Saturday, October 31, 2020

AEPC, NEA seal a deal to construct mini-grid

 Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) and Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) signed an agreement to construct a mini-grid with a capacity of 1.624 megawatts (MW) connecting micro and small hydroelectricity projects unreached by the national grid.

AEPC’s executive director Madhu Sudan Adhikari and NEA Engineering Company director and NEA deputy manager Hitendra Dev Shakya, recently signed the agreement on behaf of their respective institutions. 

The NEA Engineering Company and the AEPC signed the agreement aiming at carrying out the detailed feasibility study for the construction of a mini-grid by connecting the seven micro and small hydel projects being developed in Jumla of Karnali Province, a press note from the NEA reads.

The company will carry out the detailed feasibility study as well as the engineering design of the mini-grid project, the press note reads, adding that the AEPC will bear the financial cost. “Under the project, six projects developed with the AEPC’s grant assistance and one developed with NEA’s support will be connected to the mini-grid which will, in turn, be connected to the National Transmission Line.”

The 200-kilowatt (KW) Ghughuti Small Hydroelectricity Project at Chandannath Municipality in the district headquarters is constructed with the NEA assistance, whereas the 200-KW Girikhola Small Hydroelectricity Project at Tatopani Rural Municipality, the 100-KW Juwanadi Thinkebandh Micro Hydroelectricity Project at Chandannath Municipality and the 45-KW Triveni Micro Hydroelectricity Project at Patarashi Rural Municipality are being constructed with the assistance of AEPC.

Similarly, the 31-KW Luma Micro Hydroelectricity Project, the 50-KW Dillichaur Micro Hydel Project and the 198-KW Chukeni Khola Small Hydroelectricity Project are developed with AEPC support. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Asia-Pacific cities at forefront of accelerating sustainable development action, building back better

 As countries strive to build back better post Covid-19, sustainable urbanisation can make cities change agents on solving the persistent problems of climate crisis, unsustainable resource use, widespread inequality, discrimination and injustice in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Guidelines on Voluntary Local Reviews, launched today by the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation (PPSU), highlights the critical role local leaders and city governments play in action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that cities have a transformative potential that can be harnessed and enhanced to forge inclusive, prosperous, and resilient places,” ESCAP’s Environment and Development Division director Stefanos Fotiou said, adding, “as home to most of the world’s urban population, Asia-Pacific cities can serve as the drivers of sustainable development for the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.”

Cities are at ground zero of the Covid-19 pandemic with 90 per cent of cases reported globally. This has made many local leaders and governments realise that the social, economic and environmental challenges it poses are not just abstract issues of national concern; they are very real and often played out locally in urban areas.

“The challenges faced calls for a revisit of city’s priorities as we adopt the relevant global goals to review our planning, our policies and strategies, with a stronger focus on resilience,” shared PPSU chair and chief executive of Urbanice Malaysia Norliza Hashim. “Building upon the call for a decade of action, Voluntary Local Reviews can build on local action and people action to accelerate the transformation of cities by creating better city and better life for communities,” she added.

The formulation of VLRs can be a game changer not just in assessing progress but also in encouraging SDG localisation. They provide the opportunity for cities to rethink their planning process as well as better engage local communities in understanding their needs and getting them involved meaningfully in recovery strategies and long-term development efforts.

The Guidelines aim to support Asia-Pacific cities willing to undertake a Voluntary Local Review (VLR) and produce an initial holistic report to stakeholders that connects local strategies with global agendas. Although gaining in momentum, the VLR process does not yet have any official status as part of the formal follow-up and review processes hosted by the UN. The Guidelines are the first of its kind to provide cities with guidance specific to the region to help them decide where to start, how to start and what to keep in mind when conducting a VLR.

This is the first regional knowledge product of the Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation, which was formally established last year at the Asia-Pacific Urban Forum. City partners involved in the development of the Guidelines include Surabaya, Indonesia; Subang Jaya and Shah Alam of Malaysia; Naga of Philippines; Nakhon Si Thammarat of Thailand; Singra of Bangladesh; Dhulikhel of Nepal; and Betio of Kiribati.

Business leaders express support for multilateralism, global value chains to build back better post Covid-19

 Eminent business leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region have expressed strong support for multilateralism and regional cooperation as well as increased public-private partnerships to build back better and more sustainably.

They also underscored that as countries recover from the Covid-19 pandemic impacts, this is no time for nationalism and protectionism; further highlighting the importance of reviving international trade and investment to allow businesses to grow and access world markets.

Over 750 private sector leaders, policymakers and community stakeholders participated in the Asia-Pacific Business Forum (APBF) 2020 today, organised by the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in cooperation with the ESCAP Sustainable Business Network (ESBN).

This year, the Forum discussions focused on ‘The Future of Global Value Chains and Implications for SMEs’. Apart from ongoing trade tensions and market disruptions, the management of the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging the future of business and regional value chains. This has resulted in severe negative impacts on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to keep their businesses afloat. The current crisis has necessitated the importance of reshoring and consolidation of hubs and architecture of the value chains in the Asia-Pacific region. By raising business resilience, SMEs will be in a better position to participate in value chains and offer new investment opportunities, according to a press note issued by the UNESCAP.

“Governments and business must work together to ensure resilient and sustainable value chains,” UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said, adding that governments need to provide the appropriate supporting policy and regulatory frameworks to allow for an effective and efficient collaboration within public-private investment mechanisms.

“One crucial opportunity from the economic downturn is that it offers the chance to rebuild,” vice minister for Commerce, Thailand Dr Sansern Samalapa highlighted in his keynote speech. “This is the time to add and strive for more sustainability in global value chains, which is one of the key objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he added.

“Even in this difficult time as we grapple with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, it is protectionist policies that continue to pose the greatest threat long-term to global supply chains and the millions of small companies that rely on open markets for the health of their businesses and their communities,” secretary-general at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) John WH Denton said.

The Forum further highlighted the importance of conducive policy and regulatory environments, as well as greater improvements in sustainable regional connectivity in trade, transport, energy and ICT. In particular, the pandemic has boosted the need for and value of digitalization which cuts across all sectors of the economy. This, underscored Forum delegates, is the modality of the future for business, both large, medium and small.

Established in 2004, the Asia-Pacific Business Forum is the flagship regional business forum organised by ESCAP and ESBN as a platform for regional public-private sector dialogue on the role and needs of business in achieving inclusive, resilient and sustainable development. The ABPF also seeks to showcase innovative and sustainable solutions that businesses are creating in a variety of industries to meet the development needs of Asia and the Pacific.

IFC helps businesses in poorest countries fight Pandemic with $4 billion in Covid-19 financing

 IFC’s pandemic response is focused on reaching the most vulnerable people in developing countries.

Of the $8 billion in IFC Covid-19 fast-track financing approved by the IFC Board in March 2020, $4 billion has been committed to date, of which close to half is expected to benefit people in the poorest countries and fragile states, with the remainder helping to support the fight against Covid-19 across other developing countries and emerging markets.

“Supporting the private sector will be crucial to helping developing countries achieve an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery and stem the current rise in extreme poverty,” said World Bank Group president David Malpass. “Our goal with IFC’s fast-track Covid-19 facility is to provide needed liquidity for corporate and financial institution clients, which will provide working capital, support jobs and facilitate trade,” he added.

IFC’s Board in March approved $8 billion in financing to help companies affected by the outbreak. IFC –the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets – has since fully deployed the $2 billion allocated under the trade-finance envelope of the fast-track facility. This support is helping client financial institutions keep liquidity flowing to businesses that depend on trade, especially micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), a major source of employment.

“IFC’s fast-track Covid-19 facility was designed to provide immediate liquidity to our financial institutions and real sector clients to preserve jobs and prevent short-term damage,” interim managing director, executive vice president and chief operating officer of IFC Stephanie von Friedeburg said. “By supporting private sector clients and interventions, we are hoping in the longer term to help reignite economic growth, paving the way for a better, more resilient and sustainable future once Covid-19 recedes.”

IFC has committed an additional $2 billion under the facility, benefiting every region in which IFC operates. This financing is being used for a range of purposes, from bolstering healthcare providers to helping the battered tourism sector and keeping viable businesses afloat, thus saving jobs. Another $623 million has been mobilised for these clients from private sector partners.

Additionally, the IDA Private Sector Window (PSW) – a tool developed by the World Bank Group to catalyze private-sector investment in the world’s poorest countries – has provided $281 million in guarantees supporting trade-finance and working-capital loans to small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in eligible countries since March.

IFC’s response is part of the World Bank Group’s effort to take broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response, increase disease monitoring and improve public-health interventions, a press note issued by the IFC reads. “The World Bank Group has the financial capacity to deploy $160 billion over the next 15 months, including a potential $47 billion from IFC in overall support for the private sector.”

Looking ahead, IFC will work with its partners to help restructure and recapitalise viable businesses and set the stage for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery. In August, IFC also launched the $4-billion Global Health Platform, which is helping developing countries expand access to medical supplies such as masks, ventilators, test-kits and, eventually, a Covid-19 vaccine.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

US to increase investment in Indo-Pacific region

 The United States (US) is increasing investment in the Indo-Pacific region.

Concluding the Indo-Pacific Business Forum 2020 in Vietnam today, the US has announced the plans to increase investment for the economic development of the Indo-Pacific country, which has more than 60 per cent of the population and is growing in emerging economies, according to a press note issued by the Indo-Pacific Business Forum 2020.

At the event, US government and private sector representatives noted the need to increase investment in energy, information technology and healthcare for the economic development of Asian countries. In November 2017, US President Ronald Trump unveiled the US concept of an independent and open Indo-Pacific, the press note reads, adding, “Since the first Business Forum was held in July 2018, the US has been increasing its investment.”

The forum held in Bangkok in 2019 focused on digital economy, quality infrastructure and sustainable energy development for economic development. The 2020 forum focuses on the Indo-Pacific region’s digital infrastructure, energy, and transportation strategy for 2021.

Speaking at the forum, secretary of State Michael Pempoi said the US has invested more than $100 billion in the Indo-Pacific region in partnership with the private sector, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications and poverty alleviation. The US has invested in 59 projects worth 85 billion for energy security alone and is increasing his investment for the development of the region’s economy, he added.

“President Trump has placed special emphasis on increasing investment and partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, noting that the US has always stood for good governance, transparency, independent business and technological innovation,” the press note reads,

Vietnam’s deputy prime minister Pham Winh, on the occasion, said that Vietnam has created a conducive environment for investment and welcomes US investment. 

At the forum, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced an additional 28 million in investment in the Indo-Pacific region. The US announced the investment through the Asia Enhancing Development and Growth Through Energy (Asia EDGE) campaign.

Likewise, the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) – during the forum – said that it will launch various projects to increase investment in energy, information technology, healthcare, and transportation. The USTDA promote natural gas infrastructure development in the energy sector, 5G solutions in information technology, public health campaigns under health care, and Southeast Asia Aviation Partnership in the transport sector, it said.

According to USTDA chief operating officer and head of the agency Todd Abrajane, the USTAD will increase investment in a variety of projects, focusing on sustainable infrastructure and economic growth.

Remittance may drop significantly, warns World Bank again

 Though, the central bank is upbeat about the remittance inflow, World Bank estimates that Nepali migrant workers are going to send home only $7.39 billion in 2020, down by 12 per cent from pre-coronavirus levels in 2019.

“In 2019, Nepali migrant workers sent home $8.25 billion back, the World Bank Migration and Development Brief released today reads. “The virus-related global slowdown and travel restrictions will also affect migratory movements, and this is likely to keep remittances subdued even in 2021.”

The Brief reads that tepid economic growth and employment levels in countries hosting migrants, weak oil prices and depreciation of the currencies of remittance-source countries against the US dollar were all factors behind the decline. 

The central bank however claims that Nepal might not see negative growth in remittance earnings in 2020, but the growth momentum might not last in 2021 as the global economy gets battered by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the central bank, the remittance inflow continue to grow, against all the odds in the global job providing countries. The remittances inflow between mid-July and mid-September increased by 8.1 per cent to Rs 165.73 billion in 2020 compared to a decrease of 0.6 per cent in the same period of a year ago. “There has been a better-than-expected growth in remittance sent by Nepali migrant workers as of September but the uncertainty is rising due to Covid-19 pandemic the next year might see drop in the remittance inflow,” the central bank claimed.

The remittance inflow swelled, despite the spread of coronavirus, because of diversion of remittance to the formal banking channel from informal hundi, due to the Covid-19 created disturbances. The Nepali migrant workers also sent cash instead of goods due to global lockdown, according to the central bank.

The government imposed lockdown across the country on March 24, which continued for 4 months. The central bank – in April – released a survey claiming that the remittance inflow will drop by over 15 per cent in the last fiscal year 2019-20 that ends in mid-July. Likewise the World Bank also had projected remittances to go down by 14 per cent, whereas the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) also projected a reduction of Rs 163 billion – or over 18 per cent – in remittance inflow due to coronavirus pandemic. 

The number of Nepali migrant workers – institutional and individual-new and legalized – taking approval for foreign employment plunged by 99.2 per cent in April, according to the macro-economic report of the central bank. “Likewise, the number of Nepali migrant workers – renew entry – taking approval for foreign employment decreased by 86.5 per cent.”

The World Bank has also warned that the stock of international migrants is likely to decline for the first time in recent history as new migration has slowed and return migration has increased. “Return migration has been reported in all parts of the world following the lifting of national lockdowns which left many migrant workers stranded in host countries,” the World Bank Brief reads, adding that rising unemployment in the face of tighter visa restrictions on migrants and refugees is likely to result in a further increase in return migration.

Thus, the remittances growth is expected to slow down not only in Nepal, but almost all countries are going to see a decline in the amount they receive as transfers from their migrant workers abroad, the World Bank’s Brief reads. “In India and Sri Lanka, remittances are projected to fall by about 9 per cent in 2020 to $76 billion and $6.7 billion, respectively.”

But in Pakistan, remittances will grow at about 9 per cent, totalling about $24 billion. In Bangladesh, remittances are projected to grow at about 8 per cent to around $20 billion.

ADB Ventures supports clean brick production

 The Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) venture capital arm ADB Ventures has provided the Good Bricks System – a non-fired brickmaking solution in Nepal – a $125,000 grant to reduce the industry’s harmful impact on the environment and health. The grant gives ADB Ventures the option to make a future equity investment in the Good Bricks System.

South Asia is home to nearly a quarter of total global brick production. Demand for bricks is being fueled by rapid urbanisation and the need to construct housing and transport infrastructure, a press note issued by the multilateral development partner reads. In Nepal, traditional brickmaking requires approximately 1,600 kilns to burn nearly 1 million tons of coal every year. It causes around 600 annual deaths, adding $46 million every year to public health costs.

The Good Bricks System – a product of InnoCSR Co Ltd – uses materials technology from the Republic of Korea to make high-quality bricks with soil, soil stabiliser, and cement. It is cost-competitive and reduces production time by six-fold. It also cuts greenhouse gas emissions and improves working conditions for employees, many of whom are women.

“The Good Bricks System is an opportunity to disrupt an industry that has not changed for many years, but which has a huge impact on the environment and human health," said ADB principal investment specialist Dominic Mellor. “ADB’s extensive operations in transport and urban infrastructure across South Asia can be leveraged to support technology solutions like the Good Bricks System.”

“ADB Ventures’ support is a vote of confidence in our technology’s potential to transform a dirty industry, and in our business model’s potential to scale commercially,” said InnoCSR Group chief executive officer Sam Yoonsuk Lee.

ADB Ventures supports and invests in early-stage technology companies solving big development problems in emerging Asia and the Pacific. Its investors include Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Government of the Republic of Korea, the Clean Technology Fund, and the Nordic Development Fund.

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.

Nepal’s coronavirus death tally surpasses 900

 In the last one week over a hundred Nepalis died of coronavirus taking the total tally to 904, according to Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP).

“The country reported 17 more fatalities linked with the novel coronavirus disease today,” the ministry confirmed, adding that with the new fatalities, Nepal’s coronavirus death toll has soared to 904 since the first death case was reported on May 16.

According to the ministry’s updates, it took just seven days to add 100 more fatalities to the Covid-19 death tally signaling the coming days are more difficult. Nepal recorded the 800th death on October 22 while the 700th fatality was reported on October 16.

The first case of death – due to Covid-19 infection – was reported in Sindhupalchowk district on Mary 16. A 29-year-old woman died of Covid-19, and Nepal ecorded 100the death from Covid-19 on August 15. From August 15, it took only 14 days to double the number of fatalities, whereas the death tally hit the 300 mark in just nine days on September 7. The number touched 401 on September 19 and 509 on October 1 and soared to 600 with 10 new deaths on October 9, according to the ministry.

On October 21, the country recorded 26 Covid-19-related deaths – the highest number of fatalities in a single day so far – and as of today Nepal’s coronavirus-related fatalities crossed 900 mark indicating the fatality rate in Nepal stands at 0.6 per cent of the total 164,718 infections confirmed so far.

Out of total 904 deaths, Bagmati Province is the worst-hit province with 436 people including a Chinese national’s death so far. Karnali province recorded the least number of Covid-19 related deaths as the western province rescored only 10 deaths linked with this disease reported so far.

The fatalities recorded 156 fatalities in Province 2, whereas Lumbini 124 and Province 1 recorded 114, and the death tally in Gandaki Province stands at 47, following Sudur Paschim Province with 17 fatalities till today, the ministry informed. “The Kathmandu Valley has so far recorded 328 fatalities in its three districts – some 209 in Kathmandu, 61 in Bhaktapur and 58 in Lalitpur – as the Valley slowly becoming a hot bed,

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

World Bank approves $80 million to boost Nepal’s agriculture sector

 The World Bank approved a $80 million project today to bolster Nepal’s agriculture sector by strengthening rural market linkages and promoting entrepreneurship while creating jobs to support post-Covid-19 recovery.

The Rural Enterprise and Economic Development (REED) Project will promote market linkages to support the growth of rural enterprises, especially those that are women-led. A key focus is on productive partnerships that will help add value, create jobs and foster sustainable linkages between small-holder producers and institutional buyers. The project will facilitate improvements in quality and meeting requirements of new destination markets to boost exports, according to a press note issued by the multilateral development partner.

“The project is an opportunity for the government and the private sector to work together in building the ‘Nepal’ brand in the agriculture sector and leverage the country’s global recognition,” World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Faris Hadad-Zervos said. “In doing so, the project can stimulate many niche sectors such as coffee, tea, fruit and medicinal products, among others, to help them grow and to support post-Covid-19 recovery.”

The project focuses on five economic corridors covering Provinces 1, 2, Bagmati, Gandaki, Lumbini and Sudurpashchim that offer opportunities for successful linkage activities of the rural entrepreneurs to be supported by the project, the press note reads, adding that REED will work with provincial and local governments, intermediary organizations and small and medium enterprises to build capacity in the agriculture sector and strengthen the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The project will also help improve production through investments in municipal agriculture centers and value chain infrastructures to ensure the availability of inputs for farming as recovery actions from Covid-19. The project will use labor-intensive Cash for Work mechanism, to the extent possible, in short-term public works.

“In the context of Nepal’s agriculture sector transformation and Covid-19, improving agribusiness competitiveness and creating rural jobs are critical to accelerate recovery of the sector and the economy from the pandemic’s impacts,” World Bank practice manager for the Agriculture Global Practice Loraine Ronchi.

The project supports the Nepal’s Agriculture Development Strategy 2015–2035 that aims to create a sustainable, competitive, inclusive and resilient agricultural sector that drives economic growth with private sector participation. 

The World Bank is supporting Nepal’s development through a portfolio of 24 projects with net commitments of over $3 billion. The World Bank-supported projects aim at strengthening public institutions for economic management, service delivery and public investment; generating more and better jobs through private sector-driven growth; and building inclusion for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups, with increased resilience against climate change, natural disasters and other exogenous shocks.

NMA general secretary Gurung nominated for UIAA

 Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) general secretary Kul Bahadur Gurung has been nominated for the candidacy of general representative in the management committee of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), according to a press note issued by the NMA.

“Gurung is the second person to be elected in UIAA in the 48 years of history of NMA after former president of NMA Zimba Jangbu Sherpa,” the press note reads, adding that this was his second attempt to be on the UIAA committee. “The four-year term of general representative is considered a very important opportunity to have a clear debate and proposal in the international forum on Nepal’s mountain tourism.”

Gurung has been nominated during the general assembly held online on October 23-24.

Established as the technical wing of mountaineering for the government, the NMA has been managing 27 different peaks of Nepal on behalf of the government.

Since the establishment, NMA is the only association that has been conducting various mountaineering training to produce technical human resources for mountaineering in Nepal coordinating and cooperating with UIAA and UAAA as well as other different mountaineering federations.

Working in the mountain tourism sector for the last 28 years, Gurung is from Ruby Valley of Dhading district.

Founded in 1932 UIAA is an international federation for climbing and mountaineering and has global presence on six continents representing 89 member associations and federations in 66 countries. The UIAA has been recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Global foreign direct investment falls by 49 per cent

Global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows fell by almost half to 49 per cent in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, due to the economic fallout from Covid-19, reveals UNCTAD’s latest Global Investment Trends Monitor released today.

In the wake of the pandemic, lockdowns around the world slowed existing investment projects and the prospects of a deep recession led multinational enterprises to reassess new projects. “The biggest drops occurred in developed countries, cutting across all major forms of foreign direct investment,” reads the latest Global Investment Trends Monitor.

“The FDI decline is more drastic than we expected, particularly in developed economies,” UNCTAD’s investment and enterprise director James Zhan said, adding that developing economies weathered the storm relatively better for the first half of the year. “The outlook remains highly uncertain.”

According to the report, developed economies saw the biggest fall, with FDI reaching an estimated $98 billion in the six-month period, a decline of 75 per cent compared to 2019. The trend was exacerbated by sharply negative inflows in European economies, mainly in the Netherlands and Switzerland. The FDI flows to North America fell by 56 per cent to $68 billion.

Meanwhile, the 16 per cent decrease in FDI flows to developing economies was less than expected, due mainly to resilient investment in China. Flows decreased by just 12 per cent in Asia but were 28 per cent lower than in 2019 in Africa and 25 per cent lower in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the six months to June 2020, developing countries in Asia accounted for more than half of global FDI. Flows to economies in transition were down by 81 per cent due to a strong decline in the Russian Federation. “The decline cut across all major forms of FDI,” the report shows.

The report shows that cross-border merger and acquisition (M&A) values reached $319 billion in the first three quarters of 2020. The 21 per cent decline in developed countries, which account for about 80 per cent of global transactions, was checked by the continuation of M&A activity in digital industries.

The value of greenfield investment project announcements – an indicator of future FDI trends – was $358 billion in the first eight months of 2020. Developing economies saw a much bigger fall (by 49 per cent) than developed economies (by 17 per cent), reflecting their more limited capacity to roll out economic support packages.

The number of announced cross-border project finance deals declined by 25 per cent, with the biggest drops in the third quarter of 2020, suggesting that the slide is still accelerating. 

The report also reveals that prospects for the full year remain in line with UNCTAD’s earlier projections of a 30 per cent to 40 per cent decrease in FDI flows, the report indicates. “The rate of decline in developed economies is likely to flatten as some investment activity appeared to be picking up in the third quarter.”

Flows to developing economies are expected to stabilize, with east Asia showing signs of an impending recovery. The flows will hinge on the duration of the health crisis and the effectiveness of policy interventions to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic. Geopolitical risks continue to add to the uncertainty. “Despite the 2020 drop, FDI remains the most important source of external finance for developing countries,” according to UNCTAD.

Global FDI stock stood at $37 trillion at the end of 2019.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Young voices inspire sustainable development action at UN75 regional commemoration

 The United Nations (UN) is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impacts. The regional commemoration jointly hosted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Office of the United Nations resident coordinator in Thailand today drew attention to the power of innovation and partnerships, especially among younger generations, in building a better future post Covid-19.

“We face colossal challenges. With global solidarity and cooperation, we can overcome them,” shared UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres in a special video message. “That’s what the United Nations is all about,” he said, asking people everywhere to join together, on this anniversary. “The United Nations not only stands with you; the United Nations belong to you and is you: we the peoples.”

“History teaches that we are more effective and relevant, if we empower people to support the societal transformation that we aspire together,” UN under-secretary-general and executive secretary of ESCAP Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana said, adding that accelerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, and other internationally agreed development goals, is possible only through an enhanced multilateral cooperation and development partnership.

In January 2020, the UN also launched the UN75 initiative. Dubbed the world’s largest conversation, thousands of people shared their hopes and fears for the future, as well as their expectations of international cooperation and of the UN in particular. When asked where we should be in 25 years, most responses focused on human rights, environmental protection, tackling inequalities and better access to education. Respondents also cited climate change and environmental issues as the most influential trends for the future.

Several dignitaries and eminent persons also shared messages reflecting on the organisation’s 75-year journey and the way forward. They included Prime Minister of Tuvalu Kausea Natano, Kazakhstan foreign minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid, foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Republic of Korea foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, Russian ambassador to Thailand Evgeny Tomikhin, chairperson of China Disabled Persons’ Federation Haidi Zhang, Fung Group senior advisor Barbara Meynert, former Pacific Community director general Dr Collin Tukuitonga, Asia director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration Elenita Dano, special adviser to the UN secretary-general Fabrizio Hochschild and 75-year old former staff ESCAP member Pudpong Ujjin.

The discussions also brought to light what is needed for change to take root, from embracing sustainability in individual choices to policy support for social enterprises.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Nepal-Thailand enjoy excellent bilateral relations

 Thailand cherishes Nepal as the birthplace of Lord Buddha, remembered the Thai King.

King of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua while accepting the Letters of Credence from Nepal’s ambassador Ganesh Prasad Dhakal said that Thailand cherishes Nepal as the birthplace of Lord Buddha. The Thai King also said that the peoples of the two countries share similar way of life, in particular the practice of Buddhism, traditions and cultural values. The King also expressed his confidence that the close and fruitful friendship between the two countries would play an important part to bring about wide-ranging creative collaborations even further.

Dhakal presented his Letters of Credence to the Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua accrediting him as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Nepal to the Kingdom of Thailand amidst a special ceremony held at Ambara Villa, Dusit Palace today. 

Following the ceremony, ambassador Dhakal was granted an audience by the Thai King. During the audience, ambassador conveyed the warm greetings and best wishes from the President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari and prime minister of Nepal K P Sharma Oli as well as from the people of Nepal for personal good health and happiness of the King, and for the continued progress and prosperity of the people of Thailand.

Ambassador said that Nepal and Thailand enjoy excellent bilateral relations, which have been strengthened and expanded in multiple areas over the years. “The philosophy of Buddhism and cultural commonality are strong binding threads between the peoples of the two countries,” he added.

While welcoming the ambassador, the King also extended his best wishes for the personal happiness of the President, the Prime Minister as well as for the prosperity of Nepal and Nepali people, according to a press note issued by the Nepali Embassy in Thailand.

The Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana was also present during the credentials presentation ceremony, the press note reads, adding that deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudvinai, and senior officials were also present in the ceremony.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Israeli, Japan embassies help Gandharva Community

 Israeli and Japan embassies in Kathmandu are jointly providing emergency food assistance to the underprivileged Gandharva Community around Kathmandu and Pokhara through collaboration with a Japanese International NGO, Japan International Support Programme (JISP).

With the financial contribution from the government of Israel, JISP is providing a vital good assistance to approximately 1,000 most vulnerable Gandharva people during the most auspicious festivals of Dashain and Tihar, reads a press note issued by the embassy in Kathmandu. “The goods include basic food items such as rice, lentils, oil and vegetables,” it reads, adding that soap bars and masks are provided at this challenging time of Covid-19. “The Gandharva communities located in Kathmandu were donated goods today and the goods will be sent for the community in Pokhara soon.”

Expressing happiness to be able to contribute to the Gandharva Musician’s Community of Nepal, ambassador of Israel to Nepal Benny Omer said, “In these difficult times of Covid-19 Pandemic, we are happy to be able to assist vital humanitarian needs to the wonderful community in Nepal. Wishing you all Happy and Peaceful Dashain and Tihar.”

“It is our priority to deliver basic food package to the vulnerable people as soon as possible, as the Nepali people are entering into one of the most festive seasons, Dashain and Tihar, in the midst of the serious challenges they are experiencing due to the influence of Covid-19,” representative director of JISP Mayumi Yoshida said, adding that they are working with some of the best traditional musicians of Nepal to fundraise for the most vulnerable.

This is the first collaboration between the Embassy of Israel and the Japanese International NGO. The Gandharvas of Nepal are keepers of one of the world's great musical traditions, a tradition recognised by UNESCO as Intangible World Heritage. For centuries, they have been the musicians of Nepal. Gandharvas depend on tourism for much of their livelihood and income. Their primary source of income is often building Sarangis which they sell to tourists in Kathmandu.  However, due to the on-going Covid-19 crisis, tourists are no longer freely coming in and out of Nepal, and many of the Gandharvas, especially of the villages, have lost their ways of making a living.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Clean feed policy comes into effect from Friday midnight

The much-awaited clean feed policy in television systems comes into effect from Friday midnight.

Issuing a press note today, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology directed the foreign television channels, which are being broadcast in Nepal to abide by the clean feed policy from Friday. Newly appointed minister for Communication and Information Technology Parbat Gurung – in the regular press meet – to announce the cabinet meeting decisions today – shared that the government had taken a ‘historic decision’ to implement the clean feed policy effective from Friday midnight under the Advertisement Regulations Act 2019.

The Advertising Association of Nepal (AAN), and other various media related organisations welcomed the government decision claiming that the television advertisement market will be expanded by double after the move. “The AAN had been asking the government to bring the clean feed policy since a decade,” a press note from AAN reads, adding that the clean feed policy also guarantees the sovereignty of a country. 

With the government decision, the international advertisers have been barred from airing their advertisements in foreign television channels. The clean feed system allows television signal distributors to replace advertisements in foreign television channels with local advertisements as practiced in most of the developed countries.

NEA starts charging Dhalkebar substation

 Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) has started charging Dhalkebar substation from today. The largest substation of the country is a part of Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur cross border transmission line that is expected to facilitate the Nepal-India electricity trade.

The substation with electricity transmission capacity of around 1,200 megawatts (MW) is now able to import or export up to 850 MW of electricity. The substation can export the electricity generated by Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project.

Started in fiscal year 2017-18 with tender process, the 400 kV substation has three transformers and two of which will be charged after the Dashain festival. It took around two-and-a-half years for completion under the NEA’s engineering company supervision.

The government funded the country’s first gas-insulated station (GIS) was designed by NEA. According to the NEA, the substation will be connected to tower in Muzaffarpur from November 6 to November 10. Though, the construction was targeted to complete by the end of last fiscal year 2019-20, it took more time as the substation was could not be charged as the high-voltage testing machine was stuck at Kerung customs point – Nepal-China border customs – for three months due to the lockdown.

Although the Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur cross-border transmission line was supposed to have been charged at 400 kV, it was initially operated at only 132 kV. Later in 2018-19 it was operated at 220 kV capacity and now it is fully operated at 400 kV charging capacity.

After the east-west transmission line is charged at 400 kV, the substation will be able to transmit 12,000 MW of energy, according to the NEA. 

Former managing director of NEA Kul Man Ghising confirming that his dream has come truw, said that the project has been though not completed his tenure, completion of the Dhalkebar substation is an important milestone for the hydropower sector of the county.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Global trade shows frail recovery in third quarter, but outlook remains uncertain

 UNCTAD estimates show a 5 per cent drop in world trade in the third quarter of 2020 compared to 2019, an improvement from the 19 per cent decline in the second quarter but insufficient to pull trade out of the red.

Global trade recorded a 5 per cent drop in the third quarter of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according UNCTAD’s new Global Trade Update published today. “This marks an improvement on the 19 per cent year-on-year plunge recorded in the second quarter, and UNCTAD expects the frail recovery to continue in the fourth quarter, with a preliminary forecast of -3 per cent compared with the last quarter of 2019.”

Depending on how the Covid-19 pandemic evolves in the winter months, the UN trade and development body expects the value of global trade to contract by 7 per cent to 9 per cent with respect to 2019. “The uncertain course of the pandemic will continue aggravating trade prospects in the coming months,” UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi said, adding that despite some 'green shoots', it can't be ruled out a slowdown in production in certain regions or sudden increases in restrictive policies, according to the UN trade and development body.

Although a 7 per cent to 9 per cent decrease would be a negative finish for the year, Dr Kituyi highlighted that it’s a much more positive result than was expected in June, when UNCTAD had projected a 20 per cent year-on-year drop for 2020. Since then, trade trends have improved primarily thanks in to the earlier than expected resumption of economic activities in Europe and East Asia.

China has in particular restarted its economy much earlier than initially expected, and the report highlights the country’s notable trade recovery. Chinese exports, after falling in the early months of the pandemic, stabilised in the second quarter of 2020 and rebounded strongly in the third quarter, with year-over-year growth rates of almost 10 per cent.

“Overall, the level of Chinese exports for the first nine months of 2020 was comparable to that of 2019 over the same period,” the report reads, adding that Chinese demand for goods and services has recovered from the decline in the second quarter. “Contrary to other major economies, its imports stabilized in July and August and then grew by a substantial 13 per cent in September.”

Export growth in September was also recorded in India (4 per cent) and South Korea (8 per cent), the report reads. 

Likewise, the sharp and widespread decline in international trade in second quarter of 2020 was similar for developing and developed countries. But exports from developing economies appear to be recovering faster. Year-on-year growth of developing nations’ exports improved from -17 per cent in the second quarter to -6 per cent in July, while those from developed nations increased from -22 per cent to -14 per cent. And South-South trade – commerce among developing countries – has shown some resilience, with the year-on-year decline sitting at 8% in July, up from 16 per cent in the second quarter.

The report’s assessment of trade in different sectors reveals that the pandemic has hit the energy and automotive industries the hardest, while mitigation responses including teleworking and personal protection measures have led to strong growth in sectors such as communication equipment, office machinery, and textiles and apparel. But UNCTAD’s analysis gives special attention to Covid-19 medical supplies, which include personal protective equipment, disinfectants, diagnostic kits, oxygen respirators and other related hospital equipment.

According to the report, exports of Covid-19 medical supplies from China, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) rose from about $25 billion to $45 billion per month between January and May 2020. And since April, trade in such products has increased by an average of more than 50 per cent. “The increase in such trade, however, has primarily benefited wealthier nations, with middle- and low-income countries largely priced out from access to Covid-19 supplies,” the report says.

Since the outset of the pandemic, each resident of high-income countries has benefited on average from an additional $10 per month of imports of Covid-19 related products, compared with just $1 for people living in middle-income countries and a mere $0.10 for those in low-income countries. This means that per capita imports of medical goods essential to mitigate the pandemic have been about 100 times higher for wealthy countries than for poor nations.

“While it should be expected that the increase of per capita imports of Covid-19 products would be larger for wealthier countries, the sheer difference is staggering,” the report reads, warning that if a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, the access divide between residents in wealthy and poor countries could be even more drastic.

Remittance inflow continue to post growth

Remittance inflows in the first two months of the current fiscal year were recorded a growth rate of 8.1 per cent to Rs 165.73 billion, though it is down from the 23 per cent growth in the first month.

“Nepalis abroad sent home back Rs 165.73 billion in the two-month of the current fiscal year despite expectation of remittance drop due to Covid-19 pandemic,” according to central bank’s macroeconomic report released today.

The migrant workers sent home Rs 73.02 billion back during the period mid-August to mid-September – the second month of the current fiscal year, the report reads, adding that Nepali migrant workers sent home Rs 875.03 billion in the last fiscal year. 

Nepal received an all-time monthly high of Rs 100.16 billion in remittance in the last month of the last fiscal year boosting the annual earnings, unlike the expectation of drop due to coronavirus. The central bank – in April – had projected a drop of over 15 per cent in remittance inflow, after the government imposed a lockdown on March 24 to contain the spread of coronavirus. Likewise, the World Bank has also projected a drop of over 14 per cent in remittances in the last fiscal year 2019-20 due to coronavirus. The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) too had projected a reduction of Rs 163 billion or over 18 per cent fall in remittance inflow.

However, remittance inflow to Nepal failed all the projections, though the annual remittance inflow witnessed a marginal drop. Economists suspected that the illegal transfers through hundi has been halted due to coronavirus pandemic giving the official channel a boost. 

However, the economists still believe a drop in remittance inflow as the global growth is projected at 5.2 per cent in 2021, a little lower than in the June Update, reflecting the more moderate downturn projected for 2020 and consistent with expectations of persistent social distancing.

According to the macroeconomic report, the number of Nepali workers – institutional and individual-new and legalized – taking approval for foreign employment plunged by 99.2 per cent in the two months of the current fiscal year. Likewise, the number of Nepali workers – renew entry – taking approval for foreign employment decreased by 86.5 per cent in the same period.

Sebon approves centralised KYC Service Operation Directive

 The capital market regulator today the Centralised KYC Service Operation Directive 2077.

After the approval from Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon), investors can now fill the ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) forms with their personal details from their homes through the authorised person or employee of the KYC registration representative.

The directive has made the KYC details accessible to all entities within the securities market, according to a press note issued by the Sebon. “It enables the customers to file their identification details with their stock brokers easily and safely amid the current coronavirus pandemic,” according to the directives, which was submitted to the board by CDS & Clearing Ltd. The Sebon approved the directives and returned it to the CDSC for implementation.

The directive also mentions the provision of eKYC representative registration, provision of the development of eKYC system and provision of eKYC registration for securities transactions or related services for the customers. The directives also includes the provisions related to the use of KYC details, refining and enforcing KYC details, confidentiality and security of customers’ KYC details, and legal action in case of misuse of KYC details, according to the Sebon.

The capital market regulator expects that the implementation of the guideline will help reduce the various complexities involved for customers while submitting the same details in many places to avail the service of the share market. “The new system is also expected to ease the process of securities trading for the investors and help in the overall development of the stock market.”

FNCCI election nomination starts

 Postponed thrice, the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) election schedule has started from today. The new date for the 54th annual general meeting (AGM) of FNCCI has been fixed for November 26 and 27, whereas the election for its executive members will he held on November 27.

According to the timetable announced by FNCCI today, the election will be held at three venues in Kathmandu – FNCCI head office in Teku, Karki Banquet in Babarmahal and Nepal Academy in Kamaladi – to avoid the crowd, and follow the government health and safety protocol.

The FNCCI has stated that the programmes will be conducted by observing safety protocols enforced by the government. As the FNCCI members can file their candidacy from today, candidate of senior vice president Chandra Prasad Dhakal – representing Associate members – along with his team members filed the nominations today. Dhakal has been backed by his panel members, Ram Chandra Sanghai, Umesh Lal Shrestha and Guna Nidhi Tiwari, who also have registered their nominations at the FNCCI.

The elections will be held for the post of senior vice present, three vice presidents and executive committee members. Incumbent vice presidents Chandra Prasad Dhakal and Kishor Pradhan are contesting for the post of senior vice president. The first lists of nominees will be published on November 19, whereas the final lists of the candidates will be published on November 23.

The FNCCI AGM and elections had originally been scheduled for April 10 and 11 which was postponed until May 20 and 21, to be deferred until the second week of August. The date has again been deferred citing the government’s decision to prohibit mass meetings and assemblies as part of containment measures to combat Covid-19.

The senior vice presidential race is a high-stake affair as the winner will automatically become the FNCCI president after three years. The incumbent senior vice president Shekhar Golchha will be automatically become president after November 27.

Kathmandu valley registers record 3,107 new infections

 A total of 3,107 new cases of coronavirus infection have been reported in the Kathmandu Valley today.

“Among the new cases, some 2,391 cases have been registered in Kathmandu district alone,” confirmed Health Ministry spokesperson Dr Jageshwor Gautam. “Some 543 and 173 cases were detected in Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts, respectively.”

Kathmandu still leads as the district with highest number of active cases, whereas Mustang is the only district in the country with zero active cases. “Some 16 districts including the three valley districts, Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Kavrepalanchok, Makawanpur, Chitwan, Kaski, Dang, Banke, Rupandehi, Kailali, Surkhet, and Dadeldhura have over 500 active cases of infection,” he said, adding that the day also recorded 26 coronavirus related deaths – the highest single-day fatalities – in the last 24 hours taking the country’s Covid-19 death-toll to 791. “Nepal registered some 5,743 additional cases of coronavirus infection taking the nationwide Covid-19 tally to 144,872 today.”

The country set new records both in terms of Covid-19 fatalities and infection cases today. “The number of active cases stands at 44,476 as 99,605 people have made successful recovery; some 2,996 of them in the past 24 hours.”

As of today, the number of confirmed cases in the Kathmandu Valley has reached 62,579. A total of 60,081 cases have been detected after the three district administration offices in Kathmandu Valley imposed prohibitory orders on August 19.

As of today, some 1,334,897 PCR tests have been carried out across the country, whereas a total of 20,118 PCR tests were performed in the past 24 hours,” Dr Gautam said, adding that in the past 24 hours, some 696 new infections were reported in Province 1, some 127 in Province 2, and some 3,594 in Bagmati Province. “Likewise, Gandaki, Lumbini, Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces reported 349, 591, 206, and 180 new cases respectively.”

One to Watch, NMB Bank, Laxmi Bank, and SDC join forces to support MSMEs

 One to Watch, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and in partnership with NMB Bank and Laxmi Bank, has announced the launch of Covid-19 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Fund Nepal.

The fund seeks to support MSMEs that are struggling to cope with the challenges brought forth by Covid-19. It will do so by providing them with bridge financing in order to meet the working capital needs and technical assistance in the form of business development services to be able to retain employees, preserve business continuity, and build resilience. The fund is expected to support up to 100 MSMEs continue their businesses and help them retain up to 1000 jobs, according to a press note issued by the One to watch.

The fund will provide collateral-free loans to MSMEs that are evaluated to have the potential to bounce back based on a pre-determined set of criteria. It will pay interest on such loans for a period of up to 18 months. Additionally, a subset of such firms will also be provided with business development support that are tailored to meet the needs of beneficiary enterprises, it claimed.

“In unprecedented times like these, the Fund will leverage One to Watch’s expertise in investment and business development, its robust network of investors and entrepreneurs to identify and support high-impact SMEs,” managing partner of One to Watch Suman Joshi said, hoping that the initiative will be a ‘pilot’ that can be scaled with participation from more bank partners.

“Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises are the backbone of Nepal’s economy,” ambassador of Switzerland to Nepal Elisabeth von Capeller said, adding that the MSMEs employ a large share of the workforce and are drivers of innovation and new job creation. “Their rebound, therefore, will set the foundation for overall economic recovery.”

As a long standing development partner of Nepal, SDC is proud to be able to support this initiative together with private sector partners, she added.

“As a Retail and MSE focused bank, we are hopeful this collaboration will directly benefit credit-worthy smaller entrepreneurs, who require access to bank loans in order to sustain their businesses and livelihoods during an economy under stress,” Laxmi Bank chief executive officer Ajaya Bikram Shah said, adding that the MSMEs need special attention and support at this point in time and this sector will play a key role in helping the economy revive and regain momentum over the medium and long term.

“NMB Bank is focused on sustainable banking and MSMEs are key drivers for sustainable growth of the economy,” chief executive officer of NMB Bank Sunil KC said, adding that businesses across a range of economic sectors, especially MSMEs, are the most vulnerable and facing losses. “To support their revival plan, NMB, as a partner bank, is committed to providing collateral-free loans to those highly impacted by the current crisis.”

Asia-Pacific countries endorse action plan to strengthen social protection

 Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have today endorsed an action plan pledging to collectively step up regional cooperation for social protection – a timely move as governments are striving to protect people from unprecedented economic and social development setbacks wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The action plan was endorsed at the sixth session of the Committee on Social Development, hosted by the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) this week. It serves as an overarching framework for action at the national level and develops a regional platform to strengthen knowledge and capacity for broadening effective social protection coverage.

“To counter the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, many member states have strengthened existing social protection schemes and sometimes introduced new, ad hoc measures,” said UN under-secretary-general and ESCAP executive secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana in her opening remarks. “In times of socio-economic crisis, social protection is our society’s primary line of defence,” she said, underscoring that they need to invest in comprehensive social protection systems and to monitor our progress in achieving relevant targets of the 2030 agenda to ensure an inclusive, resilient, and prosperous Asia-Pacific.

The regional action plan on social protection provides countries with a shared vision, strategy and platform for promoting partnership, peer learning as well as identifying needs for technical assistance. The plan further aims to accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by including those at risk of being left behind.

“As we continue to tread unknown and uncertain grounds, the committee provided an opportunity to forge ways to strengthen social protection as a key instrument for building resilience,” Ambassador of Sri Lanka Samantha K Jayasuriya, who served as the chair of the sixth session, said, adding that the region is facing unprecedented demographic shifts, which has resulted in profound impact on sustainable development. “In addition, Covid-19 has affected all population groups in the region, with those in vulnerable situations at particular risk of being impacted such as older persons, women, persons with disabilities and migrants.”

“This vulnerability is not inevitable,” she added.

The committee also endorsed an indicator framework for monitoring progress towards the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development. Adoption of the framework means that the progress toward these commitments will now be measurable.

Both commitments address fundamental inequalities in access to health, education, and social protection, emphasise the value of investing in women and girls and strengthen access to sexual and reproductive health. The indicator framework can be used for voluntary national reviews (VNRs) and supports governments in designing specific policies that will eventually reduce inequalities in access to health, education and social protection.

Levels of social protection coverage remain strikingly low in Asia and the Pacific, with just over half the population having no access to any social protection scheme. Insufficient investments in social protection has proven a persistent reason for these gaps. The pandemic has further perpetuated pre-existing inequalities, including gender inequalities.

The committee’s thematic focus on social protection follows the launch of ESCAP and ILO’s Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific 2020: The Protection We Want last week. The Outlook is the first-ever regional report on social protection in Asia and the Pacific, which evidences that well-managed social protection systems have been far better equipped to respond to the unexpected and shielding the most vulnerable.

President inaugurates Rani Pokhari

 President Bidya Devi Bhandari today inaugurated the restored Rani Pokhari and Durbar High School.

The historic monuments – damaged in the 2015 Gorkha earthquake – courted controversy as the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor Bidhya Sundar Shakya forwarded a commercial complex construction plan including shopping complex and swimming pool, instead of the iconic pond’s reconstruction. The President had inaugurated the quake-ravaged Rani Pokhari restoration work in 2016 during her first tenure as the president but it took 4 years after the Mayor’s commercial reconstruction plan was opposed by the historians, conservationists, heritage lovers, archeologists and the locals. The project that went through many failed starts and restarts, causing work delays and cost overrun cost more than Rs 240 million to restore it. However, the National Reconstruction Authority today claimed that the restored Balgopaleshwor temple, situated at the centre of the pond, is ready to be opened for the public during the Bhai Tika and Chhath festivals this year.

It will be soon handed over to the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, the NRA informed, adding that the restoration work of the pond as well as Balgopaleshwor temple was carried out by CM Tulshi JV. “The temple has been restored in its original form, in Shikhara style, as King Pratap Malla had constructed it in 1670 AD.”

The Kathmandu Metropolis had also drawn flaks from conservationists for the use of modern construction materials to build the historic site. Kathmandu Metropolitan City has claimed that it will issue guidelines for the conservation of Rani Pokhari, but the conservationists suspect that it will hand over the icon pond might use it for the benefit of business people, instead of conserving it. Another historic tower –Dharahara – has already been leased out for businesses to earn money by the metropolis to earn money, though the NRA chief executive officer Sushil Gyawali said they are aware about the concerns raised by conservationists.

Meanwhile, President Bhandari also inaugurated the new restored building of Durbar High School – the first school of the country – today. The school building – built by a Chinese company Shanghai Construction Group – cost Rs 850 million. 

The school – built by Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana in 1853 to educate the upper ruling class – has become the school for poor lately.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Banks to remain closed for five days during Dashain

 The commercial banks have decided to close their branches for five days during the Dashain vacation, according to the Nepal Bankers Association (NBA).

All the branches of all 27 commercial banks will remain closed from October 23 to October 27, the NBA decided, adding that they decided to remain closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier, some branches of the commercial banks used to remain open even during the festival vacation. But this year the banks have decided to close the branches – due to coronavirus spread – and promote digital services. “The customers are advised to opt for online banking in the times of a pandemic,” the NBA said.

Qatar exploits migrant workers: Amnesty International

 A new report by Amnesty International (AI) has revealed how migrant domestic workers employed in Qatar have been pushed to breaking point by extreme overwork, lack of rest, and abusive and degrading treatment, weeks after the gas-rich country gathered all the praise for introducing landmark labour reforms like abolishing exploitative ‘kafala’ system and fixing a new minimum wage.

The AI said – in its report – that it spoke to 105 women, who had been employed as live-in domestic workers in Qatar and found that their rights were still being abused and violated despite government reforms aimed at improving their working conditions. Some women had been victims of serious crimes like sexual assault, it reads, adding that as many as 90 of the 105 women contacted by the London-based advocacy group said they regularly worked more than 14 hours per day; 89 reported regularly working seven days a week; and 87 had their passports confiscated by their employers. “Half of the women worked more than 18 hours per day, and most had never had a single day off at all.”

Some also reported not being appropriately paid, while 40 women described being insulted, slapped or spat at, it adds.

All of this gruesome treatment of domestic workers had taken place despite in 2017 Qatar introducing the Domestic Workers Law, which stipulated limits on working hours, mandatory daily breaks, a weekly day off and paid holidays. “The introduction of the 2017 Domestic Workers Law was a step forward for labour rights protection in Qatar,” head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International Steve Cockburn was quoted in the report. “Sadly, the accounts of the women we spoke to make it clear that these reforms have not been properly implemented or enforced.”

“Almost all had their passport confiscated by their employers, and others described not getting their salaries and being subjected to vicious insults and assaults,” said Cockburn.

The Gulf state hosts around 173,000 migrant domestic workers. Some of the women interviewed were still in their jobs, whereas others had left but remained in Qatar, and others had returned to their home countries.

According to their contracts, domestic workers should work no more than 10 hours a day, six days a week, which is already higher than standards set out by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). On an average they worked 16 hours per day, without being paid any overtime.

The Qatari Domestic Workers Law limits working hours to a maximum of ten hours a day but allows for this to be extended, if agreed by the worker. Many women said they felt scared to refuse their employers’ endless requests for more work, even when they needed to rest, the report reads, adding that at least 23 women said they were not given enough food and felt hungry during their employment in Qatar. “Some women also described sleeping in cramped rooms, in some cases on the floor or without air conditioning.”

Forty women reportedly said they had suffered verbal and physical abuse such as degrading treatment, shouting and insults. Another 15 women said they faced physical abuse at the hands of their employers or family members, including spitting, beating, kicking, punching and hair-pulling. As many as five women had been sexually abused by their employers or visiting relatives. Most women felt they could not complain to the police for fear of retaliation by their employers.

The rights group notes that Qatar has utterly failed to hold abusive employers to account.

As a party to various international treaties prohibiting human rights abuses, Qatar is obliged to protect all workers and to provide remedies when those rights are violated. “We are calling on the Qatari authorities to take concrete steps to ensure full implementation of the law, establish strict inspection mechanisms, and take serious actions against abusive employers,” Cockburn said.

Qatar has utterly failed to hold abusive employers to account, which means there is little to deter future abuses. Practices such as passport confiscation and unpaid wages, which indicate forced labour, are not being automatically investigated, and rarely face consequences even when they refuse to hand passports over or pay dues, the report reads.

Prior to 2018 domestic workers had no access to grievance mechanisms, but when Qatar established the Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes, they were finally allowed to submit complaints to these tribunals. However, the process remains beset with delays and other issues. More than half the women AI spoke to reported delayed or unpaid wages, but the very few who felt able to submit claims to the Committees found the process slow and stressful.

One major flaw in the system is that domestic workers risk losing their legal status, income and a place to stay while their complaints are processed. They need a safe refuge and income to support themselves during the process; however, with a government-run shelter not fully operational, complaining at the Committees is not a viable option for most women, it adds.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Need to continue extreme caution against Covid-19: WHO

 The World Health Organisation (WHO) today cautioned against any relaxation of response actions following the recent slight decline in Covid-19 cases in South-East Asia Region, saying the pandemic continues unbated and our response only needs to be strengthened further to curtail virus transmission.

“There should be no complacency in view of the declining numbers in recent weeks,” regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, adding that the region still reports large numbers of Covid-19 cases. “We need to continue to do our very best to curtail the pandemic.”

The coming festival season and the approaching winter, cold season threatens to aggravate the situation if we let our guards down, she added.

Member countries have been making concerted efforts scaling up capacities for timely detection, testing, tracing contacts, isolating the affected and providing hospital care to those who need it. “Our relentless efforts need to continue with more vigor,” the regional director said.

This festive season we must continue to take responsibility as individuals of the need to maintain physical distance, hand hygiene, cough etiquette and wear a mask when and where needed, she said, adding that people must remember the three Cs - avoid crowded places, avoid closed settings and avoid confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

The co-circulation of seasonal influenza and Covid-19 in the winters may present challenges for health systems and health facilities, since both diseases present many similar symptoms. Many of the same measures that are effective in preventing Covid-19 are also effective for preventing influenza, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, covering coughs, ventilation and masks.

WHO is working with countries to take a holistic approach to the preparedness, prevention, control and treatment of all respiratory diseases, including influenza and Covid-19.

For the third week in a row, the WHO South-East Asia Region has registered 6 per cent to 8 per cent decline in the number of Covid-19 cases, mainly due to a decrease in reported cases from India and Bangladesh, though the cases in Nepal has been increasing exponentially.

Home to one-fourth of the worlds’ population, the region has reported over 8 million of the nearly 40 million cases globally, mostly from the most populous countries which also face unique demographic and geographic challenges.

WHO continues to support countries in their containment and mitigation efforts providing technical guidance, laboratory capacity strengthening for testing, equipment for hospitals and protection of healthcare workers, and creating awareness and addressing misinformation.

Government rolls back fare rates for public transportation

 The government has decided to roll back the fares for short- and long-distance public transportation services. 

A cabinet meeting – on October 12 – decided to retain the fare rates, which were in practice before March 24, confirmed the newly appointed government spokesperson and minister for Communication and Information Technology Parbat Gurung in his first press meet today.

The government had imposed the nationwide lockdown effective from March 24 to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “Transportation operators are not allowed to charge more,” Gurung said, adding that 

Though, the long-haul public transportation had resumed from September 17, though the lockdown was lifted on July 21 earlier this year, they have been charging 50 per cent more as they have been instructed to carry half the capacity of transportation. “Public vehicles were allowed to carry passengers only 50 per cent of their total capacity and in lieu charge an additional 50 per cent to the regular fare,” he said, adding that the cabinet meeting withdrew its previous decision. “The government has allowed public transport vehicles to carry passengers to their capacity, and charge the earlier fare too.”

However, the transport entrepreneurs have been charging the more – in long-and-short-haul – despite the government rollback of the fare.

Consumer rights activists, doctors and Kathmandu Valley Mayors’ Forum had criticised the government’s move, saying that carrying passengers without maintaining physical distance will fuel the transmission of Covid-19 among the public.

However, chairman of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) Yogendra Karmacharya said that hardly 300 long-route buses are leaving the Valley these days. “As almost all of them are going empty, there is no need to worry of safety,” he said, accusing the government of puzzling bus operators with its decisions at this difficult time. "Transport operators had to keep their buses off the road for six months, now even during Dashain they are running empty.”

The transport entrepreneurs have been compelled to charge high as they are going empty even during Dashain unlike previous years, when the busses used to be less for festival travel, he added.

Ruling, main opposition lawmakers not to receive Dashain allowances

 After the public uproar, the parliamentarians from ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) decided not to take Dashain allowances this year. They have also decided to deposit the money in the government’s fund established to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Issuing a press note, Nepali Congress chief whip Bal Krishna Khad said that his party’s lawmakers in federal parliament have decided to return Rs 4.32 million, which they were supposed to receive as Dashain allowances. Khad also said that they will deposit the money in the government’s fund that is set up to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

Likewise, a meeting of the NCP’s parliamentary party also took a decision to deposit the money in the fund. The Dashain allowances of the NCP lawmakers in federal parliament will be deposited in the government’s Covid-19 Fund, the NCP (NCP) according to a press note from the ruling party.

After the decision drew flak, the lawmakers were forced to return the Dashain allowance, though the decision to provide them the allowance was approved by the cabinet as the Constitution bars the lawmakers to take Dashain allowance. 

The NCP and NC lawmakers’ have been forced to issue the press note after the parliamentarians faced sharp criticism on social media for receiving Dashain allowances ‘even as the country is reeling under severe crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic’.

Last week, the Federal Parliament Secretariat had distributed Dashain allowances to the lawmakers, who claimed that they came to know about the allowance after the amount was deposited in their bank account. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

NTB, NAC seal a deal to promote tourism

 Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) today signed an agreement to promote tourism.

According to the agreement, NTB and NAC will collaborate on various aspects to promote tourism industry. The agreement – formed under the concept of public-private partnership (PPP) with the objective of promoting Nepal as a major tourist destination in the international market – also ensures cooperation in various fields such as joint promotional work, introductory visits, branding of each other’s organisation and international level tourism related programmes to be organised in Nepal.

Both the stakeholders also claimed that the agreement will play an important role in promoting the tourism sector of the country in both the domestic and international sectors.

“In the midst of the current crisis created by the Covid-19 pandemic, this kind of cooperation will further strengthen the multi-faceted relationship between the two organisations,” chief executive officer (CEO) of NTB Dhananjay Regmi said after signing the agreement. “It will give us more energy and strength to fight against the crisis,” he said, adding that the agreement will prove to be a cornerstone for the effective promotion of Nepal at the international level. 

The agreement was signed by NTB chief executive officer Regmi and NAC general manager (GM) Deem Prasad Poudel.

Tourism industry is in most effected sector due to coronavirus pandemic. As the industry is in the phase of survival to overcome challenges created by the novel coronavirus, the agreement will contribute to the effort of both the organisations for survival, revival and sustainable development of the tourism industry, according to a press note issued by the board.

Government not to bear cost of Covid-19 treatment, PCR testing

 Almost after 6 months, the government has decided not to bear the cost of treatment and PCR testing of Covid-19 patients from today.

A cabinet meeting recently decided to bear only the cost of treatment and PCR testing of frontline workers including differently-abled, single women, senior citizens, security personnel, and sanitization workers, according to the Health Ministry. “They will also be tested only after showing Covid-19 symptoms.”

In a regular virtual press meeting today, spokesperson for the Health Ministry Dr Jageshwar Gautam confirmed that the decision will be effective – in all the government, non-governmental hospitals and laboratories – from today.

Ordinary citizens – other than the frontline workers – and other designated groups have to now onwards bear the cost of Covid-19 treatment and PCR tests on their own, which is against the socialism-oriented Constitution that guarantees the fundamental rights including health and education. However, the incumbent government is hell bent on distorting the Constitutional supremacy.

Likewise, the government has also asked the people to manage the funeral rites of their family members, who die of Covid-19 in home isolation. Earlier, the Nepalese Army has been managing the funeral.

First the government refused to take admission to the non-symptomatic patients in the hospital, and then not charging them for PCR and leaving them to manage the dead bodies.

Amending the ‘Dead Body Management of Covid-19 Cases Guideline’, the government has expressed its inability to manage the funerals of the people dying of Covid-19 in home isolation. The government decision is going to create additional troubles for the people at a time when the hospitals are almost full with patients of the coronavirus and the ambulance and hearse operators are refusing to carry Covid-19 cases.

According to the new rule, the family members need to inform the local administration and the police, if the infected individuals die at home. The funeral rites have to be carried out by maintaining physical distance but old people aged above 60 years and children are barred from participating in the rituals. “The family members themselves have to manage a vehicle to carry the dead body.”

The persons carrying the dead body need to wear gloves, surgical masks, boots, spectacles and full sleeve dress, the new rule reads, adding that the family members have to wrap the body in cloth and transfer it as soon as possible to the mortuary area.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Can Poudel revive economy?

 Bishnu Prasad Paudel has been appointed finance minister for the second time.

First time, when he was finance minister, the country was going through undeclared economic blockade imposed by India – after the declaration of Constitution – also in the immediate aftermath of devastating earthquakes that shook the country. And the economy was in tatters. 

But this time, the whole world is facing crisis due to coronavirus. Nepal obviously has been hit hard – despite the earlier finance minister Dr Yub Raj Khatiwada’s unacceptance – and the economy is again in tatters, this time the worst compared to in 2015. The economy is on the brink of recession amid a deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

The then finance minister Dr Khatiwada brought the budget for the current fiscal year – during the lockdown time that was imposed on March 24 to contain the spread of coronavirus till 120 days – as if the country is going through normal times. However, neither the last fiscal year’s budget could be implemented nor the current fiscal year’s budget will be implemented. And at this time, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has appointed Poudel as the finance minister on October 14. Can Poudel dare to revive the economy?

“Of course, Poudel can revive the economy, if he dares to come out of party polity, and think of the country,” according to senior economist Dr Chanrdmani Adhikari. “Extreme remedy is necessary to cure extreme disease,” he said, adding that the conventional remedy does not work on newer challenges. “Can Poudel dare to revive the economy depends on how accurately he diagnoses the disease?”

The government is short of resources, to fight the pandemic, he said, adding that maintaining the financial balance should be his the top priority as revenue is tanking due to a slump in economic activities amid the outbreak of coronavirus and subsequent containment measures imposed by the government. 

According to the Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO), the government has been able to mobilise Rs 172.37 billion in revenue till October 17. But, during the period, the government spent Rs 182.85 billion in recurrent expenses – mainly the salaries and administrative cost – putting pressure on government treasury. The revenue mobilisation against the gross domestic product (GDP) in the last fiscal year declined after witnessing an ascending trend for 10 years, according to the Finance Ministry. Revenue to GDP ratio stood at 21.07 per cent, down from 23.99 per cent of GDP in the previous fiscal year.

Due to resources constraints Poudel’s predecessor Dr Khatiwada could not bring any stimulus package – through the budget for the current fiscal year – to rescue the economy, neither the central bank – though the Monetary Policy – rescue the private sector. The private sector – battered by the coronavirus and containment measures including lockdowns – want a relief and stimulus package from the government. Those who have lost their livelihoods and incomes are asking the government to support them. The government has neither been supportive to the private sector nor create employment and demand in the market. Will Poudel dare to create demand in the market, and help create employment?

Not only the revenue is shrinking but also external loan and grant due to global pandemic that has bleed the global economy red. The development partners are also facing economic crises, and it is less likely for them to come to Nepal’s rescue, though some of the multilateral agencies, including the World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB), have already helped Nepal. “Thus the government is borrowing from the domestic market – domestic borrowing – early in the current fiscal year to pay the salaries to the government employees, which is very unlikely,” Adhikari said, adding that raising domestic debt has its own limits. “There is a ceiling on domestic borrowing, and the government cannot collect more than Rs 225 billion in domestic debt.”

High domestic borrowing means higher interest rates, and crowding out private sector investment that is a must to give a push to the dipping economy.

Apart from the coronavirus crisis Poudel also faces the pressure from his own party to be populist by distributing the resources to the politically motivates programmes like his predecessor Dr Khatiwada. “Poudel has to find a balance between his party’s populist temptation, and medium as well as long-term economic development aspiration of the country,” Dr Adhikari said. “Can he dare to go against his party’s populist temptation?”

The 120-day lockdown and prohibitory orders have already resulted in massive closure of businesses with widespread job losses making millions jobless. “The four-month-long lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 forced 61 per cent of businesses to close down completely, causing a dire effect on the economy by rendering tens of thousands of people jobless and disrupting the production and supply chain,” according to a survey released by the central bank in August.

The survey also revealed that 22.5 per cent of employees were laid off by businesses of the manufacturing and service sectors, and two-thirds of the laid-off employees were either working on a contract basis or were hired temporarily. Likewise, Sectors like tourism, aviation; micro, small and medium enterprises; and the transport sector suffered badly. Informal sector jobs have also been lost amid reduced economic activities.

On top of these economic problems, Poudel also has to face the humanitarian crisis. He has to find ways to prevent the country from facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The crisis could be fought, if Poudel dare to cut down unnecessary expenses as prescribed by Public Expenditure Review Commission led by Dilli Raj Khanal. “The Commission recommended a number of measures to reduce administrative expenditure including shutting down various government offices,” Dr Adhikari said, adding that the government has not taken any step towards cutting down the unnecessary expenses. “The government, instead of cutting unnecessary expenses, is completely indulged in corruption in the time of coronavirus crisis.”

Could the newly appointed finance minister Poudel dare to reduce facilities enjoyed by the lawmakers and those holding constitutional posts, suspending the lawmaker-led Local Infrastructure Development Partnership Programme and controlling corruption.

In extraordinary situations, extraordinary measures are necessary, and Poudel needs to dare it.

Corona bleeds festive economy red

 Due to shrinking income and decline in business – because of coronavirus spread – this Dashain is witnessing little or no economic activities.

The shops are open, but there are no buyers, as most of the people have either lost their jobs, or their income has been decreased, only to hit the festive expenses.  

The 10-day Dashain festival officially began from Saturday but with many businesses shattered as a result of months-long lockdown and prohibitory orders, income of a majority of the population has been decreased pressurising people psychologically and financially before the festivals. 

Once used to be vibrant with the beginning of the festival, the manufacturing, construction, hotel and restaurants, transportation, wholesale and retail sectors are hit hard due to Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the nominal GDP of last fiscal year stands at Rs 3.8 trillion, of which 82 per cent was made in consumption that accounts for Rs 3 trillion. The monthly consumption of Nepalis stands at Rs 250 billion. The consumption rate increases from mid-July till mid-October with the beginning of the major festivals. Though the consumption has suppressed this year in those months, the wholesale and retail trade saw less demand bleeding the Dashain economy red. 

During the first four months of the fiscal year the consumption used to account for an amount equal to Rs 1,000 billion with the start of festivity which got declined this year. Some 40 per cent of annual consumption used to take place in these four months of festivals.

Due to falling income – people’s purchasing power – and also increasing inflation due to supply chain disruption because of pandemic affecting transportation, workers and labour rate, the aggregate demand has fallen down. The government has – through the budget for the current fiscal year – and also the central bank – through Monetary Policy for the current fiscal year – failed to create aggregate demand.

Dashain allowance for House members draws flak

 The decision to dole out festive allowance to the lawmakers have drawn flak as it is unconstitutional. Federal lawmakers received Dashain allowance equal to one month’s salary, on the basis of the cabinet meeting – on September 17 – that decided to give festival allowance to the lawmakers, confirmed spokesperson for the Parliament Secretariat Rojnath Pandey.

However, the public blamed the lawmakers for being money-minded not only because it is unconstitutional but also at a time when the country’s economy is facing the devastating impact of Covid-19.

“A federal lawmaker draws a monthly salary of Rs 64,070,” according to the Parliament Secretariat. “The cabinet has also decided to provide festival allowance to members of office bearers’ private secretariat and also lawmakers’ private aides, who have served for six months.”

The public opposition has made the lawmakers back foot and they have been claiming that they came to know about the allowance after, the amount was deposited in their bank account. Some of the lawmakers – trying to be populist – even claimed that it was improper of lawmakers to accept Dashain allowance when people were dying of hunger and a large number of work force had lost jobs and businesses had closed in the face of the pandemic.

Couple of them – including Nepal Communist Party (NCP) spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha –announced to give up their pay and perks for one year, keeping in mind the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

The government has even barred government employees from taking allowance in the face of the pandemic but the government – through the cabinet decision – has allowed the lawmakers to get festival allowance.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Government fails to meet revenue mobilisation target of first quarter

 The government has failed to meet the revenue mobilisation target of the first quarter due to slower economy because of the coronavirus impact.

The government has been able to mobilise only Rs 172.36 billion revenue – some 17 per cent of the targeted amount – in the first quarter of the current fiscal year that ended today, though the revenue amount is close to the first quarter of the last fiscal year. In the first quarter of the last fiscal year, the government had been able to mibilise Rs 190 billion in revenue, according to the Financial Comptroller General Office (FCGO). “The revenue government earned during mid-July to mid-October – the first quarter of the current fiscal year – is just Rs 18 billion less than the last year’s first quarter’s realisation of Rs 190 billion.”

The government has revised the target of revenue mobilisation down to Rs 1.01 trillion for the current fiscal year 2020-21, down from Rs 1.11 trillion of the last fiscal year due to possible impact of coronavirus on economy. 

The businesses were completely closed for four months from March 24 hurting the economy. However, after the government itself felt the heat and came short for even to pay salary to the government employees, the government was forced to end the lockdown. The government requested the private sector to resume business activities by strictly following the health and safety protocols. However, the rising coronavirus cases failed the government assumption of economic revival as expected. The closure of industries and businesses made more than 569,653 people lose their jobs, though the then finance minister Dr Yub Raj Khatiwada had been claiming of not very big impact on economy. 

According to the FCGO, the government has spent some 4.26 per cent to Rs 15 billion capital expenditure earmarked for the first quarter. Generally, the first quarter witnesses very less capital expenditure in any fiscal year.

The government is under heavy financial pressure as the revenue mobilisation has been tightly matching the recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure. “Unlike past fiscal years, the government is borrowing from the domestic market from the first quarter,” a Finance Ministry source informed, adding that the mismatch will be balanced by the domestic borrowing.

Government pledges to ensure food security

 The government has pledged to ensure food security.

Addressing a programme organised on the occasion of the 40th World Food Day today, agriculture minister Ghanashyam Bhusal claimed to ensure food security as his ministry is preparing new policies and regulations to regulate the food production and distribution sector. “The Food Act has been prepared as per the spirit of the constitution,” he said, adding that the regulations are also being drafted. “The issue of right to food and healthy food for everyone has been addressed constitutionally and politically, but a lot of work still remains to be done.”

“Farmers alone cannot sort out their problems,” he said, adding that at least one agricultural technician in every ward is the need of the day to develop the agricultural sector.

Speaking in the occasion, chairperson of Alliance of Agriculture for Food campaign Uddhav Adhikari stressed on increasing production to discourage the import of agricultural products. “The government is adopting sustainable development of agriculture through organic agriculture,” he said, adding that a task force formed by the ministry for the promotion of organic agriculture has already submitted its report but there has been no response so far. “The government needs to be serious and bring result oriented policies.”

Likewise agriculture secretary Rajendra Prasad Bhari said that the ministry is working on the classification of farmers to ensure access to food for all. “We are now planning to categorise farmers and provide facilities through a voucher system,” he said, adding that the ministry has also asked all the provinces to provide farmers’ data. “The ministry also has a plan to reduce chemical farming and promote organic farming.”

The private sector and local governments have decided to buy and sell the agricultural produce from the farmers as the products cannot be bought only by the food management and trade companies, he added.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Media sector welcomes clean feed policy

 Nepali media sector – including advertising agencies – has welcomed the government decision of implementation of clean feed policy, expecting the government move will expand the advertising market to almost double.

Issuing a joint statement today, Nepal Media Society, Broadcasting Association of Nepal and Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Nepal welcomed the decision. Earlier yesterday, Media Alliance Nepal has also welcomed the government move.

The government yesterday directed distributors of foreign television channels to broadcast them in Nepal without advertisements from October 23, warning of legal action against those, who fail to comply.

“Nepali media sector welcomes the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology move yesterday, the press note reads, adding that the implementation of clean feed policy –  that has been continuously lobbied and demanded by media sector since long has to be immediately implemented. “The clean feed policy will help domestic production and industry to expand while helping reduce their dependency.”

it is necessary to clarify some ambiguities in the bill through an advertisement instruction manual based on discussions with concerned organisations as it is necessary to form an advertisement board to implement the law, the press note reads, adding that the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology had reminded the distributors of foreign television channels that the Advertisement (Regulation) Act 2019 requires foreign television channels to be aired in Nepal without advertisements within October 23 this year and that the law has already given them one year to make the preparations necessary for airing foreign content free of advertisements.

The Cable TV operators screen pay channels and free-to-air channels on Nepali television sets. While the free-to-air channels, even if they carry advertisements, are shown to viewers without charge, foreign pay channels play advertisements of various multinational brands. But the pay channels can also be aired without commercials after levying certain charges on viewers under the clean feed policy.

Bahrain prince, his expedition team successfully scale Mt Manaslu

 The prince of Bahrain and his expedition team successfully scaled Mt Manaslu (8,163 meter) today.

According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), the liaison officer of the base camp confirmed the successful ascent of Mt Manaslu by the prince of Bahrain and his expedition team. “Fourteen climbers from Bahrain and three mountain guides have successfully climbed the mountain at 7:10 am this morning,” a press note from the department reads.

The team – including the prince of Bahrain Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa – had reached the base camp of Mt Manaslu on Tuesday. The expedition team has already ascended Mt Lobuche (6,119 meter) on October 3, the department press note reads, adding that after the mountaineering activities were suspended due to Covid-19, the expedition team of Bahrain prince has made the first ascent of 2020.

The government has suspended spring season climbing as a precautionary measure for the safety of the climbers. Mountaineering activities resumed in July after nearly six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

An 18-member expedition team – including a member from the royal family and three nationals from the United Kingdom – had arrived in Kathmandu on September 16. The department issued the climbing permit to the team on September 22.

According to the department, it has issued climbing permits to four teams for three mountains – Mt BarunTse (7,129 meter), Mt Manaslu and Mt Gyalzen (6,151 meter) – for this season. The department has collected some Rs 1.91 million as royalty from expedition teams attempting to scale mountains this autumn.