In the front of National security and Climate change, several high-level corruption cases came to light which force to question the government’s ability to control it. The lack of transparency in the cases involving Batas Organization and Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation, and cronyism in the Agricultural Inputs Company have been the major causes of corruption in the country. As the country is facing a third wave of Covid, the data and trends from South Africa (which has identical population composition and similar vaccination rates to Nepal) gives an encouraging picture for Nepal. Finally, the fertilizer crisis has been worsening which can have serious implications for the food security in the following months. Although the government has been planning to open a fertilizer plant, reports have suggested that the demand (which is comparatively low) doesn’t justify the huge production cost of establishing a plant.
Timeline of Major Events
|December 31||Kathmandu district court has issued arrest warrants against 210 people involved in fabricating fake documents to grab government land at Lalita Niwas premises in Baluwatar.|
|January 3||PM Deuba inaugurated a waste treatment plant in Dharan on January 3, which will produce biogas and manure from the waste|
|January 11||Bhesh Narayan Dahal, executive director of Narayanhiti Palace Museum and Republic Monument Management and Operation Committee has resigned after he was found to have violated the legal process in allowing Batas Group to construct a café inside the palace|
|January 14||The meeting of Council of Ministers has introduced 36-point order to be implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19|
|January 21||PM Deuba addressed the nation after completing his six months in the office|
Corruption Cases and threat to national security
The government called off its initial plan to let BPS Leasing and Management company operate a restaurant within the Narayanhiti Palace Museum after it received heavy criticism from the public and the media. Following the criticism, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) formed a committee to further investigate the case. The report highlighted that the committee had not clearly demarcated the area which opened the door for Batas Organization to use more land. Another case involving the Batas Organization regarding the construction of a hotel in Pashupati Maitri Dharmasala has also come in highlight for the same reasons. In a separate case, CIAA has launched an investigation on the Dhurmus-Suntali Foundation for the possible embezzlement of funds for the construction of Gautam Buddha International Cricket Stadium. All these high-profile cases have surfaced while the PM, in his address speech to the country highlighted that the government has adopted zero corruption policy.
According to Terziev & Petkov (2018), corruption negatively impacts the national security as it disrupts the social environment, the economic development, and the normal functioning of the state. A report from Transparency International reiterates that one of the major causes of corruption is relaxed procurement processes. In the case involving Batas Organization, serious questions must be asked of the authorities about the legal procedure to offer public assets to the private organization, as no transparency was offered. Similarly, Dhurmus-Suntali had been receiving donations from NRNs, and different government bodies, but no transparency was offered on how these donations were utilized. The prevalence of such corruption cases can also be attested to the cronyism in politics. The cahootism between the authorities and certain businessmen to land lucrative contracts disrupts the social, economic, and political fabric of the country by eroding the rule of law. The case of Agricultural Inputs Company (AIC) awarding the contract to supply chemical fertilizer to a company without competitive bidding procedure through which substandard fertilizers were imported is an example of such growing cronyism in politics. Although the National Security Policy of Nepal has emphasized on the control of corruption by increasing accountability, it still ranks 117th among 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. Thus, the government must focus on a transparent contracting process which helps to avoid foul play, identify conflict of interests, and ensures fair pricing.
Covid-19: Omicron trends in South Africa encouraging for Nepal?
Nepal reported a total of 10, 258 cases of Covid-19 on January 18, the highest number of single day cases to date. However, there is no exact data on the Covid-19 variant breakdown. To address this issue, the authorities have made vaccination cards mandatory to enter public places like bars and restaurants, and board flights. PM Deuba in his address speech has shared the government’s plans to vaccinate 100 percent of the eligible population by Chaitra (Mid-April). Amidst the growing cases, the news of depleting Vero Cell vaccine stocks could deprive people from second dose and booster shots.
Since omicron variants have proven to be milder in comparison to the previous variants, hospitalization rates have been low. Analyzing the data and trends of South Africa where the first case of omicron was detected, gives a positive picture for other countries. The omicron wave which started in November hit its peak in mid-December. Although it was expected that the 90% of the population would get infected in this wave, the numbers infected remained well below the threshold. Scientists have speculated that South Africa’s younger population and herd immunity could be the two main reasons for this. Nepal also has predominantly younger population (median age being around 24 years old). On top of that, Nepal and South Africa both have fully vaccinated around 43% of its total population (as of 24 January). Although these data are encouraging, it is important to note that the situation for each country is different.
Worsening fertilizer crisis could lead to food security issues
Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has indicated that the country is undergoing a chemical fertilizer crisis. One of the main reasons for this is the reluctance of China to export chemical fertilizers to Nepal. China issued a statement clarifying that it would halt the export of phosphates until mid-2022 to meet the internal demand. Similarly, due to the higher demands around the world, the price of fertilizers has soared. Although the government has increased NRs 12.71 billion to the already existing NRs 15 billion regular budget for the purchase of chemical fertilizers, it hasn’t been able to strike a deal with any foreign companies for the export. The fertilizer crisis has been a recurring issue every year which is also due to the duopoly of Salt Trading Limited and Agricultural Inputs Company Limited.
The unavailability of fertilizer will directly affect the crop production. Similarly, this will also drive the food prices which will especially impact the vulnerable communities that have already been impacted by the pandemic. To address this issue, Nepal has been planning to open a fertilizer plant. The Investment Board Nepal (IBN) has been looking into the prospect since 2015 and conducted a detailed feasibility study through an Indian firm. The report highlighted that the demand (which is comparatively low) doesn’t justify the huge production cost of establishing a plant. Furthermore, the production of fertilizer requires natural gas which needs to be imported either from India or Bangladesh. Although the plant can entirely run-on electricity, it is estimated to be even costlier. So, a more detailed analysis is required before starting the construction. Thus, the government must stockpile the fertilizers to meet the demand during shortages and should also consider gradually shifting towards organic fertilizers.