Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is returning stone sculpture to Nepal

The Consulate General of Nepal in New York and The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced yesterday the return of a tenth century stone sculpture, Shiva in Himalayan Abode with Ascetics, to Nepal.

An agreement was signed by acting consul general Bishnu Prasad Gautam and president and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Daniel H Weiss to bring the arts back to Nepal, according to a press note issued by the Consulate General of Nepal in New York.

The sculpture depicts Lord Shiva, a revered Hindu deity, with his two ascetic disciples in a mountain abode at Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. The sculpture, which is approximately 13 inches high, was given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995 and remained in the collection until recent Museum research, based on that of renowned Nepali scholar Lain Singh Bangdel and his book, 'Inventory of Stone Sculptures of Kathmandu Valley', determined that the object belonged to the Kankeswari Temple (Kanga-Ajima) in Kathmandu and that it should be returned to Nepal. The Museum contacted Nepal earlier this year to offer the return of the sculpture, and is arranging for the object to be transported to Nepal, the press note reads.

"We are deeply grateful to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its president and chief executive officer, the Board of Trustees, the Museum’s scholars and officials for their initiative and cooperation in returning this lost artifact back to Nepal," Speaking on the occasion, acting consul general Gautam said. "We also offer thanks to many supporters and interested parties for their love of Nepali art," he said, adding that Nepal appreciate the Museum's ongoing dedication and commitment to working for the preservation and promotion of world cultural heritage. "The warm cooperation we have received from the Museum has deeply contributed to Nepal's national efforts to recover and reinstate its lost artifacts, including the Museum’s initiative to return two Nepali artifacts--Uma Maheshwara (Shiva and Parbati), and Standing Buddha in 2018."

The Consulate looks forward to working closely with the Museum for the promotion of art and culture, as these collaborative efforts truly contribute to preservation of the cultural heritage, and further strengthen the long-standing ties between the peoples of Nepal and the United States of America, he added.

"The Museum is committed to the responsible acquisition of archaeological art, and applies rigorous provenance standards both to new acquisitions and the study of works long in its collection in an ongoing effort to learn as much as possible about ownership history," the Metropolitan Museum of art president and CEO Weiss said, "In returning this sculpture to Nepal, the Museum is acting to strengthen the good relationship it has long maintained with scholarly institutions and colleagues in Nepal and to foster and celebrate continued cooperation and dialogue between us."

At a signing ceremony hosted at the Museum, the Consulate General honoured officials with ceremonial Nepali dhaka scarves (khada), in appreciation of the Museum’s contribution to preservation and promotion of world cultural heritage, including Nepali art.

India-Nepal review progress of post-earthquake reconstruction projects

Nepal and India today held a Joint Project Monitoring Committee (JPMC) meeting on post-earthquake reconstruction projects in Kathmandu.

The meeting was co-chaired by secretary at the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) Sushil Chandra Tiwari and joint secretary (North) at the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India Anurag Srivastava, according to a press note issued by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.

The JPMC Mechanism was set up in August 2017 to monitor the progress of the Government of India-assisted post-earthquake reconstruction projects in Nepal. The meeting was attended by representatives of relevant ministries, departments and agencies of the government, officers and officials of the Government of India, consultants and other stakeholders engaged in the implementation of the projects. The last JPMC meeting was held on March 8, 2020 in Kathmandu.

The meeting carried out a comprehensive review of the progress of Government of India assisted post-earthquake reconstruction projects in housing, education, health and cultural heritage sectors in Nepal, the press note reads, adding that both sides expressed satisfaction on the successful completion of 50,000 houses in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, constructed under the Government of India's assistance in the housing sector. "Similarly, both sides also noted with appreciation the progress achieved in reconstruction projects being undertaken under education, cultural heritage and health sectors in Nepal."

The co-chairs agreed to hold the next meeting of the JPMC on a mutually-convenient date.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Government forms probe committee to study aviation sector

The government has formed a probe committee domestic aircraft.

"The investigative committee will help domestic airlines make more robust, safe and effective," confirmed the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. "A meeting chaired by prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also in charge of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, formed a five-member probe committee led by joint secretary of the ministry Buddhisagar Lamichhane."

"The committee has former director of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) Bheshraj Subedi, senior captain Krishna Bahadur Poudel and joint secretary at the ministry Pramod Nepal as members and CAAN general manager Laxman Devkota as member secretary," the ministry added. 

A committee will study the physical and mechanical condition of domestic airlines in Nepal regarding various problems seen in their aircrafts and helicopters recently, a press note issued by the ministry reads, adding that the committee has been entrusted with the responsibility to submit the report within three months with suggestions. "The committee will study and observe the physical, mechanical and archival condition of all the aircrafts flying in and out of Nepal."

The committee is also responsible for reviewing the CAAN’s test report on whether the airline has complied with the safety standards approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the press note reads. "It will also examine whether the criteria for crew members have been met."

The probe committee will make suggestions to improve the quality of air safety by studying the safety related work to be followed by the CAAN. “We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the general public and tourists by making Nepal's air service reliable and trustworthy," the statement reads.

A Buddha Air flight from Kathmandu to Biratnagar managed a safe landing at Kathmandu airport as it failed to land at Biratnagar airport due to technical glitch.

Kathmandu Valley’s 50 per cent population vaccinated against Covid-19

Almost half the population of the Kathmandu Valley has been fully vaccinated.

According to the Health Ministry, some 50 per cent of the Kathmanduites has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. "Some 50 per cent of the targeted population in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts has been vaccinated with both the doses," the ministry confirmed, adding that 50 per cent of the population in the Valley has received the first dose of vaccine, while 48 per cent has received the full two doses. "While some 1,622,441 people have been given the first dose, some 1,562,734 people have been fully vaccinated."

Of the population of 3,247,558 in the Kathmandu Valley, the target is to immunise a population of some 2,129,773, who are above 18 years of age, the ministry added.

Some, 51.5 per cent of the target population have got the first dose of vaccine, while 48.7 per cent of the target population the full dose in Kathmandu district. Kathmandu District Public Health Office has been providing vaccination service against the coronavirus from 145 vaccination centres in Kathmandu district. Likewise, some 49.7 per cent of the target population has been given the first dose in Lalitpur, whereas some 45.4 per cent of the target population has got the full dose. The target population in Lalitpur district stands at some 382,860 and some 246,851 in Bhaktapur district.

In Bagmati Province, some 38.2 per cent of the population has got the first dose of the vaccines whereas some 35.3 per cent has already received both doses of jabs.

The government has targetted to vaccinate 33 per cent of the population in the country against Covid-19 by October 17, while, the government has preparing to vaccinate two-thirds of the total population by mid-January 2022 and all eligible citizens by mid-April 2022.

The government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has prioritised the vaccination programme as its top priority.

According to the ministry, a total of 17.85 million doses of vaccine has already arrived in Nepal, and 12.95 million vaccines have already been administered. Nepal has been administering four types of vaccine that is Covishield, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Vero Cell. "The number of people getting the first dose of vaccine in the country has reached some 6,960,828, whereas the number of people getting both vaccines has reached some 6,205,770," according to the ministry.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Buddha Air plane lands safely in Kathmandu after technical glitch

 A Buddha Air aircraft with 73 passengers and four crew members did emergency landing safely after s technical glitch.

The pilot detected the technical glitch, while it was preparing to land at the Biratnagar airport, but returned to Kathmandu to make the emergency landing as its landing gear was reportedly not detected. The aircraft 9N-ANI with 73 passengers onboard including 68 adults, two children and three infants, had taken off for Biratnagar from Kathmandu, according to Buddha Air.

According to a press note issued by the Buddha Air, the pilot of flight U4 701 spotted a bug on the landing gear during the landing procedure, which was confirmed by the control tower, which prompted the captain to decide to return the flight to Kathmandu.

Two individual indicators, one for each gear, indicate the position of the landing gear. "The landing gear system did not deploy after the plane was preparing to land at Biratnagar airport and the pilot had to fly back to Kathmandu declaring emergency. The Kathmandu airport was closed for 30 minutes for emergency landing.

The jet safely landed at the TIA after circling the capital skies for more than an hour to reduce fuel use in accordance with safety requirements. According to safety norms, the aircraft had to burn fuel to reduce its landing weight. "The flight has two landing gear indicators, with the primary indication failing to show whether the landing gear has opened," the press note reads, adding that the secondary signal, on the other hand, had functioned properly and indicated that the landing gear had effectively opened. "Following the 'Zero Tolerance in Safety' policy, the captain decided to return the plane to Kathmandu."

The Captain apparently conducted a normal landing in TIA after the Budhha Air Technical staff confirmed that the issue with the landing gear has been resolved, the airliner said, apologising for the inconvenience caused to the travelers and their families.

It further expressed gratitude to all TIA staff and security personnel for their preparedness.

SC seeks Rs 5 million bail from former IRD chief Sharma

 The Special Court today asked for Rs 5 million bail from former director general of the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) Chudamani Sharma, who has been accused of revenue leakage worth over Rs 1 billion.

After a hearing, a division bench of judges Abdul Aziz Musalman and Justice Nityananda Pandey issued the verdict.

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) had filed a case against three persons including Sharma at the Special Court on June 23 accusing them of corruption. The CIAA had sought to recover a total of Rs 1.33 billion from the accused.

Sharma, who has been accused of one of the largest corruption scandals in Nepal's history, was under investigation for possessing property amassed through alleged corruption. The two other accused including Tax Settlement Commission (TSC) chairman LD Mahat and the TSC member Umesh Prasad Dhakal, who also cleared an amount of Rs 5 million each to be released on bail on Sunday.

They have been accused of the abuse of authority by making the taxpayers submit less than the actual amount, causing a huge amount of revenue leakage to the state.

Enrollment begins for Sanofi and GSK’s Phase 3 efficacy trial of Covid-19 vaccine candidate in Nepal, led by IVI

 Sanofi and GSK received approval for their Phase 3 clinical study in Nepal to assess the safety, efficacy and immunogenicityof their adjuvanted recombinant-protein Covid-19 vaccine candidate. The International Vaccine Institute (IVI) -- an international organisation dedicated to the discovery, development and delivery of safe, effective and affordable vaccines -- will conduct the Phase 3 clinical trial in Nepal, expecting to enroll 4,000 volunteers across 3 study sites in the country.

In addition to generating local data to support the global clinical trial, this Phase 3 study led by IVI will continue to build capacity and infrastructure for vaccine research and development in Nepal. As Covid-19 vaccination becomes available, study participants are encouraged to receive an approved Covid-19 vaccine during the study, if they wish to do so. As part of the study design, all participants including the control group will be offered the study vaccine as soon as it is determined to be safe and effective.

"Nepal is participating in Sanofi Pasteur’s pivotal Phase 3 study, and we have begun enrollment of study participants in the country," country head of Sanofi Pasteur India and South Asia Annapurna Das said, adding that they have partnered with International Vaccine Institute for the study in Nepal.

"As the virus continues to evolve, we are anticipating what will be needed in the coming months and years, and accordingly, have adapted our vaccine development programme," she said, adding that they believe their Covid-19 adjuvanted, recombinant vaccine can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against Covid-19 and are committed toinitiating ourclinical programin Nepal, at the earliest. "Achieving global immunity to end the Covid-19 pandemic requires an innovative generation of new vaccines that have been tested against circulating variants and that will be accessible to low-resource settings."

The company is pleased to partner with Sanofi Pasteur on this pivotal Phase 3 study in Nepal, particularly in light of our recent collaboration agreement with the Nepal Health Research Council earlier this year to strengthen public health in the region,” said deputy director general at IVI Dr Anh Wartel.

The primary endpoint of the study is the prevention of symptomatic Covid-19 in SARS-CoV-2 naïve adults, with secondary endpoints being the prevention of severe Covid-19 disease and prevention of asymptomatic infection.

In a two-stage approach, the study will initially investigate the efficacy of a vaccine formulation targeting the original virus strain (D.614), while a second stage will evaluate a second formulation targeting theBeta variant (B.1.351). Recent scientific evidence shows that antibodies created against the Beta variant may provide broad cross-protection against other more transmissible variants.

The design of the Phase 3 study, conducted across a broad diversity of geographies, also allows evaluation of the efficacy of the candidate against a variety of circulating variants. Sanofi and GSK will also run clinical studies to assess the ability of the adjuvanted recombinant-protein Covid-19 vaccine candidate to generate a strong booster response regardless of the type of vaccine initially received.

The Phase 3 study initiation follows the global interim Phase 2 results which showed that the adjuvanted recombinant Covid-19 vaccine candidate achieved high rates of neutralising antibody responses in all adult age groups, with 95 per cent to100 per cent seroconversion rates. After a single injection, high neutralizing antibody levels were also generated in participants with evidence of prior SARS.

World Bank vice president emphasises support to green, resilient, and inclusive development

World Bank vice president for South Asia Hartwig Schafer concluded his five-day visit to Nepal, reiterating the multilateral development partner's commitment to support Nepal’s resilient recovery from the pandemic.

In separate meetings with the Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the finance minister Janardan Sharma, Schafer commended the government’s effective Covid-19 response, including the swift rollout of vaccines and strong focus on economic recovery, according to a press note issued by the World Bank. The meetings also stressed the importance of accelerating reform implementation and investment, and enhanced collaboration to support Nepal’s sustainable development, it adds.

"Nepal is an example in resilience, emerging stronger from shocks such as the 2015 earthquake and working with a clear vision to build back better from the impacts of Covid-19,” Hartwig Schafer said, adding that the World Bank is proud to be Nepal’s partner in development and is committed to work together with the government, development partners, private sector, civil society, and other key stakeholders for a recovery that is green, resilient, and inclusive.

The World Bank joined Nepal and development partners for the endorsement of the Kathmandu Declaration at a high-level roundtable on Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development (GRID) on September 23. The declaration underscored Nepal’s commitment to the GRID vision and aligning partners’ support around potential priority investments, market incentives and policies, institutional actions, and information needed to support Nepal’s GRID transition.

"I applaud Nepal for embarking on a new development paradigm—the green, resilient and inclusive development framework or 'GRID'," Schafer added. "The GRID approach is meant to deliver short-, medium-, and long-term benefits to people, the planet, and Nepal’s economy. The World Bank is pleased to support the Kathmandu Declaration to strengthen Nepal’s sustainable development."

Likewise, he also met minister of Energy Pampha Bhusal, state minister of Health Umesh Shrestha, government secretaries, development partners and representatives of the private sector, the World Bank press note reads. "Outside Kathmandu, Schafer visited the proposed Upper Arun Hydro Electric Project site and participated in an event on federalism with federal and local level authorities in Dhulikhel."

The World Bank is supporting feasibility studies and detailed design for the development of the proposed Upper Arun project.

Schafer wrapped up his visit with a special event organised in partnership with the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile and Nepal Automobile Sports Association to promote awareness of road safety and advocate for UN-standard helmets, which are affordable and certified for motorized two-wheeler riders. The event was organised as part of an ongoing road safety campaign with the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Nepal opens up for tourists

 Nepal has resumed on-arrival visa services for foreigners.

According to a new protocol issued by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, now tourists can get on-arrival visa as Nepal reported a sharp decline in the new cases of Covid-19 in the past few weeks. The  new rule has also scrapped the mandatory requirement to stay in quarantine for 14 days in case of those, who have received both the doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

The new protocol was issued under the Infectious Disease Act (1964), after the Covid-19 Crisis Management Ordinance (2020), along with around a dozen ordinances, introduced by the government, became ineffective from September 16 when they failed to get through House within the constitutional deadline. The cabinet, on Monday, approved the new travel protocol under the old Infectious Disease Act. It will be effective from today, according to the Tourism Ministry.

According to the new protocol, all foreigners arriving in Nepal, however, will have to undergo antigen tests at the entry point. "They can directly go to their destinations without having to stay in mandatory quarantine, if they test negative for the virus," the protocol reads, "But those testing positive in the antigen tests are required to stay in a hotel until they test negative for the virus."

If the antigen test facility is not available at the border points, the visiting foreign nationals need to undergo such tests at their respective hotels, the protocol reads, adding that they are allowed to venture outside only after they have a negative PCR test report.

Likewise, Nepalis returning the country with both doses of Covid-19 vaccines can directly go to their homes. They, however, must produce a PCR negative test of Covid-19 taken 72 hours before their departure, the protocol adds.

"Indian nationals, who test negative for the virus can enter Nepal even if they have not received Covid-19 vaccines," it reads, adding that they must furnish PRC negative reports conducted within 72 hours before their arrival at Nepal's border. "They also need to fill up an online form available at the Central Covid-19 Crisis Management Center (CCMC) and produce a hard copy of the form upon their arrival at the border point."

Nepal’s decision to ease quarantine requirements and visa issuance has send a positive message to the international community, according to the travel and tourism entrepreneurs.

TFF mini summit 2021 to be held in Nepal

 Thought For Food (TFF) -- a food and agriculture entrepreneurial innovation engine committed to organising the largest and most diverse community of young innovators from more than 175 countries since the last 8 years -- is holding its mini conference in Nepal.

"With the dream of securing a better food future, TFF has been acting as an exposure platform for the enthusiastic changemakers through the TFF challenge every year," a press note issued by the TFF reads, adding that the TFF Challenge is an annual collaborative prize competition that creates successful and promising food and agriculture startups in all parts of the world. "The main purpose of the challenge is to assemble a group of people as a team to create, share, and work together to bring an answer and solution to one of the biggest questions of our time: How will we feed 10+ billion people on a hotter planet?"

This year, TFF Challenge has almost reached to its finale. The finale will be happening on October 2 as TFF Global Summit 2021. TFF Global Summit 2021 is a global main stage event at UN FAO’s World Food Forum and is held in support of the UN Food systems Summit and COP26, where the top 10 finalist team selected from more than 150 countries will pitch and share the crazy and excellent ideas of their innovation on how to feed 10 billion people on a hotter planet by 2050. The summit will be held physically in Rome as well as live-streamed globally around 192 countries.

The big excitement is here for you as TFF Nepal team is bringing the global summit of Rome in your home city. "To share the global energy, entrepreneurial knowledge, and excitement of the main summit with our Nepali youth changemakers, TFF Nepal team is organising a watch party, called TFF mini summit, where Nepali participants watch the TFF Global Summit 2021 live directly to our screens from the stage of UN-FAO, Rome, Italy, and feel the same vibe as if they are attending the global summit physically," it reads.

TFF Mini Summit 2021 happening in Nepal is a replica event of the TFF Global Summit 2021.

It is a 6-hours physical event where a diverse community of youth, students, startups, and budding as well as established entrepreneurs will join together to experience the thrill of the main global summit. The summit allows participants to watch the TFF Global Summit 2021 live directly to our screens from the stage of UN FAO, Rome, Italy.

This watch party will cover the finale of the TFF challenge where 10 teams from diverse geological areas will compete to accomplish the winning title of TFF Challenge, 2021. The participants will be encouraged and empowered to use their innovation and teamwork skills so that they can put their ideas into action. Experts from diverse backgrounds will join the main summit who will share their expertise and mentor the teams. The TFF challenge, 2021 will showcase the top 10 most impactful and visionary startup innovations which were able to reach the finale, to the TFF summit. It will be an extraordinary event where all the participants, mentors and experts will get to see how and what the teams will come up with within the sector of nutritious food and sustainable agriculture.

The mini summit initiated by TFF Nepal and supported by Kathmandu College of Management (KCM), Sarawagi Group and NASO, aims to prepare and inform participants about the TFF community and the annual TFF challenge. It is a great opportunity where we can represent the enthusiasm and energy that the youth of Nepal possess, the press note reads.

Links between migration and sustainable development discussed

Students today discussed on interlinkages between migration and sustainable development at an interactive event organised jointly by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to mark the SDGs Action Week 2021.

"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises that migration, if managed well, can be a powerful driver of sustainable development to both the countries of origin and host,” said the UN resident coordinator for Nepal Sara Nyanti, addressing the event.

"Remittances inflow to Nepal contributes equal to nearly 30 per cent of the country’s GDP," she said, adding that it is crucial that all play role in making Nepali migration work for sustainable development.

The event was organised with the aim to sensitise and bring the young people into discussion about how migrant youths and well-governed migration contribute to achieve the sustainable development goals.

"Nepalis are working, studying, or living in over 100 countries across the world," IOM Nepal chief of mission Lorena Lando said addressing the inaugural session. "Over a million Nepalis have returned home since the pandemic hit the country in 2020 - many of them empty-handed," she said, adding that an IOM study conducted in September 2020 suggests that 50 per cent of the returned migrants desired for remigration citing lack of livelihood opportunities and poverty at home. "IOM sees an urgent need to set up an integrated rights-based and gender-responsive sustainable socio-economic reintegration package for the returnee communities."

Migration experts from IOM’s regional office in Bangkok and Headquarters in Geneva were among the presenters at the event, which was organised in collaboration with Samata School, an educational foundation serving the nation by providing education in much lower fee-structure with motto of 'Education for All'.

The programme is part of the UN Nepal initiative to bring together stakeholders to reinforce shared commitment between partners across government, civil society, business, academia, and the UN system to accelerate action on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) during an annual week of action, awareness, and accountability for the SDGs, called SDGs Action Week from September 17 to 28.

The global theme for the year is #TurnItAround for a healthy, green and just recovery and keep the promise of the SDGs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Transforming agriculture key to Asia and Pacific’s future and survival

Governments in Asia and the Pacific must transform agriculture to make it more modern, climate-proof, and inclusive as the region recovers from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

With 76 per cent of Asia’s poor living in rural areas, raising agricultural productivity and income is key to fighting poverty, according to the theme chapter of Asian Development Outlook 2021 Update released today. The latest edition of ADB’s flagship economic publication urges governments to enact policies that integrate technology, infrastructure investments, innovation, and regulatory reforms to ensure food security and continued economic development.

According to the report, the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed an additional 75 million to 80 million people in developing Asia into extreme poverty. This in turn is causing greater food insecurity. Worldwide, hunger will surge by about a third this year, according to an assessment by the US Department of Agriculture. Of the 291 million additional people suffering from food insecurity globally, 72 per cent are in Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

"Agriculture has supported Asia and the Pacific’s rapid economic growth in recent decades, but multiple challenges are driving the need to modernise and transform the sector, from Covid-19 to climate change and urbanisation," ADB acting chief economist Joseph Zveglich, Jr, said, adding that policies that support this transformation are crucial in order to put food on the table and protect the region’s recovery and sustainable development.

Beyond the pandemic, climate change is the biggest challenge facing agriculture in Asia. Increases in extreme weather are threatening crop production and overall sustainability. From 2008 to 2018, Asia suffered $207 billion in crop and livestock production losses to disasters, or 74 per cent of the global total, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. To address this, government policies can promote a range of solutions like early warning systems for extreme weather, climate-resilient agricultural infrastructure and production practices, and affordable crop insurance.

Other challenges include the adverse effect of rapid urbanisation on farm labour productivity; changing food preferences, such as increasing demand for meat; outdated infrastructure, particularly in terms of water and irrigation management; and obsolete government support measures, the report reads, adding that developments in areas like aquaculture and digital technology have the potential to help transform agriculture in Asia and the Pacific. "Aquaculture now accounts for about half of the world’s fishery production and is growing fast."

About 90 per cent of aquaculture production is in Asia. Meanwhile, digital technologies, including mobile phones and applications, can increase technical knowledge among the region’s 350 million smallholder farmers, helping them adopt innovative practices and get up-to-date market information.

Government policies should transition away from traditional production support, the report reads. "They should focus more on investing in research and development, encouraging innovation, and pursuing market-oriented development," it adds, "At the same time, governments must protect the rights of farm workers, including migrants and women, to ensure everyone benefits from the sector’s transformation."

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.

Economy to modestly grow to 4.1 per cent: ADB

Nepal’s economy is anticipated to grow by 4.1 per cent  (at market prices) in the current fiscal year 2021-22, up from an estimated growth of 2.3 per cent in the last fiscal year, according to the latest Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2021 Update, a flagship publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The multilateral development partner has revised Nepal’s economic growth rate to downwards 4.1 per cent from an earlier projection of 5.1 per cent. However, the coalition government led by the Nepali Congress has targetted an ambitious 7 per cent economic growth for the current fiscal year, through budget substitution bill. Earlier government led by KP Sharma Oli had targetted to achieve 6.5 per cent economic growth.

In the fiscal year 2019-20, Nepal posted a negative economic growth of 2.1 per cent, which was lowest in nearly the past four decades. The ADB has also revised the projected economic growth rate of Nepal to 2.3 per cent in the last fiscal year 2020-21, down from its previous estimation of 3.1 per cent announced last April.

"Growth will largely be supported by the ongoing vaccination campaign against Covid-19 as the national immunisation plan remains key to Nepal’s economic recovery,” said ADB country director for Nepal Arnaud Cauchois. "Downside risks include the uncertain trajectory of Covid-19, a possible surge in Covid-19 cases, and subsequent strict containment measures, which could reverse the gradual economic recovery in the last fiscal year 2020-21."

According to the report, growth in Nepal’s agriculture will likely be boosted by increased paddy plantation amid abundant rainfall this monsoon season. Industry output is expected to grow, thanks to a large increase in export volume and stronger domestic demand, as rollout of the national vaccination plan will reduce infection rates over time.

The government’s fiscal policy for the current fiscal year largely focuses on strengthening the nation’s health care system, the report reads, adding that monetary policy will remain accommodative through a dedicated refinancing facility, concessional lending for priority projects and for affected businesses. "Growth in services will accelerate because of increased economic activities in the wholesale and retail trade, transport, and financial services along with the vaccine rollout nationwide."

International tourism arrivals, which declined by 80.8 per cent in 2020, may gradually recover, as trekking routes and expeditions resume, it adds. "Hotels and restaurants, travel, and tourism will likely take more time to recover to pre-pandemic level until the sustained containment of Covid-19."

The report says the country’s inflation will rise modestly to 5.2 per cent in the current fiscal year 2021-22, up from the projected 3.6 per cent, due to higher global oil prices and a gradual recovery in domestic demand.

Growth in non-oil imports will likely remain high in the current fiscal year, as investments rise on the gradual revival of the economy. On the other hand, growth in oil imports may be slow, because an increase in hydroelectricity generation may partially offset a rise in fossil fuel consumption. Even with continued strong growth in exports and remittances, the current account deficit will remain high, at an estimated 5 per cent of GDP, though down from 8 per cent a year earlier.

Other downside risks include natural hazards such as erratic monsoons and floods, which could reduce farm output and damage infrastructure, the report reads, adding that heavy rainfall since mid-June 2021 has triggered landslides and floods and led to the loss of lives and livelihoods in some mountainous districts of Nepal.

The report also says that fiscal spending by provincial and local governments can be improved if they address the persistent capacity deficiencies in investment planning, financial management, project readiness, procurement, and contract management.

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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Manufacturing plants in Lumbini operating at half capacity

The manufacturing sector in Lumbini Province has been operating at only 48.80 per cent of their capacity, with more than half the industrial capacity of the province remaining unutilised, according to a study.

According to a mid-term review of the fiscal year 2020-21 published by the central bank, there is a downfall in capacity utilisation of the secondary sector due to fall in businesses such as noodles, synthetic cloth and paper. "Over the period, there was a fall in paper business of the province by 85.72 per cent, while those of synthetic cloth and noodles declined by 44.03 per cent and 41.10 per cent, respectively."

The report also revealed that investors are found increasingly attracted to the production of mustard oil, alcoholic beverages, rosin, GI wire and electric cables. "The growth in the business of these products soared by a minimum of 25 per cent on an average," it reads, adding that despite a massive fall in tourists’ inflow in the province, the number of hotels and lodges increased by 15.27 per cent. "Likewise, the production of main food items also declined in the province."

The yields of main food crops fell by 4.36 per cent, milk production fell by 1.18 per cent and fish production fell by 23.46 per cent, it adds. "The land area receiving irrigation services increased nominally by 0.78 per cent in the province."

Probe committee recommends action against Sebon chair

The probe committee has recommend government to take action against chair of the Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon) Bhisma Raj Dhungana. The committee reported that Sebon chair misused his position to take undue advantage.

Submitting its report to the government today former High Court Judge Ananta Raj Dumre, who led the committee, said that the government will do needful as his team has completed its duty. The committee handed the investigation report to finance minister Janardan Sharma at a programme organised at the Finance Ministry.

The cabinet had formed the committee on September 1 to investigate the allegations against Sebon chair Dhungana.  It was asked to submit its report within 15 days.

Receiving the report, finance minister Sharma said that the government will take necessary decision after studying it. He also vowed to protect interests of all investors in the capital market.

The Sebon chair Dhungana and Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) chief executive officer (CEO) Chandra Singh Saud have been blamed for taking golden shares of the Sarbottam Cement -- that is preparing to issue public share through book-building process -- in the name of daughter and wife.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), under the parliament had summoned the both and directed the government to take action against both of them on the allegation. Likewise, Earlier On August 20, the Finance Committee also had decided to take action against Sebon chair and Nepse CEO Saud for taking unfair advantage of their position while purchasing the shares.

The Finance Ministry had also sought clarification from both of them.
On August 24, Saud has resigned claiming that he has not misused his position, while buying Sarbottam Cement share in the name of his wife.

Without better productive capacities, poorest countries will remain margins of global economy

UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2021 to be released next week is calling for increased investment in productive capacities and state capacity in least developed countries (LDCs), as the Covid-19 crisis and the emerging two-speed global recovery threaten to reverse many hard-won development gains in these countries.

"The development of productive capacities in LDCs is necessary for boosting their ability to respond to and recover from crises such as the pandemic, and to advance towards sustainable development," the report reads, adding that to achieve that, they need the decisive support of the international community to finance the immense investments required and to build technological capabilities.

The UN established the LDC category 50 years ago. The grouping of the world’s weakest economies has expanded from an initial 25 countries in 1971, peaking at 52 in 1991, and stands at 46 today, with only six countries having graduated – stopped being an LDC – to date.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Tight liquidity pulls Nepse downs by 114.02 points

The Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) index today plunged by 114. 02 points -- some 4.05 per cent fall -- to close at 2,698.25 points due to tighten liquidity.

With a fall of three digit, Nepse has gone below 2,700 points in five months. On April 22, Nepse crossed the benchmark.

The first trading day of the week also witnessed sensitive index and float index also drop as the sensitive index closed at 506.27 points and float index closed at 188.70 points.

The entire 13 sub-groups landed on red, though four scrips advanced while all the other scrips declined in today's trading, according to the Nepse. Sunday also witnessed a total of 17,330,538 units of shares of some 225 companies being traded at Rs 8.49 billion. 

The share market has seen volatility in the past few weeks after central bank tightened noose on loan against shares. With tightening of the lonable fund and interest hikes the share market is expected to drop even more.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Call for equitable, affordable and universal access to vaccines to fight Covid-19

Nepal called for equitable, affordable and universal access to vaccines to fight Covid-19 pandemic.

Addressing annual ministerial meeting of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) held virtually on the margins of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), today morning foreign secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal highlighted the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on peoples, societies and economies of the LDCs, including Nepal, and called for equitable, affordable and universal access to vaccines.

He said that LDCs must build resilient economies with adequate physical infrastructure, advanced industrial and technological capacity, and expanded social protection systems to win the war against the virus, eradicate poverty and ensure the well-being of their people. He also underlined the need to build productive capacity for the structural transformation of their economy.

He called for an enhanced level of support from the international community in the areas of ODA, FDI, aid for trade, debt relief, climate financing, and technology transfer.

While expressing concerns about the upfront cost and loss of support measures, he said that graduation from the LDC category is our long-held aspiration and an important development milestone, and we are committed to making it smooth, sustainable and irreversible.

"As we prepare for LDC5 in Doha, we must focus on the unfinished business of the IPoA and chart out actions for sustainable and resilient recovery of the LDCs," he stressed, emphasising the need for a unity of purpose, global solidarity and strong and ambitious programme of action to avert the risk of another lost decade of development.

A number of ministers from LDCs, friends of LDCs and development partners, and high-level UN officials participated in the meeting. The meeting also adopted a Ministerial Declaration at its conclusion.

More Vero Cell doses arrive from China

A consignment of 4.4 million doses of the Vero Cell vaccine arrived in Kathmandu today afternoon.

Chief of the National Immunisation Programme Dr Sagar Dahal confirmed the arrival of more vaccines today. "With the latest consignment, Nepal has now received all six million doses the government had earlier purchased from China in August," he informed.

"The vaccines will be administered to everyone over the age of 18 in 10 hilly districts," he said, adding that the government plans to inoculate all eligible candidates in the hilly districts at the same time since transporting the vaccines time and again is a challenge due to geographical remoteness.

The government has also instructed to provide vaccines to those above 18 years of age in Manang, Mustang and East Rukum.

Nepal has purchased a total of 10 million doses of the Vero Cell or BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by the Chinese state-affiliated pharmaceutical giant, Sinopharm.

Four million doses of the vaccine were purchased in June under a non-disclosure agreement and a new deal was reached to purchase additional six million doses in August.

China has also provided 1.8 million doses of the Vero Cell vaccine under grant assistance and pledged to provide an additional 1.6 million doses.

Nepal has so far received a total of 17,757,590 doses of vaccines.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population, some 55,07,380 people across Nepal have been fully vaccinated, as of Friday. Similarly, 60,83,124 have received their first dose of vaccine against Covid-19.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

India and Nepal reviewed India-funded Terai Road Project

Nepal and India today took stock of the infrastructure projects funded by the Indian government.

The fourth Joint Project Monitoring Committee (JPMC) on Strengthening of Road Infrastructure in Terai Area of Nepal was held today via video-conferencing, according to a press note issued by the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.

Joint Secretary (Northern Division) of the Ministry of External Affairs of India Anurag Srivastava and joint secretary from Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Keshab Kumar Sharma co-chaired the fourth JPMC meetings.

The JPMC meeting reviewed the overall implementation of the government of India funded Terai Roads project in Nepal and expressed satisfaction at the good progress achieved with the completion of 13 out of 14 road packages. "Both sides noted that despite the challenges posed by Covid pandemic, the project has made good progress and is in the final stages of completion," the press note reads. 

India had committed Rs 800 cror (Rs 500 cror Indian Currency) in 2016 for construction of 10 roads -- divided into 14 packages/contracts -- with a total length of 306 km in Nepal's Terai. These roads connect the East-West Highway to Indian border, thereby increasing the ease of connectivity between the people of the two countries. "Both sides noted that, 13 out of 14 road packages have already been dedicated to the people of Nepal jointly by minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport and the ambassador of India to Nepal on March 31," the press note adds.

During the meeting, the Nepali side thanked India for the continued support for development of infrastructure in Nepal, particularly in the area of road connectivity. The Indian side expressed its happiness at the fruitful cooperation with Nepal and the joint efforts made towards strengthening connectivity infrastructure between the two countries.

The delegations, on the occasion, also agreed that the next JPMC meeting would be held on a mutually convenient date as per requirement.

NRB injects additional Rs 20 billion in the financial market

As the financial system is drained out of cash, the central bank today injected an additional Rs 20 billion in the system to ease a growing loanable fund crunch.

The central bank issued a repo worth Rs 20 billion amount through the bidding process for the next two weeks. Last week too, the central bank had injected Rs 30 billion through the monetary instrument.

The banking system is currently under pressure to manage loanable fund. The banks attribute the crunch of loanable fund crunch to the central bank's new rule of credit-deposit (CD) ratio implemented through monetary policy. Through the monetary policy, Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) has implemented the CD ration with a ceiling from 90 per cent from earlier limit of 85 per cent, but scraped the provision of credit to core-capital plus deposit (CCD) ratio, which had given a room to the financial institutions to lend.

Bankers, however, are of the view that the change in policy has tightened the liquidity from the financial system, through the central bank disagree.

According to bankers, banks now have only Rs 25 billion in loanable funds. The banks have also started increasing interest rates to attract the deposit. The loanable fund crunch has also increased interbank transactions pushing the interbank rate to over 5 per cent from below one per cent in the past few months.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Himalaya Airlines fleet now flying with life-saving AEDs onboard

 Adhering to its key guiding principle of ‘Safety’, Himalaya Airlines, a Nepal-China joint venture, has this week introduced Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) onboard all its fleet comprising of three A320s and one A319.

"To ensure flying with Himalaya is safer than ever before, Himalaya has now included AED, a life-saving device on board," a press note issued by the airlines, reads, adding that with this, Himalaya Airlines stands to be the first ever and the only Nepali airlines to carry AEDs onboard. "An AED is a portable device that automatically diagnoses and treats the life-threatening sudden cardiac arrest."

AED helps to quickly shock someone's heart and try to save their life if they collapse, have no pulse, and stop breathing. "Within past few weeks all cabin crew of H9 have received a thorough training for proper usage of AEDs."

Government, World Bank sign additional financing agreements of $50 million each to strengthen school and health sectors

The government and the World Bank (WB) signed two separate additional financing agreements of $50 million each today to support the implementation of the government’s flagship School Sector Development Programme (SSDP) in the education sector and public management reforms in the health sector.

The agreements were signed by finance secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini on behalf of the government and World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos.

"Strengthening Nepal’s education and health systems is an essential element of building back better from the pandemic,” finance secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini said, adding that the reform agenda championed by the Nepal Health Sector Programme for Results is critical to Nepal’s vision of an efficient, effective, transparent and accountable health system, and together with the School Sector Development Programme, provides a catalyst for improved human capital development enabling Nepal to compete strongly post-Covid.

The Additional Financing to the School Sector Development Programme will help reduce dropouts and mitigate learning losses by supporting pro-poor targeted scholarships, pro-science scholarships, and catch-up programmes. It will lay the foundation for the next school sector successor programme in two areas – assessment and data systems, and help create the fiscal space to fill the gap in financing the government’s flagship programme.

The Additional Financing for Nepal Health Sector Management Reform Programme for Results will support the original Nepal Health Sector Management Reform Programme for Results implemented under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Population. "It spearheads reforms in public procurement, financial management, data for decision making and citizen engagement for greater accountability in the health sector," a press note issued by the World Bank today reads.

"These engagements contribute to Nepal’s green, resilient, and inclusive development by making the country’s education and health systems more inclusive and resilient to future shocks, which will in turn help to accelerate human capital development," World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos said, adding that he is very hopeful that that the additional financing will help propel Nepal closer to its goal of universal health coverage, and ensure equitable access and improve the quality of education and learning outcomes for children and young people in Nepal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

'Government shutdown' as budget fails to get through

 The government employees may not be able to get salary, let alone Dashain bonus, due to government shut down from Wednesday mid-night.

The government will not be able to spend budget from tomorrow mid-night due to prolonged tug of war in the parliament between the government alliance and main opposition, confirmed the Parliament Secretariat.

Though, the government needs to pass the substitution budget bill within tomorrow, the meeting of the House of Representatives has been adjourned for a week, until September 20, after the main opposition CPN-UML lawmakers disturbed the House proceding.

"The government may not be able to spend the budget for a while," confirmed the finance minister Janardan Sharma, who had registered the bill on Friday despite the obstruction from the opposition.

The main opposition CPN-UML has vowed not to let the House move forward accusing speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota of not acknowledging the party’s August 17 decision to expel 14 lawmakers, including Madhav Kumar Nepal. Nepal split from the UML and formed his party, CPN (Unified Socialist), on August 26.

The CPN-UML has alleged that Speaker Sapkota played a complicit role in splitting their party.

As the ordinance budget brought by former government led by KP Sharma Oli gets invalidated from Wednesday night, the government will not be able to spend from the state coffer until the replacement budget gets endorsed from the house. The Oli-led government dissolved the House a week earlier the budget date. Then finance minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel had brought an ordinance budget of Rs 1.64 trillion for the current fiscal year 2021-22, on May 29. The incumbent government brought a substitution budget bill of nearly Rs 15 billion less to Rs 1.63 trillion last Friday.

"Though, the government is not allowed to spend, there will be no legal problem in tax collection,” Sharma said, after the House meeting, adding that the budget will be endorsed from the regular process, of possible. "Otherwise, the government will find a way out."

The incumbent government led by NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba had tabled the budget ordinance in the Parliament on July 18. Hence, a substitution bill had to be passed through the House by Wednesday mid-night, as 60 days would complete from the date the ordinance was presented. If the ordinance is not passed by the House within 60 days after the House starts, it will automatically null and void. But since the substitution bill has already tabled in the House and is in the process.

According to the Parliament Secretariat, the lawmakers will be allowed 72 hours to register their amendment proposals on the substitution bill. "The 72 hours end on September 20."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Finance Minister claims to spend at least 10 per cent of capital budget every month

 The Finance Minister today claimed to spend at least 10 per cent of the capital budget every month.

Speaking at a press meet organised by the Finance Ministry here today, finance minister Janardan Sharma claimed that the government will spend at least 10 per cent of the capital budget every month. "As there is a possibility of spending capital budget, we have increased the budget for the capital expenditure for the current fiscal year," he added.

The government has revised the capital budget upward -- through the substitution bill -- by Rs 3.84 billion to Rs 378.10 billion.

However, the eroding capacity of the government machinery is not expected to spend the capital budget as assumed by the finance minister. In the last fiscal year 2020-21, the government had been able to spend only 64.69 per cent of total allocated capital budget.

The governments have never been able to spend more than Rs 110 billion even during the last four years period of strong and stable government led by KP Sharma Oli. Of the current fiscal year too, almost two months have already passed without implementing the budget. The Oli-led government had brought an ordinance budget on June 30 (Jestha 15, according to the Constitution). But the incumbent government directed the  ministries not to implement the budget as it will revise the budget. The finance minister Janardan Sharma had brought a substitution bill to replace the ordinance budget that is seen as more ambitious. 

Sharma claimed that the government will expedite the development projects along with necessary manpower. "Similarly, the government will be carrying out monitoring the development projects through digital platforms for the effective utilisation of the capital budget," he assured.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Repeated school closures due to Covid-19 leading to learning loss and widening inequities in South Asia : UNICEF

 School closures have led to alarming inequities in learning opportunities for children in South Asia, despite significant efforts by governments and partners to expand remote learning, according to UNICEF research conducted in India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

School closures in South Asia due to the Covid-19 pandemic have interrupted the learning of 434 million children. According to UNICEF’s research, a substantial proportion of students and their parents reported that students learnt significantly less compared to pre-pandemic levels. In India, 80 per cent of children aged 14-18 years reported lower levels of learning than when physically at school. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, 69 per cent of parents of primary school children reported that their children were learning 'less' or 'a lot less'. Girls, children from the most disadvantaged households and children with disabilities faced the biggest challenges while learning remotely.

"School closures in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to transition to remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability,” UNICEF regional director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei said, adding that even when a family has access to technology, children are not always able to access it. "As a result, children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey."

Despite significant efforts from governments, low connectivity and access to digital devices have severely hampered efforts to roll out remote learning. In India, 42 per cent of children between 6-13 years reported not using any type of remote learning during school closures. In Pakistan 23 per cent of younger children didn’t have access to any device that could support remote learning. Poor and disadvantaged households have been the worst hit, with many families struggling to afford even a single device.

Even when devices are available, UNICEF’s research indicates that they are often underutilised and that children’s access to them is often limited. For example, in Pakistan, among children with access to devices, only about 24 per cent could use them when they wanted to.

The research found that student-teacher engagement, when regular and reciprocal, is a strong predictor of success in children’s learning, especially for younger students. However, the surveys found that most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed. In Sri Lankan private primary schools, 52 per cent of teachers reported contacting their students five days a week, but this number dropped to only 8 per cent for teachers from public primary schools.

“The safe reopening of schools must be considered an utmost priority for all governments," George Laryea-Adjei said, adding that parallelly, investing in teachers will ensure that teachers and schools can adapt to all situations. "The more teachers are trained, equipped and supported on distance and blended learning, the better they will be able to reach all their students."

“This is a critical investment we need to make for children as the region gears up for future waves of Covid-19," George Laryea-Adjei, said, "We need to build systems which can weather any storm and keep children learning, no matter the circumstances." 

To ensure that children keep learning, UNICEF is calling on:  

Governments to prioritize the safe reopening of all schools, while also ensuring that children are able to pursue quality learning remotely if necessary 

Teachers to assess children’s learning levels and ensure catch up is enabled through a 'learning recovery' period 

Governments to prioritize the vaccination of teachers to support the safe reopening of schools  

Governments to train and equip teachers to better reach children and adolescents with limited or no access to technology through a combination of modalities including mobile devices, TV, radio, and printed materials 

Governments and donors to protect and expand investments in education, including critical pre-primary and foundational literacy and numeracy 

Private sector and civil society organizations to work with governments in improving connectivity and creating high-quality, multilingual remote learning content tailored to students’ needs 

School administrators and education officials to provide more guidance to teachers to engage with their students and use different types of learning techniques  

Parents and caregivers to receive adequate support and guidance to continue home-based learning 

School closures in South Asia have compounded a situation which was already precarious. Even before the pandemic, almost 60 per cent of children in South Asia were unable to read and understand a simple text by the time they are 10 years old. In addition, 12.5 million children at the primary level and 16.5 million children at the lower secondary level were out of school, it said.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

नेपालको संविधान एमसीसी नेपाल कम्प्याक्टभन्दा सधैं माथि, हिन्द प्रशान्त रणनीति मातहतको सम्झौता होइन

नेपालको संविधान एमसीसी नेपाल कम्प्याक्टभन्दा सधैं माथि रहने भन्दै मिलेनियम च्यालेन्ज कर्पोरेसन (एमसीसी)ले सरकारलाई जवाफ पठाएको छ ।

एमसीसी नेपालको संविधानभन्दा माथि रहेको भन्दै केही राजनीतिक दलले विरोध गरेका कारण अर्थ मन्त्रालयले शुक्रबार एमसीसी सम्झौताका अन्य विवादित विषयसमेत समेटेर वासिङ्टन डीसीस्थित एमसीसी मुख्यालयलाई पत्राचार गरेको थियो ।

अर्थ मन्त्रालयको पत्रको जवाफ बुधबार सरकारलाई अमेरिकी राजदूतावासमार्फत पठाउँदै एमसीसीले कम्प्याक्टको दफा ७.१ लगायत कुनै पनि प्रावधान नेपालको कानुनसँग नबाझिएको पनि जनाएको छ ।

नेपालसँगको एमसीसी सम्झौताका विषयमा धेरै विवाद भएपछि सरकारले विवादित ११ बुँदा समेटेर अमेरिकी दूतावासमार्फत नै एमसीसी मुख्यालयलाई पत्र पठाएको थियो ।

बुँदागत रुपमा जवाफ दिँदै एमसीसीले नेपालमा आफ्नो कुनै स्वार्थ नरहेको र नेपाली नागरिकको जीवनस्तरमा तीव्र सुधारका लागि सम्झौता भएको जनाएको छ । शर्त उल्लंघन नभएको अवस्थामा अनुदान रकम फिर्ता गर्नु नपर्ने भन्दै एमसीसीले आफ्ना कर्मचारीको सुरक्षाको प्रत्याभूति गरिएको जनाएको छ । ‘दफा ६.८ अनुसार एमसीसीका कर्मचारीले नेपालका अदालत र न्यायाधिकरणबाट उन्मुक्ति पाउने प्रावधान कम्प्याक्ट अन्तर्गत कुनै पनि क्रियाकलाप वा अकर्मण्यताबाट उत्पन्न हुने दावी वा हानीको अवस्थामा मात्र लागू हुन्छ,’ पत्रमा लेखिएको छ ।

यस्तै, लेखापरीक्षणको विषयमा जवाफ दिँदै एमसीसीले लेखेको छ, ‘अमेरिकाको कानुन वा नीतिको उल्लंघन गर्ने कुनै पनि कार्यका लागि एमसीसीको अनुदान प्रयोग गर्न पाइँदैन भन्ने कुरामा दफा ५.१ (ख)(३) ले जोड दिएको छ । उक्त दफाको उद्देश्य एमसीसी अनुदानको उपयोगको सन्दर्भमा सीमित गर्नु हो, तर एमसीसी बाहेक अन्य सहायताको हकमा नेपाल सरकारको सार्वभौमिकतामाथि कुनै बाध्यता वा सीमितता यो दफाले सिर्जना गर्दैन ।’

सबैभन्दा विवादित इन्डो प्यासिफिक (हिन्द प्रशान्त) रणनीतिअन्तर्गत एमसीसी हो वा होइन भन्ने सरकारको प्रश्नको जवाफमा एमसीसी लेख्छ, ‘होइन, एमसीसी नेपाल कम्प्याक्ट हिन्द प्रशान्त रणनीति मातहतको सम्झौता होइन ।’

एमसीसी उपाध्यक्ष फतिमा सुमार र सहायक उपाध्यक्ष जोनाथन ब्रुक्स चार दिने नेपाल भ्रमणमा बिहीबार आउनु अगाडि एमसीसीले सरकारलाई जवाफ लेखेको हो । एमसीसी नेपालमा राजनीतिक दलको विवादका कारण बन्धक बनेका हुनाले चार वर्षदेखि अनिश्चित छ ।

आर्थिक विकासको बाधककोरुपमा रहेका विद्युत् प्रसारणलाइन र सडक मर्मतसम्भारसम्बन्धी आयोजना नेपालले नै छनौट गरेको हो । उक्त आयोजना निर्माणको लागी एमसीसीले ५ सय मिलियन अमेरिकी डलरको परियोजना सम्झौता गरेको थियो । नेपाल र एमसीसीबीच सन् २०१७ मा वासिङ्टन डीसीमा सम्झौता भएको थियो । उक्त सम्झौताको दस्तावेज संसद्बाट अनुमोदन गर्नका लागि २०७६ असार ३० मा प्रतिनिधिसभाको विधेयक शाखामा दर्ता गरिएको थियो । तर, त्यसलगत्तै सम्झौतालाई लिएर पक्ष र विपक्षमा बहस चलिरहेको छ । सरकारले चालू संसद् अधिवेशनमा यो सम्झौता प्रस्तुत गर्ने तयारी गरेको छ ।

'The Constitution of Nepal prevails over the MCC Nepal Compact, has no military alliance'

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) headquarters has clarified that Nepal's constitution is always above the MCC. "The Constitution of Nepal prevails over the MCC Nepal Compact," reads the clarification sent to the government today through US Embassy in Kathmandu.

Likewise, the MCC also clarified that the MCC Nepal Compact is not an agreement under the Indo-Pacific Strategy. "MCC compacts are agreements between MCC and the partner government," it reads, adding that the strong relationship between the US and Nepal long pre-dates the Indo-Pacific Strategy. "The MCC Nepal Compact is not an agreement under the Indo-Pacific Strategy, nor is it a part of any military strategy of the United States. There is no connection between the MCC Nepal Compact and any military alliance or defense strategy."

In response to a letter from the Finance Ministry, the MCC also vowed to remain committed to having open and transparent dialogue with the people of Nepal and sees this exchange as a positive step toward ratification of the MCC Nepal Compact.

"The grant programme will benefit nearly 23 million people by providing more reliable electricity and lowering the cost of transportation and energy," the reply signed by MCC vice president Fatema Sumar reads. "Recognising the immense value of the MCC Nepal Compact grant signed by the government of Nepal and MCC in 2017, MCC’s promise to help the people of Nepal has never wavered."

The response addressed to Finance Minister Janardhan Sharma also reads that it is dedicated to reducing poverty and fostering economic growth for all Nepalis. On Friday, Finance Ministry had sent a letter to MCC headquarters seeking clarification about some points in the agreement.

The MCC, according to the clarification, was established in 2004 with a singular focus on poverty reduction through economic growth in countries that are committed to democratic values such as rule of law, investing in their people, and economic freedom.

According to the response, all projects funded by the MCC Nepal Compact were selected by Nepal, in consultation with Nepal’s private sector and civil society, as projects that are important for Nepal’s own economic growth. The response today comes on the eve of the scheduled 4-day visit by vice president of the Department of Compact Operations Fatema Z Sumar. She is scheduled to visit Nepal tomorrow. Nepal is receiving $500 million in grants -- for cross border transmission line and road upgradation -- but it has become controversial with Nepali political parties sharply divided over its proposed parliamentary ratification.

Some political parties want the MCC to be implemented without ratifying it. But the response reads that MCC compacts with all MCC partner countries are international agreements governed by the principles of international law, thus seeking ratification from parliament. "Based on MCC’s experience in other countries, a compact’s status as an international agreement is critical to ensuring the implementation can proceed without delay, which is particularly important given the limited five-year implementation period of a compact,” the response reads, adding, "in practical terms, the status of an international agreement means that the implementation of compact projects will proceed in accordance with laws of Nepal except in rare instances where local law conflicts with a specific provision of the compact."

In such a case, compact projects will be implemented according to the mutually agreed upon terms of the compact and the Constitution of Nepal, it adds.

Though, in its 13-page response, the MCC has furnished clarifications to all the 11 concerns raised by the Finance Ministry, including whether the MCC agreement is above Nepal’s constitution and whether it undermines Nepal’s sovereignty, the political parties may not yet convinced.

Nepal signed the MCC in 2017. But four years down the line, the MCC is yet to be ratified by the Parliament, a prerequisite for its implementation. The incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba led government had signed the MCC agreement and he is now planning to ratify it in the Parliament. But the coalition partners -- the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist) -- are opposed to it. They are demanding some amendment before ratifying from the parliament.

NOC saves Rs 3 billion due to pipeline but consumers pay all time high

Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) saved fuel transport costs of Rs 3 billion in last two years after the construction of 69-kilometer cross-border petroleum pipeline between Nepal and India, but the consumers have been paying all time high price.

The first petroleum pipeline that connects Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal has been operational since September 11, 2019. "It can supply petroleum products at the rate of 294 kiloliters per hour," according to the government oil monopoly.

The pipeline is being used to transport diesel from India, the NOC informed, adding that it has been importing an average of 3,500 kl diesel daily, almost half of its capacity to transport 6.500 kl daily. "The NOC imported 1.61 billion liters of diesel through the pipeline in the fiscal years 2019-20 and 2020-21."

In almost two months of the current fiscal year, the NOC has imported a total of 124.41 million liters of diesel through the pipeline.

Likewise, the NOC also informed that it costs an average of Rs 45,000 to transport fuel from the Barauni depot of India to Amlekhgunj of Nepal. "The pipeline has helped cut the costs of fuel tankers apart from reducing technical losses," the NOC claimed. But the consumers have been got no any respite as they have been forced to pay Rs 130 per litre petrol and Rs 113 per litre diesel.

The first cross-border petroleum pipeline in South Asia was built at a total cost of Rs 5.18 billion.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

WHO South-East Asia countries resolve to reorient and strengthen health systems

Taking lessons from the ongoing pandemic and emphasising a once-in-a-century opportunity, countries of WHO South-East Asia Region today adopted a Ministerial Declaration resolving to strengthen health system resilience to ensure health security, and achieve universal health coverage and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for health.

"Strong health systems that are primary health care-oriented, and which leave no one behind, create populations that are healthier, more productive and financially secure," regional director at WHO South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said at a ministerial round table during the ongoing seventy-fourth Regional Committee meeting. "Resilient health systems are the bedrock of emergency preparedness and response, and ensure that when acute events occur, essential health services can be maintained,” she added.

Through the Declaration adopted at the ministerial round table, member countries committed to provide political leadership and accountability to advance health security and progress towards universal health coverage and the health-related SDGs.

The member countries resolved to reorient health systems towards comprehensive primary health care through increased public investments, as the foundation for strengthening both public health emergency capabilities and achievement of universal health coverage.

"The pandemic has highlighted the urgency and importance of investment in human resource for health, especially at the primary health care level, and the need for adequate supply of affordable, effective, quality and safe medical products to ensure an effective response to public health emergencies and to build resilient health systems,” the regional director said.

The Declaration also commits to closer engagement with and the empowerment of communities to maintain the delivery of essential health services and public health programmes during and after the pandemic, according to a press note issued by the WHO South-East Asia Region office. "To roll-out effective response for at-risk and affected communities, member countries agreed to ensure integration of public health emergencies and disaster risk management strategies, as well as strengthening surveillance and preparedness capacity at the primary health care level."

Member countries additionally resolved to accelerate integration of noncommunicable diseases including mental health, and other programmes, at the primary health care level, as well as establishing national quality standards for primary health care services and ensuring access to quality health services during the pandemic and recovery phase.

Likewise, the member countries further agreed to appropriately leverage the potential of traditional systems of medicine, while optimising innovations in digital health technologies. The eclaration also emphasised the importance of leveraging additional resources and partnerships, including the important role of WHO, to support the development of national capacities to address public health emergencies and ensure the delivery of high-quality health services for all.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Over 4 billion people still lack social protection: ILO

Despite the unprecedented worldwide expansion of social protection during the Covid-19 crisis, more than four billion people around the world remain entirely unprotected, according to a new International Labour Organisation (ILO) report.

According to the report, the pandemic response was uneven and insufficient, deepening gap between countries with high and low income levels and failing to afford the muchneeded social protection that all human beings deserve. Social protection includes access to health care and income security, particularly in relation to old age, unemployment, sickness, disability, work injury, maternity or loss of a main income earner, as well as for families with children.

"Countries are at a crossroads," ILO director-general Guy Ryder said, adding that it is a pivotal moment to harness the pandemic response to build a new generation of rightsbased social protection systems. "These can cushion people from future crises and give workers and businesses the security to tackle the multiple transitions ahead with confidence and with hope."

"We must recognise that effective and comprehensive social protection is not just essential for social justice and decent work but for creating a sustainable and resilient future too," he added.

"The World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads - in pursuit of a better future' gives a global overview of recent developments in social protection systems, including social protection floors, and covers the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The report identifies protection gaps and sets out key policy recommendations, including in relation to the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Currently, only 47 per cent of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit, while 4.1 billion people (some 53 per cent) obtain no income security at all from their national social protection system.

There are significant regional inequalities in social protection.Europe and Central Asia have the highest rates of coverage, with 84 per cent of people being covered by at least one benefit. The Americas are also above the global average, with 64.3 per cent. Likewise, Asia and the Pacific (44 per cent), the Arab States (40 per cent) and Africa (17.4 per cent) have marked coverage gaps.

Worldwide, the vast majority of children still have no effective social protection coverage - only one in four children (26.4 per cent) receives a social protection benefit. Only 45 per cent of women with newborns worldwide receive a cash maternity benefit, the report reads, adding that only one in three persons with severe disabilities (33.5 per cent) worldwide receives a disability benefit. "Coverage of unemployment benefits is even lower; only 18.6 per cent of unemployed workers worldwide are effectively covered."

And while 77.5 per cent of people above retirement age receive some form of old-age pension, major disparities remain across regions, between rural and urban areas, and between women and men, it adds.

Government spending on social protection also varies significantly. On average, countries spend 12.8 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection (excluding health), however high-income countries spend 16.4 per cent and low-income countries only 1.1 per cent of their GDP on social protection.

The report says that the financing gap -- the additional spending required to ensure at least minimum social protection for all -- has increased by approximately 30 per cent since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

To guarantee at least basic social protection coverage, low-income countries would need to invest an additional $77.9 billion per year, lower-middle-income countries an additional $362.9 billion per year and upper-middle-income countries a further $750.8 billion per year, the report reads, adding that its equivalent to 15.9 per cent, 5.1  per cent and 3.1 per cent of their GDP, respectively.

"There is an enormous push for countries to move to fiscal consolidation, after the massive public expenditure of their crisis response measures, but it would be seriously damaging to cut back on social protection; investment is required here and now," director of ILO Social Protection Department Shahra Razavi said, adding that social protection is an important tool that can create wide-ranging social and economic benefits for countries at all levels of development. "It can underpin better health and education, greater equality, more sustainable economic systems, better managed migration and the observance of core rights."

Building the systems that can deliver these positive outcomes will require a mix of financing sources and greater international solidarity, particularly with support for poorer countries but the benefits of success will reach beyond national borders to benefit us all," she added.

Specific measures to promote universal social protection were highlighted in the 'Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic'.

The call to action, which outlines a comprehensive agenda for recovery, was endorsed unanimously in June 2021 by the ILO's member states, representing governments, workers' and employers' organisations.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Central bank to monitor digital transaction platforms strictly

The central bank is going to form monitor digital transaction platforms strictly.

It has formed an oversight unit to monitor and regulate the payment service providers and payment service operators, according to a directives of Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB).

The NRB has enforced a separate Payment Systems Inspection and Supervision Bylaw 2021, which has envisaged a unit to be established under NRB’s Payment Systems Department that track online platforms, which carry out financial transactions to see, if they have been abiding by the existing laws.

According to the bylaw, the oversight unit will also be liable for maintaining a five-year track record of such companies.

The bylaw has also provisioned to form a Payment Systems Recommendation Committee, led by a deputy governor, which will be authorised to incorporate experts from outside the central bank to formulate necessary policies to regulate the sector.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, the banking system has seen geometric growth of digital payment system, including QR codes, connectIPS, mobile banking, internet banking and mobile wallets.

Government suspends Sebon chief, forms probe panel

The government has suspended Securities Board of Nepal (Sebon) chair Bhisma Raj Dhungana, and formed an investigation committee led by a former judge.

The cabinet today suspended Sebon chair Dhungana, to investigate his alleged involvement in 'the golden share' case in the Sarbottam Cement, and formed a three-member probe committee led by former judge of High Court Ananta Raj Dumre, confirmed the law and justice minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki.

"The three-member committee has Naraya Prasad Poudel as an expert member, and joint secretary of Nepal Law Commission Arjun Kumar Khadka, apart from Dumre," Karki said, adding that the probe committee has been formed under the Sebon Act 2063, Article 7 (7). "The government has release Sebon chair, if he is found guilty by the probe committee."

Sebon chair Bhisma Raj Dhungana has been accused of being involved in 'golden share' case as his daughter, who lives abroad, has been found purchasing some 11,992 units of shares of Sarbottam Cement that is in the process to issue primary shares to the public through book building process.

Though, the face value of a unit share is Rs 100, Sarbottam Cement share will be floated in Rs 750 per unit through the book building process. But Dhungana's daughter and Saud's wife both bought the share in Rs 250 per unit.

Sarbottam Cement is waiting for final approval from the Sebon to issue its 6 million units of primary shares to the public. But, Sebon chair Dhungana has been accused of purchasing the shares before the company goes public. Apart from Dhungana, Nepal Stock Exchange (Nepse) chief executive office (CEO) Chandra Singh Saud has also been found purchasing shares in his wife's name.

Finance Ministry has sought clarification from the Sebon and Nepse, both after it was found that their kins have bought the share of Sarbottam Cement before it goes to public.

On August 20, the Finance Committee -- under the House of Representatives -- has also directed the government to take action against Sebon chair Dhungana and Nepse CEO Saud for taking unfair advantage of their position, while purchasing the shares.

The Finance Committee had also summoned both of them for discussion, where they were grilled by the parliamentarians.

During the meeting, Dhungana claimed that his married daughter is free to do any trading on her own, and a father is not liable for married daughter's trading. Likewise, Saud also claimed that he has not donea anything agsinst law. But the parliamentarians demanded resignation of both Dhungana and Saud for their alleged involvement in golden share case.

The Finance Committee also formed a probe committee led by finance secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini with joint secretary Dirgha Raj Mainali and three experts.

The Employees Union of the Sebon has also urged the government to carry out an investigation into the controversial case of Sebon chair’s alleged involvement.

After pressure from the public, Nepse CEO Saud resigned but Sebon chair has still been claiming that he has not taken any advanteg.

Sebon, is the regulatory authority of the capital market that has around 3.8 million investors.

Earlier, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has also asked the Sebon to provide necessary documents to investigate Sebon chair Dhungana’s alleged involvement in Sarbottam golden share scam.

One million in tourism businesses jobless due to Covid-19

Around 17 per cent of the hotels in Nepal have completely shut down their businesses, whereas more than one million people in the tourism business lost their jobs due to Covid-19 pandemic, according to a tourism entrepreneurs.

Tourism entrepreneurs -- during a meeting with the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) - today also claimed that many countries have still kept Nepal in the negative list in view of the Covid-19 infections, which have adversely affected the inflow of tourists.

The entrepreneurs also urged the government to give momentum to the vaccination drive across the country to disseminate the message that Nepal is a safe destination in terms of Covid-19.

They also called for provision of collateral free loans and easy access for the refinance facilities to revive the pandemic-hit tourism industry.

Japan supports improvements in water access and agriculture income

Japan has provided grant assistance of $701,273 (about Rs 83.21 million) for a project on improving water access and agricultural income in Sindhupalchowk district.

The project will be implemented by Peace Winds Japan to stabilise the income and livelihoods of the locals by improving access to water they need and introducing vegetable cultivation, according to a press note issued by the Japanese Embassy in Kathmandu.

"The grant contract for the project was signed by ambassador of Japan Kikuta Yutaka and acting country representative of Peace Winds Japan Yamaguchi Nana," the press note reads, adding that the project plans to build safe drinking water systems and encourage village committees for managing and maintaining the facilities.

The water supply system is expected to assist health and sanitation improvements of the area and also assist to increase agricultural production there. Promotion and support for efficient marketing of local agricultural products with the support by the project are expected to stabilise incomes of local residents.

Peace Winds Japan, Japan-based international NGO works with the Institution for Suitable Actions for Prosperity (ISAP), their Nepali partner NGO, to carry out the project in Sunkoshi and Melamchi Municipalities and Balefi Rural Municipality.

On the occasion, ambassador Kikuta said that Japan has been assisting community-based projects like this, in which we can find the improvements in people’s daily lives, by collaborating with the non government organisations to make changes especially in remote districts. "Although similar projects are facing difficulties to proceed due to Covid-19," he said, adding that Japan and Nepal can overcome the pandemic, saving peoples’ lives together by focusing on the better public health. "I sincerely hope that this project will improve the lives of people of the communities, which will lead to the prosperity of post-Covid Nepal society."

The Embassy of Japan in Nepal believes that the project will contribute towards poverty reduction by improving water access and agriculture incomes in Sindhupalchowk district, thus strengthening the cordial friendship between the peoples of Japan and Nepal.