Sunday, April 30, 2023

World Bank approves $100 million to strengthen healthcare system

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors – on Friday – approved $100 million in financing for the Nepal Quality Health Systems Programme operation, 

The Programme will improve the quality of healthcare services and increase the coverage of health insurance, and enhance the capacity of the healthcare system to prepare for and respond to health emergencies in Koshi and Gandaki provinces, according to a press note issued by the World Bank, Kathmandu Office.

“By prioritising and investing in health, Nepal can reap multiple benefits including improved health outcomes, increased productivity, and economic growth,” World Bank country director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka Faris Hadad-Zervos said, adding that the World Bank supports Nepal’s goal to put quality at the core of health system policy and planning and service delivery.

The Programme will be implemented by the Ministry of Health and Population with the coordination of the Health Insurance Board at the federal level, and provincial and local governments in Koshi and Gandaki provinces to help achieve the strategic objectives of Nepal’s Health Sector Strategic Plan, 2022-2030. “These include enhancing efficiency and responsiveness of the health system, promoting sustainable financing and social protection in health, and promoting equitable access to quality health services,” the press note reads.

“The Programme supports the implementation of federalism and builds on Nepal’s first Programme for Results in the health sector to address the challenges of access and quality and to build a resilient public health sector,” practice manager for Health, Nutrition and Population, South Asia Region Dr Feng Zhao said, adding that the results achieved under this Programme have the potential for scale-up to other provinces.

The financing for the Programme is complemented by a $3.84 million grant from the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response (HEPR) Trust Fund. The HEPR Trust Fund supports eligible countries and territories to improve their capacities to prepare, prevent, respond, and mitigate the impact of epidemics on populations.

Friday, April 28, 2023

IFC report claims increase in financial inclusion

Nepal has seen significant progress in financial inclusion over the past decade, claims a new study.

The Nepal Financial Inclusion Report 2023 – prepared by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) under the Access to Financial Services Nepal Project jointly implemented by Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) and IFC – reveals that overall usage of financial services is strong in Nepal, with payments via banks being the most popular service, at 75 per cent. 

At a time, when majority of Terai Madhesh population – especially the women population – is suffering from loan-sharks, and forced to march on foot for 10 days to Federal capital Kathmandu in search of justice and security of their property, the report also indicates a decrease in the gender gap. The government was forced to sign agreement with the victims promising to criminalise the loan-sharks.

In 2022, the disparity between women and men with access to formal financial services had decreased to 1 per cent (89 per cent women versus 90 per cent men), compared to the 2014 figures of 57 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, the report claims.

This is in line with the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, which shows that economic participation and opportunities for women in Nepal have consistently improved – from 116th in 2013 to 107th in 2021 and 98th in 2022, with an overall ranking of 96, which is second only to Bangladesh in South Asia.

However, there remains a disparity in the utilisation of banking services between women and men, with 79 per cent of women using the services compared to 83 per cent of men, the report reads, revealing that other formal financial service providers are strong competitors to banks, with comparative usage statistics across key services such as accounts and credit, and overtaking banks in terms of savings products.

"The report indicates that considerable progress has been made in extending financial inclusion to a larger segment of the Nepali people," central bank governor Maha Prasad Adhikari said after launching the report.

The survey also reveals a strong connection between the use of financial services and the target group and level of schooling, with salaried staff having the highest utilisation and those without any academic education having the least.

Possessing a bank account is seen as a pathway to financial inclusion, with significantly higher usage of both banking and other formal financial services being observed among those with a bank account compared to those without.

The study further explored the main impediments to the use of financial services. It was discovered that many people without a bank account either did not need one, had insufficient funds after expenditure, or did not have the necessary funds to open an account.

Additionally, a lack of awareness regarding the process of opening a mobile money account, the complexity of using a mobile money platform, and the lack of access to agents or points of service were all reported as barriers.

"Financial inclusion is essential for sustainable socio-economic development," country representative for IFC in Nepal Babacar S Faye said, adding that with the advancement of technology, access to finance can be made more inclusive and affordable, to the benefit of those who are unbanked or underserved, as well as the financial system as a whole.

Likewise Global Programme Advisor at UNCDF Kameshnee Naidoo commented that financial inclusion is essential for Nepal to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). "Our report shows that while there has been progress, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all citizens can access the financial services they need to create a better future,” she said, adding that UNCDF remains committed to working with public and private sector partners to help build this future where no one is left behind in the digital era

“Financial inclusion is key to Nepal's SDGs attainment and LDC graduation as it can facilitate a larger variety of actors to serve the low-income market, allow people to meet their basic needs and enable government to generate additional flows of domestic capital towards sustainable investments,” UN Resident Coordinator to Nepal Hanaa Singer-Hamdy tweeted.

The study was conducted with the technical input of UNCDF, to provide indicators for the Nepal Rastra Bank’s Financial Inclusion Roadmap and Action Plan (2017-2022).

It focused on the usage of financial services and obtained data from a sample of 2,528 adults aged 16 or older. The findings of the survey and the 2021 Nepal Financial Inclusion Making Access Possible (MAP) Refresh study by UNCDF were utilised to assess financial inclusion through the World Bank Group’s three categories: Access, Usage, and Quality.

The Nepal Financial Inclusion Report also outlines measures to increase financial inclusion, including reforming the secured transaction registry system, enacting comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks, improving consumer protection and financial literacy, and updating the Nepal Financial Inclusion Action Plan-2030.

The Nepal Financial Inclusion Report also outlines measures to increase financial inclusion, including reforming the secured transaction registry system, enacting comprehensive legal and regulatory frameworks, improving consumer protection and financial literacy, and updating the Nepal Financial Inclusion Action Plan-2030.

Governor Adhikari and Global Programme Advisor at UNCDF, Dr Kameshnee Naidoo, had jointly launched the Nepal Financial Inclusion Report on April 28.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Government halves provincial and local financial equalisation grant

The federal government has reduced third installment of the financial equalisation grants – to be provided to the provincial and local governments – by half, due to mounting pressure on coffer. 

“The federal government will provide them with only Rs 23 billion – after reducing Rs 23 billion – out of the total Rs 46 billion allocated earlier,” according to Finance Ministry. “The Council of Ministers meeting held on April 25 – on Tuesday – decided to reduce the grant by half and send remaining amount.”

Finance Ministry had written to the Office of the Financial Comptroller General – on April 27 – asking it to transfer only 50 per cent of the third installment of the financial equalisation grant to the local governments and provinces. 

According to Sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the Financial Equalisation Grant Allocation Act-2079 BS, the final installment to be transferred in the financial year 2022-23 is Rs 9.94 billion to the provinces and Rs 13.20 billion to the local governments.

Dabur Nepal set to inject additional Rs 9.68 billion investment

The Investment Board Nepal (IBN) and Dabur Nepal signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) today for reinvestment on projects for construction, operation and management of projects for capacity enhancement and diversification of goods on the private investment model.

IBN chief executive officer Sushil Bhatta and Dabur Nepal business head Harkirat Singh Bedi signed the agreement in the presence of the industry minister Ramesh Rijal, who is also a member of the investment board.

Earlier on February 8, the 49th meeting of the board approved the investment for the capacity enhancement and product diversification of Dabur Nepal. There will be an additional investment of Rs 9.68 billion according to the Capacity Enhancement and Diversification Project presented by Dabur Nepal. Dabur Nepal is planning to expand its capacity mainly in production of beverages including fruit juice.

On the occasion, Rijal said that foreign investors curious to invest in Nepal can make decisions by listening to those, who have been investing in the country. 

Dabur Nepal holds 97.5 per cent share of Dabur International Ltd, while the remaining 2.5 per cent share is held by Nepali investor Rukma Shumsher Rana.

The products of Dabur Nepal contributes some 5.34 per cent in total export earnings.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Better migration policies can help boost prosperity in all countries

Populations across the globe are aging at an unprecedented pace, making many countries increasingly reliant on migration to realize their long-term growth potential, according to a new report from the World Bank.

The ‘World Development Report 2023: Migrants, Refugees, and Societies’, identifies this trend as a unique opportunity to make migration work better for economies and people. Wealthy countries as well as a growing number of middle-income countries – traditionally among the main sources of migrants – face diminishing populations, intensifying the global competition for workers and talent. Meanwhile, most low-income countries are expected to see rapid population growth, putting them under pressure to create more jobs for young people.

“Migration can be a powerful force for prosperity and development,” said World Bank senior managing director Axel van Trotsenburg. “When it is managed properly, it provides benefits for all people – in origin and destination societies.”

In the coming decades, the share of working-age adults will drop sharply in many countries. Spain, with a population of 47 million, is projected to shrink by more than one third by 2100, with those above age 65 increasing from 20 per cent to 39 per cent of the population. Countries like Mexico, Thailand, Tunisia and Türkiye may soon need more foreign workers because their population is no longer growing.

Beyond this demographic shift, the forces driving migration are also changing, making cross-border movements more diverse and complex. Today, destination and origin countries span all income levels, with many countries such as Mexico, Nigeria, and the UK both sending and receiving migrants. The number of refugees nearly tripled over the last decade. Climate change threatens to fuel more migration. So far, most climate-driven movements were within countries, but about 40 per cent of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people – lives in places highly exposed to climate impacts, the report reads.

Current approaches not only fail to maximise the potential development gains of migration, they also cause great suffering for people moving in distress. About 2.5 per cent of the world’s population – 184 million people, including 37 million refugees – now live outside their country of nationality. The largest share – some 43 per cent – lives in developing countries, it adds.

The report underscores the urgency of managing migration better. The goal of policymakers should be to strengthen the match of migrants’ skills with the demand in destination societies, while protecting refugees and reducing the need for distressed movements. The report provides a framework for policymakers on how to do this.

“This World Development Report proposes a simple but powerful framework to aid the making of migration and refugee policy,” chief economist of the World Bank Group and senior vice president for Development Economics Indermit Gill said, adding that it tells us when such policies can be made unilaterally by destination countries, when they are better made plurilaterally by destination, transit and origin countries, and when they must be considered a multilateral responsibility.

Origin countries should make labor migration an explicit part of their development strategy. They should lower remittance costs, facilitate knowledge transfers from their diaspora, build skills that are in high demand globally so that citizens can get better jobs if they migrate, mitigate the adverse effects of ‘brain drain’, protect their nationals while abroad, and support them upon return.

Destination countries should encourage migration where the skills migrants bring are in high demand, facilitate their inclusion, and address social impacts that raise concerns among their citizens. They should let refugees move, get jobs, and access national services wherever they are available, the report adds.

International cooperation is essential to make migration a strong force for development. Bilateral cooperation can strengthen the match of migrants’ skills with the needs of destination societies. Multilateral efforts are needed to share the costs of refugee-hosting and to address distressed migration. Voices that are underrepresented in the migration debate must be heard: this includes developing countries, the private sector and other stakeholders, and migrants and refugees themselves.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Improved performance key for development results: ADB director general Yokoyama

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) director general for South Asia Kenichi Yokoyama said improved portfolio performance is key for timely delivery of development results and securing higher and sustained concessional resource allocations.

“The Finance Ministry is proactively addressing issues to improve project implementation,” he said, speaking at the opening session of a 2-day country portfolio review meeting organised by the government and ADB to assess the progress of ADB-supported development projects today.

“Nepal needs to achieve at least $350 million to $450 million disbursement per year to be considered for higher concessional resource allocations based on ADB’s performance-based allocation system,” he said, adding that higher disbursement is doable with collective efforts of the government and ADB by pursuing higher implementation disciplines.

Finance Minister Dr Prakash Sharan Mahat chaired a session on sector and project performance, attended by secretaries of the government, senior officials, project directors, and staff from ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission. 

“We appreciate ADB’s support to Nepal’s development over the years,” said the finance minister Dr Mahat. “The government is committed to overcome the challenges related to project implementation and disbursements and improve capital expenditure for development impact on the ground for Nepali people.”

At a special ceremony held in conjunction with the meeting, revenue secretary Ram Prasad Ghimire presented awards to ADB-supported projects for their excellence in effective project management, gender equality, and social inclusion, environmental and social safeguards monitoring. The projects that were awarded include Urban Water Supply and Sanitation (Sector) Project, Bagmati River Basin Improvement Project-Additional Financing, SASEC Highway Improvement Project, Rural Enterprise Financing Project, and Power Transmission and Distribution Efficiency Enhancement Project. 

As of December 31, 2022, ADB’s active portfolio in Nepal stands at around $3.2 billion supporting a broad range of key sectors: energy, transport, agriculture, water and urban infrastructure and services, rural development and natural resources, health, and education, according to the multilateral development partner. 

“In 2022, the overall portfolio performance in Nepal was lower than expected affected mainly due to insufficient project staff and high turnover, challenges in contract management, delays in environmental and land clearances, and disruption of construction supply chain,” said ADB country director for Nepal Arnaud Cauchois. “Following the review, Finance Ministry and ADB will agree on specific actions to overcome the challenges and we are hopeful that project implementation and disbursement will pick up pace.”

Since the start of its operations in Nepal in 1969, ADB has provided about $7.6 billion in financial and technical assistance to the country. 

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.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Nepal to celebrate 70 years of Mt Everest ascent

Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary – for the first time – reached the top of the world on May 29, 1953. And it has been 70 years since the highest peak in the world Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) was scaled by humans.

Nepal is celebrating the seven decades of Sagarmatha ascent, in commemoration of the human feet on the top of the world. Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) confirmed that a platinum jubilee function celebration will be organised in a grand manner on May 29, 2023.

The government has formed a main organising committee under tourism secretary Suresh Adhikari. The committee includes representations from Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), NMA, Hotel Association Nepal (HAN), Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN).

According to NMA, the committee has started working with a calendar to make the platinum jubilee celebration a grand event. The guests from various countries will be invited, the NMA informed, adding that all Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) climbers from across the world are being invited. They will also be honoured during an event ‘Everest Summit.’ 

A special programme is being organised at Khumjung of Solukhumbu on May 29, according to former chair and chief advisor of NMA Ang Chhiring Sherpa. “The programme is scheduled to be attended by Tenjing Norgey's son Jamling Tenjing Sherpa and Hillary's son Peter Hillary,” he said, adding that a separate programme will also be held in Kathmandu, after concluding the formal programme at Khumjung. “There will also a record-keeping competition among the climbers, including Kami Rita Sherpa, who has scaled Mt Everest for 26 times.”

The platinum jubilee celebrations is expected to send a new message across the world and give Nepal much needed promotion to lure more trekkers as the event will be covered by the international media.

Nepal is home to eight highest peaks of over 8,000-meter. Some 7,000 national and foreign climbers have reached the top of the world till date.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Government, loan-sharking victims ink five-point deal, for the second time

The government and representatives of loan-sharking victims signed a five-point deal today evening - on April Fools Day - after the government pledged to form a high-level commission to investigate into the problems of predatory lending victims. As the government has no institutional memory, this is the second time, it reached the agreement with victims in six months. Hopefully this time the government will walk the talk, and the victims will not be fooled, again.

The next cabinet meeting will form a high-powered probe commission and then the agitating committee will call off its protest programmes, according to the agreement that further reads that the government will also expedite the process to amend the law to criminalise unscrupulous lending.

The government will also form a district-level coordination-facilitation committee under the coordination of chief district officers (CDOs) to address the complaints of loan-sharking, the another point of the agreement reads, adding that the committees will have police personnel, district government attorneys, heads of land revenue and survey offices, representatives of banks and financial institutions and representatives of loan-sharking victims as members. “The committees will assist and coordinate the works of the commission, collect complaints and grievances from victims, assist in gathering evidence and facilitate free legal aid and conduct awareness activities.”

Though Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ today morning pledged to set up a high-level probe commission to resolve the issues of loan shark victims, the victims are not convinced as most of the loan sharks are affiliated to the political parties.

Talking to victims at his official residence in Baluwatar today morning, the Prime Minister tried to assure the victims that the government is working on amendment of the law that provides a long-term solution to the predatory lending issues. “The government is committed to addressing the demands of victims of illegal money lending,” he added. “The government has also decided to amend the National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act to criminalise illegal money lending.”

The Prime Minister informed the victims that he had instructed the Home Ministry to address the issue. Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who assumed his office yesterday, has also reiterated that the ministry is seriously concerned about resolving the problem.

Taking charge of the ministry yesterday, home minister Shrestha approved a file to form a high-level probe panel to solve the problems of usury victims. He has given the formation of a high-level inquiry commission the go-ahead to solve the problems of loan shark victims in accordance with the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1969.

On Tuesday, the government has also formed a four-member talks-team led by the joint secretary at the Home Ministry Rudra Devi Sharma to initiate talks with the victims. Home Ministry undersecretary Dil Kumar Tamang, undersecretary at the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers Uma Kanta Adhikari, and undersecretary at the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Jang Bahadur Dangi are members of the talks-team.

Loan shark victims, who hail from various districts of Tarai Madhesh gathered in Mahottari of Bardibas and walked to Kathmandu to draw attention to their plight. They had arrived in the Capital on Sunday after walking for 11 days on foot. They had travelled to Kathmandu in September too. But the problem has not been solved, even after signing five-point agreement then, and they are forced to walk to Federal capital again to pressurise the government to get the justice.

The victims have been protesting with 9-point demands, including the formation of a high-level commission of inquiry, scrapping personal mortgaging contracts locally known as ‘Tamasuk’ system, making laws in favor of usury victims, suspending ongoing arrest warrants based on Tamsuk, investigating property of usurious moneylenders and returning the property captured illegally. Among other demands, the victims have requested the government to resolve their pending cases in court and provide them loans at lower interest rates, bring laws against unscrupulous lending, as they are still fearing that their land will be auctioned and they will be arrested before the government initiates any action.

The law
Section-3, sub-section-2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1969 provides that if it is necessary to form a commission to investigate a matter of public importance, the government of Nepal or the provincial governments can form a commission of inquiry consisting of one or more members. Similarly, according to Sub-section 2 of Section 3 of this Act, such commissions shall be chaired by a judge appointed by the Government of Nepal in the case where there is only a judge or other persons as well. The judicial council should be consulted while forming such a commission. This commission has the power to present a person before the commission and take a statement, to order a person to submit any document, to hear evidence and to extract any document or its copy from any government or public office or court as per the prevailing law.