key factor to escalate corruption.”
The lawmakers, on the occasion, also blamed the CIAA for its failure in controlling the cases of corruption at the local level. Questioning the system of political appointment of the CIAA chief and other commissioners, the lawmakers concluded that there is no meaning of complaining about the commission unless it is free from politics.
“The poor can never be corrupt, however, those who hold power and post are highly indulged in abusing their authority,” another lawmaker Janardan Sharma said, accepting that the political sector has turned out to be the most corrupt one.
According to the annual report presented by the CIAA, most corruption complaints were related to local governments in the last fiscal year 2019-20. “Of the total complaints filed at the CIAA, some 26.87 per cent are related to irregularities at the local level, while some 16.95 per cent cases are related to the education sector followed by 8.34 per cent in land administration, some 4.6 per cent in forest and environment and 3.98 per cent in health and population. “Likewise, some 8.53 per cent cases registered in the last fiscal year were related to fake credentials and 7.61 per cent to acquiring property illegally.”
Though the commission claimed that it has registered a record cases in the last fiscal year, most of them are petty corruptions. The incumbent cabinet ministers have been allegedly involved in the large corruption cases, and the parliamentary committees are also investigating the charges, but the CIAA has not been interested to investigate them, the lawmakers also blamed.  

Gold price hits new record high of Rs 96,300 per tola

Gold price hit a new record high of Rs 96,300 per tola (11.664 grams) with the increasing price in the international market due to worsening US-China row. The dispute is feared over the hit to a global economy already reeling through the coronavirus pandemic.
The Federation of Nepal Gold and Silver Dealers' Association (Fenegosida), which fixes the price of precious metals in the domestic market, hiked the price of gold by Rs 500 per tola today to set a new record high. The precious yellow metal – in the last five months – has become expensive by Rs 17,500 per tola, an increase of over Rs 3000 per months, the association said, adding that the price on February 24 – a month before Nepal imposed nationwide lockdown – stood at a record high of Rs 78,800 per tola.
The soaring price of gold in the international market is attributed to the investors resorting to the precious metal as a safe landing following the dwindling global economy by the impact of coronavirus and the deepening tension between two giant economies; the US and China.
The price of precious metals in the international market and the exchange rate of US dollar against the Nepali Rupee are the two reasons behind the price revision in the domestic market. Apart from the two reasons, gold price is further affected by the government’s decision to hike the duty through the budget for the current fiscal year 2020-21. The government has increased the customs duty on gold import by Rs 2,000 to Rs 8,500 per 10 grams and silver by Rs 1,000 per kilogram to Rs 8,500.
The the precious metal price increased by 5 per cent in the last week alone, the largest weekly gain in gold price since 2011, according to the international media. “The gold price hovers around $1,906 per ounce in the international market.”
Along with precious yellow metal, silver has also set a record high price of Rs 1,155 per tola in the domestic market. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ease restrictions on domestic flights: Airliners

Airline Operators Association of Nepal (AOAN) has today requested the government to lift restrictions on domestic flights immediately to help rescue flood and landslide victims.
The government has – last week – announced to resume both domestic and international flights from August 17, but the association has issuing a press note – in the wake of recent floods and landslides – requested the government to resume domestic flights immediately. “Floods and landslides have damaged highways across the country making it hard for people to travel,” the press note reads, adding that the rescue and relief cargo flights need to operate. “Thus, the association requests the government to allow airline operators to operate non-scheduled regular flights for the convenience of people.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), in coordination with the association, has prepared Covid-19 prevention guideline to resume flights. Thus, the association claimed that there wouldn’t be any problem resuming flights immediately.
The rescue and relief flights have been affected due to flight restrictions, the press note reads, asking the the government to allow airlines to operate flights. “The emergency flight operations will also help airliners prepare for the resumption of regular commercial flights.”
The airliners have also pledged to provide flight services as per the airfare set by the government.
Currently, few airlines are operating repatriation, rescue and cargo flights with special permission from the Foreign Ministry and CAAN..

Friday, July 24, 2020

Himalaya Airlines to operate two repatriation flights to Kunming

Himalaya Airlines is operating two repatriation flights to Kunming of China on July 31.
The company – issuing a press note today – said that it is carrying out the repatriation flights to bring back Nepalis, who are stranded in Kunming of China due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has permitted and authorised the airliner to carry out repatriation flights to Kunming, the press note reads, adding that two aircraft will be sent to China to bring Nepalis, who want to return Nepal. “The passengers will be allowed to bring 30-kg check-in baggage and 7-kg hand carry.”
The airliner has fixed $445 fare for the respective flights.
Meanwhile, the airline company said that it will operate the flights only, if the aircraft has 85 per cent occupancy. All passengers are required to present proof that their PCR or RDT test is negative at the time of the booking, the press note reads, adding that the passengers will have to mandatorily stay in quarantine upon arrival as per the rules enforced by the government.
The airline has evacuated Nepalis stranded abroad since the government announced the guidelines to bring back Nepalis wanting to come back home. Covid-19 has left many Nepali migrant workers jobless abroad including in China. Though the government has been repatriating stranded Nepalis from different countries through special charter flights, Nepal is resuming regular aviation service – both domestic and international flights – from August 17. The government had suspended all domestic and international flights from March 22 to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the country. 

Himalaya Airlines continues its support to fight against Covid-19

As part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment to support the government’s ongoing efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, Himalaya Airlines last week donated a portable ventilator and other medical items to AMDA Hospital of Damak in Jhapa and a PCR machine to Covid-19 Control Management Centre (CCMC) Gulmi.
Himalaya Airlines – last Saturday on July 19 – donated a PCR (NAE-32, ICTOB-16) machine and other essential medical supplies: 51200 disposable medical masks, 606 medical face shields, 575 medical goggles, 40 medical infrared thermometers, 35 pairs of protective boots and 5000 pairs of disposable gloves to Covid-19 Control Management Centre (CCMC) Gulmi, according to a press note of the airlines. ”The donation was handed over jointly by foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and vice president of Himalaya Airlines Vijay Shrestha, in Gulmi in the premises of CCMC to the Mayor of Resunga Municipality Dilli Raj Bhusal.
“Any amount of medical supplies is not enough at this time of crisis, we are thankful to Himalaya Airlines for their abiding support at the time when then the nation along with whole world is going through the difficult phase,” foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said, speaking on the occasion. “These critical supplies are very timely,” he said, adding that their use will help protect our health workers, who are at the frontlines working tirelessly to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“Himalaya Airlines is proud to continue its support with the government in its efforts to contain Covid-19,” vice president of the airlines Vijay Shrestha said. “In this difficult period, it is our civic duty to support the government,” he said, adding that the donated PPE supplies reiterate Himalaya’s long-term commitment to serve beyond the call of our duty and help the nation in every possible way.
Continuing the support – today – president of Himalaya Airlines Zhou Enyong handed over a portable ventilator along with500 RDT Kits, 100 PPE sets, 500 N-95 masks, 2000 pairs of surgical masks, 5000 pairs of disposable gloves and 5 infrared thermometers to AMDA Hospital of Damak in Jhapa, where principal private secretary of Prime Minister Indra Bhandari thanked Himalaya Airlines, while receiving the donated PPE materials on behalf of the hospital.
“Our consistent commitment and business value is first of all, to serve and make contribution to the country and society,” Zhou Enyong remarked, speaking on the occasion. “During the pandemic, though the airline itself is going through a crucial phase, facing many difficulties; we have made our best efforts to contribute in various ways, be it with donating funds or medical supplies or by operating Cargo flights for critical supplies and repatriation flights to various destinations for the stranded citizens of the country without any employee layoffs,” he added.
Since the beginning of the deadly pandemic, Himalaya Airlines has been continuously striving to support the nation in many ways; apart from the contribution of 10 million to government’s Covid-19 Fund, the Airlines has till date operated 24 charter flights to bring in total of 177 tonnes of critical medical supplies and has successfully operated 63 Repatriation flights to bring back home 10140 stranded Nepalis safely maintaining all Covid-19 safety protocols.

UN launches call for research proposals on evidence-based financial solutions for women entrepreneurs in Asia-Pacific

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has launched a call for research proposals which will provide up to $25,000 in funding to a maximum of six proposals, to undertake human centered design inspired research. The research should explore the nuanced challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in accessing financing at different stages of their enterprise journey and offer solutions to those challenges, it said, adding that the objective of the applied research is to identify innovative financial solutions that can be developed or tailored to best address the needs and demands of women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and, or Viet Nam. “ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship initiative, with financial support from the government of Canada, works to create an enabling entrepreneurial ecosystem for women.”
The research findings through the initiative will be used to inform the design of market-based solutions that enhance different groups of women entrepreneurs’ access and use of financial services. The research findings should also inspire replication of proposed solutions in other markets, it added.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

JICA Nepal signs grant assistance for Education

JICA Nepal today signed grant assistance agreements for the School Sector Development Programme (SSDP) as the Government of Japan extended grant assistance of 300 million Japanese yen (approximately Rs 335million) to Nepal for the 5th year of the ‘School Sector Development Programme (SSDP).
Japanese ambassador to Nepal Masamichi Saigo and finance secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana – on behalf of their respective governments – signed and did the Exchange of Notes (E/N) for the assistance. Pn the same occasion, the grant agreements for the SSDP were signed and exchanged between joint secretary at the Finance Ministry Shreekrishna Nepal and chief representative of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Nepal Yumiko Asakuma.
The SSDP started implementation from July 2016 aims at consolidating gains from previous reform programmes and continue crucial reforms needed in the school education sector through the SWAp modality. The overarching mission of the SSDP is to produce the needed human resources to elevate the country’s status from a least developed country by 2022 and to reach the goal of achieving the status of the level of the middle-income country by 2030.
Purpose of the SSDP is to improve the equity, quality, efficiency, governance and management of the education sector. SSDP focuses on capacity and knowledge enhancement of both students and teachers by developing relevant teaching and learning methods and materials that ensures quality development.  Lately, SSDP also focuses on strengthening school-level disaster management and resilience to develop school as a conflict free zone.
As present education policies and sector plan (SSDP) of Nepal target to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4: ‘Ensuring inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. It targets to ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality of education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes, while adhering to tackling disparities in remote area.
Development of Education sector in Nepal is one of JICA’s top priorities and it assures to continue its support to this sector for effective implementation and output. Considering the current situation of Covid-19 and its possible impacts to education sector, the government may explore necessary flexibility and develop a common understanding with all development partners to best utilise the available resources in addressing the emerging needs of the school education.

Nepal to grow at 2.1 per cent this fiscal year

Though, the government has claimed to grow economy at 7 per cent, the World Bank has estimated to grow it at a nominal 2.1 per cent in the current fiscal year. The World Bank has also decreased last fiscal year’s economic growth rate to 1.8 per cent, from its earlier projection of somewhere between 1.5 per cent and 2.8 per cent, against the Central Bureau of Statistics’ (CBS) estimation of 2.3 per cent.
Economic growth is estimated to contract sharply to 2.1 per cent in the fiscal year 2020-21 from the Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdown, despite efforts by the government to curb the economic fallout from the crisis, reads the World Bank’s latest Nepal Development Update (NDU). Transitioning the economy from the relief stage through to restructuring and resilient recovery requires a strategic approach to get the country back on a sustainable and inclusive growth path, it reads, adding that the economic activity in the tourism sector will remain weak and remittances inflows will be moderate. “Supply chain disruptions will keep industrial and agricultural production low.”
Likewise, low economic activity and oil prices will also keep imports low and below the pre-crisis levels, leading to a projected narrowing of the current account deficit to 6.5 per cent of GDP, it adds. “Lower imports will continue to limit revenue collection.”
However, fiscal measures announced as part of the fiscal year fiscal year 2020-21 budget, including a revision of custom duties, will provide some support to the budget as spending levels on relief and recovery efforts remain elevated. “Taken together, the fiscal deficit is projected to marginally decline to 6.6 per cent of GDP in fiscal year 2020-21,” it adds.
While the government has adopted various relief measures to contain the pandemic, reduce the impact on households and provide economic support to the most vulnerable firms, the report highlights the importance of reforms to support a resilient recovery.
“For a resilient recovery and inclusive growth, economic support measures to firms and workers in the informal sector will be important,” World Bank senior economist and author of the update Dr Kene Ezemenari said, adding that incentives to agribusiness-based and forest-based SMEs, with a focus on returnee migrants and youths, could help increase employment and food security. “Inclusive growth could be further promoted through entrepreneurship support programmes and grants to small and medium enterprises.”
The report also outlines four pillars in the areas of health, social support, economic support and cross-cutting priorities including fiscal sustainability and focus on digital and green economies. This includes measures to strengthen the health system and scale up social protection systems, including the adoption of a social registry to make these systems more resilient against future shocks. Enhanced school sanitation and health protocols including health screening, water and sanitation facilities would be needed to enable a return to schooling for children.
“In the rapidly unfolding global scenario brought by Covid-19, insights from the Nepal Development Update on Nepal’s outlook, challenges and way forward is very helpful,” finance minister Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada said, after launching the report.
Claiming that the government will achieve the target of 7 per cent economic growth for the current fiscal year, he painted the rosy picture of economy, though the economy has shattered due to the lackdown imposed by the government – to contain Covid-19 spread – from March 24. The service sector that has more than 50 per cent contribution to the economy has bleed red due to the lockdown, which has also pushed a sizable number of population into the poverty trap.
The finance minister, however, boosted that the exports have grown and imports have dropped in the last fiscal year. He also claimed that the government has been successful in budget implementation in the last fiscal year, though the government has transferred money from various funds to meet the revenue target. “We need to address the crisis with macroeconomic and sectoral policy focused on fiscal sustainability, financial sector stability, a digitally-oriented green economy and resilient public services,” he said, appreciating the rapid action taken by the development partners including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IMF and others for providing Nepal with tangible resources and support to maintain our fiscal balance and accelerate growth and inclusive development.
Expansionary fiscal and monetary policies will be important in the initial relief stage to support banking sector liquidity and provide relief to households and firms. From restructuring through to resilience, expansionary and monetary policies will help pave the way for strengthening financial sector stability in the long run while also building resilient public services and green growth through sustainable and resilient infrastructure, strengthened solid waste management and air and water pollution control.
Related investments and reforms would be critical to expand coverage of digital services and infrastructure to support e-services and help promote e-commerce. It would also help expand the reach and coverage of mobile banking and digital financial services to underpin development of e-commerce. However, digitisation is also limited across the economy. “Addressing this will require removal of access restrictions to any under-utilised fiber optic backbone managed by the governments and public utilities and the introduction of appropriate rules to manage conditions of access, capacity allocation, and access pricing,” he said, “This would also help expand access in rural and remote areas.”
For Nepal to emerge stronger from the crisis, it is important to adapt quickly to the new reality,” World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos said, adding that the World Bank is encouraged to note the early start made by the government with the development of Nepal’s Relief, Restructuring and Resilience plan and are committed to work together with multilateral development banks and development partners in helping the country build back greener and better.

Temporary basic income to protect the world's poorest people could slow the surge in Covid-19 cases: UNDP

The immediate introduction of a Temporary Basic Income (TBI) for the world’s poorest people could slow the current surge in Covid-19 cases by enabling nearly three billion people to stay at home, according to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report released today.
The report, ‘Temporary Basic Income: Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People in Developing Countries,’ estimates that it would cost from $199 billion per month to provide a time-bound, guaranteed basic income to the 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line in 132 developing countries.
The report concludes that the measure is feasible and urgently needed, with the pandemic now spreading at a rate of more than 1.5 million new cases per week, particularly in developing countries, where seven out of ten workers make a living through informal markets and cannot earn money, if they are at home.
Many of the huge numbers of people not covered by social insurance programmes are informal workers, low-waged, women and young people, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities; and they are the ones hardest hit by this crisis. UNDP has carried out assessments on the socio-economic effects of Covid-19 in more than 60 countries in the past few months and the evidence shows that workers, who are not covered by social protection cannot stay at home without an income.
A Temporary Basic Income (TBI) would give them the means to buy food and pay for health and education expenses. It is also financially within reach: a six-month Temporary Basic Income, for example, would require just 12 per cent of the total financial response to Covid-19 expected in 2020, or the equivalent of one-third of what developing countries owe in external debt payments in 2020.
“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented social and economic measures,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said, adding that introducing a TBI for the world’s poorest people has emerged as one option. “This might have seemed impossible just a few months ago.”
“Bailouts and recovery plans cannot only focus on big markets and big business, he said. “A Temporary Basic Income might enable governments to give people in lockdown a financial lifeline, inject cash back into local economies to help keep small businesses afloat, and slow the devastating spread of Covid-19.”
A Temporary Basic Income is not a silver bullet solution to the economic hardship this pandemic has brought, however, protecting jobs, expanding support to micro, small and medium enterprises, and using digital solutions to identify and access people who are excluded, are all measures that countries can take.
One way for countries to pay for a Temporary Basic Income would be to repurpose the funds they would use this year to service their debt. Developing and emerging economies will spend $3.1 trillion in debt repayment this year, according to official data. A comprehensive debt standstill for all developing countries, as called for by the UN secretary-general, would allow countries to temporarily repurpose these funds into emergency measures to combat the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
Several countries have already taken steps to introduce Temporary Basic Incomes, the UNDP report reads, adding that the government of Togo has distributed over $19.5 million in monthly financial aid to over 12 per cent of the population through its cash transfer programme, mostly to women, who work in the informal sector. “Spain recently approved a monthly budget of €250 million to top up the incomes of 850,000 vulnerable families and 2.3 million individuals up to a minimum threshold.”
Covid-19 has exacerbated existing global and national inequalities and has created new disparities that are hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest. With up to 100 million more people being pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, some 1.4 billion children affected by school closures, and record-level unemployment and loss of livelihoods, UNDP predicts that global human development is on course to decline this year for the first time since the concept was introduced.
UNDP is the socio-economic lead for the UN system on Covid-19 recovery and is implementing social and economic recovery strategies in countries across the world.

Japan extends grant for School Sector Development Programme

The government of Japan has extended grant assistance of up to 300 million Japanese Yen (¥300,000,000), equivalent to Rs 335 million to Nepal for implementing the School Sector Development Programme (SSDP).
Japanese ambassador to Nepal Saigo Masamichi and finance secretary Sishir Kumar Dhungana signed notes to this effect today at the Finance Ministry.
Another set of grant agreements for implementing the programme were also signed by chief representative of JICA Nepal Asakuma Yumiko and joint secretary at the International Economic Cooperation and Coordination Division under Finance Ministry Shreekrishna Nepal, according to a press note issued by the Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu.
Education is an investment in human capital and the foundation of a nation's sustainable social and economic development, the press note reads, adding that the vision of SSDP is to contribute to the development of self-sustainable, competitive, innovative and value oriented citizens for the socio-economic transformation of the nation.
SSDP is considered as an important vessel for Nepal's school education. As such it will produce the needed human resources to elevate Nepal's status from a Least Developed Country (LDC) by 2022 and reach the status of a middle-income country by 2030. Ambassador Saigo hopes that the programme will improve the equity, quality, efficiency, governance, management and resilience of the education sector.
He also pointed out that the Covid-19 outbreak has made the situation difficult for both countries. The pandemic has had serious impacts on students' learning and well-being, he said, adding that with regard to this, the schools have incorporated innovative technologies (eg digital and mobile technologies combined with traditional technologies such as radio and television) in order to provide continuous education.
In view of this, ambassador Saigo hopes that even during this pandemic, the country will take up the challenge to ensure that children and their education will help to contribute to a more prosperous Nepal in the future. The Embassy of Japan in Kathmandu – in the press note – also said that it is confident that the objectives envisaged by the project will be achieved, and will contribute towards further strengthening the relationship, friendship and cooperation between the peoples of Japan and Nepal.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

South Asia flood sweeps 9.6 million people as humanitarian crisis deepens

A humanitarian crisis is deepening in South Asia as new figures reveal that more than 9.6 million people have been affected by monsoon floods, devastating large areas of India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
“Millions of people across Bangladesh, India and Nepal have been marooned, their homes damaged and crops destroyed by floods that are the worst in recent years,” International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) secretary general Jagan Chapagain said, adding that every year there are monsoon floods, but this year is different as it comes at the height of a deadly Covid-19 global pandemic. “Tragically, already 550 people have lost their lives and more than 9.6 million people have been swamped across South Asia.”
Close to one third of Bangladesh has already been flooded with forecasts of worse flooding in the coming days. More than 2.8 million people have been affected, including close to 1 million who remain isolated and surrounded by floodwaters, according to the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
In India, more than 6.8 million people have been affected by severe floods, mainly in the northern states of Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Meghalaya bordering Bangladesh, according to the Indian National Emergency Response Centre.
Likewise, in Nepal, flooding and landslides have already killed close to 110 people. Across India, Bangladesh and Nepal, 550 have died according to government figures. Millions have been displaced from their homes.
“People in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are sandwiched in a triple disaster of flooding, the coronavirus and an associated socioeconomic crisis of loss of livelihoods and jobs,” Chapagain said, adding that flooding of farm lands and destruction of crops can push millions of people, already badly impacted by the Covid-19, further into poverty.
IFRC has released more than 800,000 Swiss francs ($850,000) to support Bangladesh Red Crescent relief activities, including more than 230,000 Swiss francs released last month when flood forecasts signaled the extent of the potential impact.
Volunteers in India, Bangladesh and Nepal are helping with shelter, providing tarpaulins, dry food and hygiene kits, and installing pumps for safe water. In Bangladesh, Red Crescent teams have distributed cash grants to help more than 35,000 people cope with the flooding. In India, over 9,200 tarpaulins have been distributed to most at-risk families, and in Nepal, Red Cross teams are airlifting relief supplies to communities that cannot be reached by road.
Many communities in Bangladesh and India are still recovering after Cyclone Amphan damaged or destroyed more than 260,000 homes, crops and infrastructure, two months ago.

ADB, GCF commit to partnership to boost green recovery from Covid-19

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) have agreed to partner toward a ‘green recovery’ for members confronting the harsh economic impact of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
ADB president Masatsugu Asakawa met today with GCF executive director Yannick Glemarec to explore opportunities for a pathway of low-carbon and climate-resilient development for ADB members in Asia and the Pacific hit hard by the health crisis. They agreed to strengthen collaboration on nonsovereign operations while ensuring GCF’s processes are as flexible as possible to foster at-scale financing.
“ADB is committed to helping our members build a ‘green recovery’, and we stand ready to broaden our collaboration with development partners like GCF,” Asakawa said, adding that the decisions they make now will create systems, institutions, and assets, and define development directions that will last well into the future.
Under Strategy 2030, ADB will ensure that 75 per cent of its committed projects will support climate change mitigation and adaptation by 2030. Climate finance from ADB’s own resources will reach $80 billion cumulatively from 2019 to 2030. In 2019, ADB committed more than $6.5 billion in climate financing. Concessional financing from partners will also be crucial for helping ADB’s members meet their climate goals.                             
GCF has approved total funding of $473 million for 10 ADB projects – making ADB the fourth-largest accredited entity of GCF – and Asakawa and Glemarec discussed potential areas for leveraging GCF cofinancing in the near term for the benefit of ADB’s developing members.
ADB’s support for developing members to cope with, and recover from, the impact of Covid-19 includes an enhanced support package of $20 billion, announced on April 13.
ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members, 49 from the region.

Complaint against health minister Dhakal filed at CIAA

Some activists today filed a complaint against minister for Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal at the anti-corruption watch-dog.
‘Enough is Enough’ campaigners have registered a complaint against Dhakal and some other government officials at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) for their allegedly involvement in embezzling state funds while procuring medical equipment amid the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the complaint registered at the CIAA today afternoon, they have demanded an investigation into the alleged corruption in the medical equipment procurement.
They have also sought investigation against secretary at the Ministry of Health Laxman Aryal, director general at the Department of Health Dipendra Raman Singh, owner of the Omni Group Durga Prasad Belwase, Bhanu Bhakta Bhattarai and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Omni Group Tulhari Singh Bhusal.
In their complaint, the activists have categorically claimed that the alleged corruption took place in collusion with deputy prime minister Ishwar Pokharel, Prime Minister's chief political advisor Bishnu Rimal, former health secretary Yadav Koirala and former director general of the Department of Health Mahendra Shrestha. Incumbent secretary Aryal has been transferred to the Health Ministry after the infamous Omni-episode that has
Earlier, ‘Enough is Enough’ campaigners had sought information from the Health Ministry regarding the government's expenses in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic by using the Right to Information (RTI).
The government had bypassed minimum quotation and purchased medical equipment and kits at high rate from Omni Group raising many eyebrows and made the entire procurement process suspicious. Likewise, it was revealed that coronavirus test kits worth almost Rs 70 million that the government purchased from China did not meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
After pressure from public, the Public Procurement Monitoring Office has sought clarification from Omni Group as to why it should not be blacklisted, as recommended by the Department of Health Services, for the alleged irregularities in the procurement and supply of medical goods for the Covid-19 emergency.
One month ago, on June 23 the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has opened a formal investigation into alleged corruption over allegations that government officials procured essential medicines and health products at inflated prices, taking undue advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the mini parliament’s probe has not moved ahead since a month as the government of KP Sharma Oli has been protecting corrupt ministers including health minister Dhakal.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Central bank lowers refinancing loan limit

The central bank has reduced the maximum limit of refinancing loans that businesses can take from refinancing facility through banks and financial institutions (BFIs) to Rs 50 million per individual, and per business.
Issuing a ‘Refinancing Guidelines’ today, the central bank lowered the maximum limit of refinancing facility to businesses and individuals from Rs 500 million to Rs 50 million to ensure that more businesses have access to the subsidised loan facility. More the businesses get this facility to cope with the impact of coronavirus pandemic, faster the economy can bounce back, according to the central bank. “The businesses and individuals can now borrow Rs 50 million refinancing loans from BFIs at low interest rate of up to five per cent.”
The provision that compels every bank branch to release at least five subsidised loans and bring down the limit of such loan to borrowers will help more borrowers to access the refinancing loan facility, the guidelines reads, adding that the businesses can get up to Rs 200 million refinancing loan at five per cent interest rate from the central bank’s refinancing fund.
Earlier, the central bank had prepared a draft of the Refinancing Guidelines and brought down the limit of refinancing loan for individual and businesses to Rs 100 million. But the central bank – after the Monetary Policy for the current fiscal year – has further reduced the limit to Rs 50 million to ensure access to maximum number of businesses and people. “Refinancing loan that businesses acquire from BFIs and central bank will have maximum maturity period of one year with no renewal condition,” it reads.
The BFIs should give Covid -affected businesses top priority, when issuing such loans, while people with low income and those from marginalised sections should be given priority, the guidelines further reads, adding that small and medium enterprises (SMEs), industries that use domestic raw materials and those contributing to substitute import should also be considered eligible for such loans.
The central bank can float up to Rs 200 billion refinancing loan in the market as per necessity. Likewise, some 70 per cent resources of the refinancing fund will be mobilised through BFIs, though central bank itself had been mobilising refinancing fund.
The new provision, however, bars firms with return on equity (RoE) of more than 20 per cent annually from such refinancing loan facility. Industries related to tobacco and liquor are also barred from such refinancing loan facility from the central bank and BFIs.

Nepal lifts coronavirus lockdown from tonight

After 120 days, the government has lifted the lockdown – which was imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 (coronavirus) – from Tuesday midnight.
The government had imposed lockdown from March 24 and revised in various stages, which has led to an almost complete halt in economic and social activities bleeding the economy red.
Spokesperson of the government, minister for Communication and Information Technology Dr Yuba Raj Khatiwada confirmed that the government has decided to lift the lockdown with some sectors still under restrictions. “The educational institutions will remain closed until further decision, though admissions for new sessions will start from August 17.”
Likewise, the government has also decided to allow the hotels and restaurants to resume their businesses and services. “They can open from July 30,” he said, adding that holding feasts with large crowds, however, will not be allowed. “Businesses related to travel, tourism, trekking and mountaineering will, however, resume services from July 30.”
“A meeting of the Council of Ministers yesterday had decided to lift temporary ban on all international and domestic flights in the country,” he said, adding that the cabinet has also lifted ban on long-haul transport services, which will also resume from August 17. The short-distance transportation and movement of private vehicles – with odd and even number – has already resumed after the last revision.
With the resumption of both domestic and international flights starting from August 17, the government has also directed the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation to prepare safety protocol.
According to the ministry, the tourism industry that incurred a loss of over Rs 10 billion a month during the Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown. “The ministry will first finalise safety protocols by holding consultations with stakeholders concerned,” according to tourism secretary Kedar Bahadur Adhikari.
“The flights will be resumed in three phases,” he said, adding, “In the first phase, flights will be operated to the destinations that are less affected by Covid-19.” After that, flights will be operated to other destinations in the second and third phases. During the first phase of flight resumption, the airline companies will not be allowed to operate all their aircraft at once. “Permission to operate aircraft will be given based on the destination and the number of passengers,” he said, adding that the ministry will coordinate with the Ministry of Health and Population for safety of the passengers travelling through commercial flights, if any health issue arises.
The Ministry of Health and Population is also going to prepare a new guidelines on handling of the arriving air passengers after August 17. “All passengers, who plan to arrive Nepal on charter or repatriation flights until August 16 should go to quarantine centres,” Adhikari said, adding that passengers of the scheduled commercial flights must also show their PCR report to enter Nepal thereafter. “The passengers of the scheduled international flights might also be ordered to go for self-quarantine even after producing the PCR test report.”
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) and the airlines companies are also preparing standard operating procedures to resume domestic and international flights.
Once the commercial flights start operating, the Department of Tourism is also planning to issue climbing permits for the autumn season. The department has already started preparing necessary guidelines – with Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) for agencies – for climbers and trekkers, who plan to visit Nepal after August 17.

AI condemns enforced eviction of indigenous Chepang families by Chitwan National Park

Amnesty International Nepal (AI-Nepal) has condemned the forcible eviction of indigenous Chepang families from their settlement by the Chitwan National Park authority on Saturday.
Issuing a press note today, the human rights group has also asked the authorities concerned to stop enforced eviction of indigenous Chepang people from their settlements and ensure those involved in destroying their houses are held accountable.
On Saturday, workers from the Chitwan National Park set two houses ablaze and destroyed eight others using elephants with the intention of evicting the Chepang families, who have been living in Kusumkhola, an area that falls under the park’s territory. Ten families were rendered homeless in the incident. They also lost their identification documents, money and other possessions in the incident.
The park’s move to evict the landless Chepang families by means of arson and vandalism, especially when the country is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the monsoon-related disasters, has drawn widespread criticism, the press note reads, adding that this is the second attack on the indigenous people perpetrated in the span of two months. In June, according to AI, the Bardiya National Park authority had attempted to forcibly evict members of the landless Tharu community from their settlements.
“Forcing anyone from their homes is an act of cruelty,” director of Amnesty International Nepal Nirajan Thapaliya, said, adding that to do so with the use of arson and charging elephants, risking lives and destroying the few possessions of an already marginalised community, is unconscionable and a human rights violation. “The Chepang community must be protected.”
Any further attempts to force them out of their homes must be stopped, he said, adding, “The people who have been forcibly evicted must be given effective remedy, including adequate alternative housing and compensation.”
Furthermore, the perpetrators responsible for these forced evictions should be held accountable for their actions, the AI press note reads.
The members of the Chepang community, who lost their homes are now in temporary accommodation in a school hostel nearby, and fear that other members of their community living near the Chitwan National Park could also suffer the same fate, the press note reads.
Indigenous Chepang communities depend on subsistence farming, without having access to their own land. Nepal’s laws, which fail to meet international standards, currently only protect people living ‘on land that they own’ and fail to ensure adequate safeguards against forced evictions of people, who do not have ownership titles.
“No one should be subjected to forced evictions,” Thapaliya said, adding that it is appalling that during a pandemic and ongoing rainy season, when having a home is critical to keeping oneself safe, Nepal’s authorities have chosen to dispossess some of the most marginalised people and make them homeless.”

Monday, July 20, 2020

International, domestic flights to resume from August 17

The government has decided to resume international and domestic flights operation from August 17.
A cabinet meeting held at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Baluwatar today took the decision to resume the flights that have been halted since March 22.
According to tourism minister Yogesh Bhattarai, the cabinet meeting endorsed the proposal forwarded by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA). “The cabinet has also directed the ministry to prepare a detailed safety guideline to resume the flights as the threat of coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to remain in the country,” he said, adding that the cabinet meeting has decided to resume all regular commercial flights. “
The government had decided to suspend all domestic and international flights on March 22 to contain the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19). However, the government has started chartered rescue flights – with safety protocol – to evacuate Nepalis stranded in foreign lands.
Currently, Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) and Himalaya Airlines, apart from some international airliners, have been operating chartered flights with safety protocol.

Government, World Bank launch Youth Employment and Transformation Initiative Project

The ‘Youth Employment Transformation Initiative’ project has been jointly launched by minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security Rameshwor Raya Yadav and World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos.
Financed by the World Bank to promote domestic employment, the project will enable poor and vulnerable youth gain access to employment, skills development and capacity building opportunities, according to a press note issued today by the multilateral development partner. Aligned with the Prime Minister Employment Programme, the $120 million project will be implemented over the next four years with a focus on improving employment services and labour market outcomes, especially for youth.
“With the onset of Covid-19 and the subsequent contraction of the global job market, Nepal’s labour market is also affected with a huge number of job losses. “In this context, result-driven implementation of the project at all three levels of the government is of critical importance,” minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security Yadav said, adding that the project plays a crucial role to expand the employment opportunities in the domestic labour market and to set up an automated system of Labour Information Bank and upgrade the Employment Management Information System by consolidating basic labour market information such as profile of the unemployed persons including knowledge, skills, experience and the potential sector for employment along with the demand and supply aspects of the labor market.
“In addition to the longer term goals of the project, as part of the World Bank’s Covid-19 response, the project funding is being frontloaded this year to support over 75,000 of the most vulnerable unemployed youth at the local level to earn 100 days of wages each through the creation of temporary employment opportunities in the maintenance and upgrading of public infrastructure,” Hadad-Zervos said, adding that working with the government, development partners and the private sector, the World Bank will seek to contribute to a long thread of engagements that align to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable people.
The project agreement was signed in November 2019 by the government (Finance Ministry) and the World Bank. Of the $120 million credit, about 90 per cent is allocated to the local levels to create jobs in the maintenance and upgrading of public infrastructure and public services for 100,000 unemployed youth, 60 per cent of whom will be women as per the project’s priority to inclusion. The project will support 753 Employment Service Centers at the local levels to strengthen the workforce and to provide services in registration, profiling, referral, temporary work placement and on-the-job training.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hoteliers to pay staff from Rs 4000 to Rs 10,000 wages

The hotel and hospitality sector staff will get their minimum wages – from Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000 depending on the grading of hotel – for the lockdown period.
Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN) and three major trade unions – active in tourism and hospitality sector – sealed the deal ending a longstanding row over the workers’ salary for the lockdown period.
Since the government imposed lockdown on March 24, the hotels have been closed. AS the staff have not been working, the hoteliers have been saying that they will get paid some 12 per cent only. But the HAN today confirmed that the agreement – applicable for the period of April 13 to December 31 by considering that the situation caused by the pandemic coronavirus infection will last till 2020 – the staff will get paid from Rs 4,000 to 10,000 per month depending on the grading of the hotels, from star deluxe hotels to non-start hotels.
The staff working in the hotels having 200 plus rooms will get Rs 10,000 per month, whereas the workers of five-star hotels with less than 200 rooms will collect Rs 9,000 per month. Likewise, the staff of four-star hotels with 100 plus rooms would be given Rs 8,455 per month and Rs 8,000 to those workers employed in the four-star hotels with less than 100 rooms. “The staff of three-star hotels and resorts will get Rs 5,000 per month,” according to a press note issued by the HAN that has organised a press meet in Kathmandu today.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Central bank unveils expansionary Monetary Policy, containing inflation is a challenge

The central bank today unveiled please-all expansionary Monetary Policy for the current fiscal year 2020-21 aiming at rescuing the ailing economy that has been hit by the Covid-19 but faces a risk of failure of containing the inflation, one of the objectives of the Monetary Policy.
After being appointed governor of the central bank three months ago, Maha Prasad Adhikari unveiling his first Monetary Policy, claimed that the policy will help mitigate the economic effects of Covid-19 and help support businesses get back on their feet.
Though the budget failed to bring any rescue package to the economy, the private sector has been pinning its hope in Monetary Policy to kick start the stalled economic activities. However, the please-all policy has something for everyone and diverted from its main objectives. The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) – central bank of the country – brings Monetary Policy every year with three objectives – apart from supporting the fiscal policy – to contain inflation, maintain financial stability and money supply. But the provisions – in the policy for the current fiscal year – like deferring the loan and interest payment by up to two years is going to hurt the financial stability, whereas the excessive money supply to push economic growth rate to achieve 7 per cent target will create inflationary pressure. The Monetary Policy – following the fiscal policy – has claimed to contain the inflation under 7 per cent but the central bank has repeatedly failed to contain inflation in last couple of years. The domestic market has created up to seven layers, which has pushed the prices of the goods to unnatural high and is beyond the control of any monetary instruments.
Likewise, the decreasing interest rates on deposits will not only encourage capital flight from the country – creating another round of liquidity crunch in the financial system – but also the common people will not be encouraged to deposit in the banks and financial institutions (BFIs), though the private sector will find ‘cheap money ‘ to borrow. The cheap money will increase the risk of money going out of the banking channel and fuelling the informal economy.
According to the policy, facilities of bankers will also be reviewed while allowances are to be discouraged. The central bank has been keeping an eye on chief executive officers’ perks since long. The policy that has signaled to cap the chief executives salary and perks is against the free and competitive market norms, and encourage rent seeking mentality among the bankers rather than being competitive, which will definitely increase risk in the BFIs.
The policy has however, announces loads of packages for the economic revival through refinance. Though, the policy is mum on the size of the refinance package, the budget had announced to create Rs 100 billion refinance fund, apart from Rs 50 billion refinance fund for tourism and micro, small and medium enterprises that will provide loans at a 5 per cent interest rate for reviving the enterprises and paying staff salary.
Likewise, the Monetary Policy has – apart from relief and revival of various sectors affected by the coronavirus – also extended loan repayment deadline, provided refinance facility, extended grace period for infrastructure projects and targeted lending in productive sectors at cheaper rate. It has also encouraged mandatory lending to agriculture, micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and energy sectors. According to the new provision, the commercial banks – by mid-July 2023 – will now require to invest 15 per cent of their total loan portfolio in the agriculture sector, some 15 per cent to micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs); and 10 per cent to the hydropower sector by mid-July 2024. Likewise, the banks will be allowed to issue energy bond refinancing loan facility for SMEs at 2 per cent.
Currently, they need to extend 10 per cent loans to agriculture, 15 per cent to energy and tourism sectors but both targets have not been met so far, according to the central bank that has also opened the door for banks to issue energy and agriculture bonds which can also have investment from farmers and hydropower developers.
As part of providing relief, the Monetary Policy has also extended the deadline for paying loan instalments by six months, nine months, one year and two years, depending on the degree of impact on the particular sector as the central bank seeks to ease the pains on the businesses caused by the pandemic.
The previous installment and interest payment period of loans as of mid-July has now been extended till mid-December, while moratorium on loan, interest rate recovery has been extended till mid-December, Adhikari said, adding that the Monetary Policy promotes merger among BFIs. But the policy has, as expected, did not announce forced mergers, though it has offered some olive branches for those, who wants to go for merger or acquisitions. (M&A). The policy has announced to allow merged entities to collect 10 per cent more corporate deposits than the fixed cap. Likewise, the cooling period will not be applicable for promoters and chief executive officers of the merged entities.
Likewise, the Monetary Policy has revised credit to core-capital-cum-deposit (CCD) ratio for banks upwards to 85 per cent from existing 80 per cent to allow BFIs to enhance their lending capacity, though the change will not release any considerable amount. The increase in CCD – that is also considers the anchor of domestic financial sector stability – ratio limits until which the banks are allowed to issue the loans and advances. “The increase in CCD ratio by 5 percent is expected to release an extra Rs 183.3 billion in loans, considering total deposit of Rs 3,666.6 billion in the banking sector but it is not possible.
In a bid to help revive businesses hit hard by the coronavirus, the central bank has also made it mandatory for banks to disburse subsidised loans, which are available at five per cent. While commercial banks are required to disburse such loans to at least 500 borrowers or at least 10 such loans per bank branch, development banks have been compelled to float subsidised loans to at least 300 borrowers or at least to five borrowers per bank branch, whichever is more.
The policy has, however, halted issuance of new licences to finance companies while it has also capped interest rate on loans issued by such companies to 15 per cent or less.
Likewise, the BFIs are barred from charging excessive service fee. “While commercial banks can now take only 0.75 per cent service charge while issuing loans, development banks and finance companies can take only one per cent and 1.25 per cent service charge from borrowers, respectively,” the policy reads, adding that it has also barred the BFIs from charging fees on interbank ATM withdrawal – which the Nepal Bankers’ Association (NBA), Development Banks’ Association Nepal (DBAN) and Nepal Finance Institutions Association (NFIA) had officially decided to charge from July 16 – till Covid-19 crisis is over.
The policy has also announced to halt issuing licence to new digital payment service providers and scrap the licence of those service providers failing to expand their consumer base to 300,000 by mid-July next year and those that fail to conduct monthly transactions worth Rs 600,000 on an average.
The private sector, however, welcomed the measures in the policy. “Our demand was ‘3R’ – Reduce, Refinance and Restructure the loans – that the policy has largely addressed,” the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) said, adding that the policy has addressed most of its demands vis-a-vis rescue and revival of the businesses in the wake of Covid-19. “It has also introduced a policy to take care of small and medium enterprises, which have been badly affected by the pandemic.”
Likewise, has the primary opposition Nepali Congress has critically welcomed the policy that has permitted BFIs to extend further loans to industries and businesses affected badly by the pandemic by 20 per cent of the working capital maintained at mid-April. “Likewise, exports and sick industries as well as other sectors will get special refinancing facilities at a maximum 3 per cent interest rate, while micro, cottage and small industries will get credit at a maximum 5 per cent interest rate,” the policy reads, adding that

Major Highlights
Additional relaxations like CRR requirement flexibility and facilities for bank and financial institutions that pursue merger and acquisition.
Provisions will be made for merger and acquisition of those institutions with cross-holding.
Loan repayment holiday for borrowers will be extended based on the severity of the impact. Those hit hardest will have time to repay their loans
20 per cent loans from refinance funds to be floated directly from Nepal Rastra Bank, 70 per cent from commercial banks and 10 per cent from other institutions including microfinance.
Working Capital loans, refinance fund facility and subsidised loans will be prioritised for aviation, transportation, tourism and other sectors hit hardest by Covid-19.
Provision will be made to allow banks to issue Energy Bonds.
Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) requirements for commercial banks unchanged.
Guidelines on bank CEO's salary and board director's allowance will be reviewed and revised.
No interbank ATM withdrawal charges.