News Digest (April 16 – April 22, 2020)

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Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Government: NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal expressed that national and global powers have been exercising to weaken the Nepal Communist Party.[1]

A cabinet meeting held on April 20, 2020, decided to issue two ordinances—about political parties and constitutional council—which was approved by President Bidya Devi Bhandari. The first ordinance will amend the existing provision on splitting a political party, which required a 40% support from both the parliamentary party and its central committee. According to the new ordinance, a party could split with 40% support from either the parliamentary party or its central committee.[2] This ordinance has drawn widespread criticism from within NCP—particularly the Maoist faction—as well as from other parties and analysts.

The Constitutional Council ordinance, on the other hand, amends the existing provision and allows the body to take decisions even in the absence of opposition leaders.[3]

Nepali Congress and the Opposition: Referring to the new appointments in different commissions, Nepali Congress expressed their disappointment in the government for recruiting their party workers at the time of a crisis.[4] NC also raised their voice for the rights of laborers, who have been worst-hit by the pandemic and are yet ignored.[5]

Concerned with irregularities and ineffectiveness of the relief distribution at local levels, Nepali Congress proposed an ‘all-party mechanism’ to monitor the process.[6] Similarly, the demand for an ‘all-party mechanism’ to address the Coronavirus crisis resurfaced after the HoR issued ‘a directive in the same regard’.[7]

NC called out the government’s authoritarian tendency as demonstrated in the issuance of the two ordinances.[8] On the same account, other political parties such as Bibeksheel Nepali and Sajha party criticized the government for its anti-democratic decision.[9]

Rastriya Janata Party, Nepal, (RJP-N) also condemned the new ordinances and said that the government’s decision to issue them was ‘inappropriate, unnecessary, and against the constitution.’[10]

Governance

President Bhandari authenticates two ordinances: President Bidya Devi Bhandari authenticated two ordinances on April 20, 2020, on the recommendation of the council of ministers. “The president authenticated ordinance relating to political parties (second amendment) and constitutional council (functions, duties, powers and procedures) ordinance (first amendment) 2077, on recommendation of the council of ministers, informed Keshav Prasad Ghimire, assistant spokesperson of the President’s office, via a press statement.”[11]

The Cabinet meeting held at Baluwatar passed an ordinance allowing the splitting of a party with the support of 40 members in either the parliamentary party or the central committee. The ordinance states that the constitutional council can take decisions on the basis of majority. The second ordinance states that the Constitutional Council can take decisions on the basis of majority. The six-strong council currently only has five members in lack of election for deputy speaker.

This amendment would mean that the Council can now take decisions with support of only three members and even in absence of the main opposition leader.

Small parties protest Oli’s move to issue ordinances on parties, constitutional council: Various parties objected to the government’s decision to issue two ordinances related to the operation of political parties and the Constitutional Council. Nepali congress[12], the main opposition, has viewed the decision as an authoritarian thought. Similarly, Rastriya Prajatantra Party said that the decision is ‘unnecessary, inappropriate, and against the sentiments of the constitution’. Likewise, Rabindra Mishra, Chairman of Sajha Party, said the decision has authoritarian aspirations of PM Oli.[13] 

Plea to scrap ordinances quashed: The Supreme Court refused to register a writ petition that seeked nullification of the ordinances that was issued by the government to amend the Constitutional Council Act and Political Party Act, on April 21. Two people filed a public interest litigation case at SC but the court refuted stating that the full Apex court had only decided to entertain a petition related to coronavirus pandemic.[14] 

Government prepares to seal Udayapur district following 11 new COVID-19 cases in a day: Government is preparing to seal Udayapur district after 11 new cases were found in a day. According to the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, all cases were asymptomatic, thus making it challenging to trace the contacts. A health ministry official said that the local administration has sealed the area where the majority of cases of COVID-19 were found.[15]

Government plans to let industries operate from the week of April 26: With economic activities in a standstill from March 23, 2020, the government is preparing to gradually open the industries by adopting precautionary measures against COVID-19. Industrialists have been pressuring the government to resume operations expressing concerns over how the indefinite lockdown has affected not only businesses but also the economy of the country. According to Baikuntha Aryal, secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Supplies (MoICS), businesses will be allowed to resume operations only after ensuring that they fully comply with all the necessary precautions against coronavirus.[16]

Security

Testing becomes a challenge in Karnali districts due to remoteness and shortage of kits: Data from the Karnali provincial government shows that around 5,000 people entered Jumla from COVID-19 affected countries such as India in the past one month. However, among them only a few hundred have undergone tests. Furthermore, the local administration has admitted that most of the people who were in quarantine had not undergone any tests to rule out the virus.[17] The district health offices have also reported a shortage of testing kits which has halted rapid testing in several districts of Province.[18]

The Provincial Health Directorate in Birendranagar dispatched 3,760 of the 5,000 RDT kits it received from the central government to several districts in Karnali two weeks ago. However, some remote districts such as Dolpa are yet to receive the kits. Furthermore, several settlements in these districts are not covered by mobile networks making communication difficult and delayed. According to health officials, conducting tests under these conditions has become a challenge.[19]

Two COVID-19 patients released from hospitals after successful recovery: Two COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals in Kathmandu and Baglung after making a successful recovery from the virus on April 18, 2020. A 19-year-old woman who had returned from France was discharged from Shukraraj Hospital for Infectious and Tropical Disease in Teku. While the other patient, a 65-year-old woman was discharged from Dhaulagiri Hospital in Baglung. Both of them were discharged after testing negative in two PCR tests performed in a 24 hour interval.[20]

Health Ministry to purchase 100,000 additional RDT kits despite major concerns over efficacy: Despite the controversial procurement process of the 75,000 RDT kits purchased by the Ministry of Health and Population because of its validity and efficacy, the ministry decided to purchase an additional 100,00o kits via fast track process. People who tested positive under the PCR tests had tested negative in the RDT tests. Therefore, health officials have raised major concerns over the health ministry’s decision.[21]

Total number of positive cases reaches 42 after 11 more positive cases in Udayapur: The health ministry confirmed the total number of positive cases has reached 42. This announcement came after 11 more people from Udayapur district tested positive for the virus on April 21, 2020. With this confirmation, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 has reached 24 in Udayapur alone. The health ministry said that samples collected via contact tracing could increase the number of positive cases.[22]

International Relations

The State government of India closes the border unilaterally: The West Bengal government went against the Indian central government directive and unilaterally closed the shared eastern border point of Nepal, Kakarbhitta to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Indian customs officials are now planning to reroute the shipment of consignments through other channels. While doing so, the state government did not even consult with the Nepali counterpart before taking the decision. The eastern border is critical for Nepal as it receives supplies from Bangladesh and Bhutan from the same route. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Supplies sent request the Indian embassy to provide a solution.[23]

Chinese government cancels foreign aid to Nepal: The Chinese government sent a letter to the Ministry of General Administration, the Consulate General of Nepal in Tibet, stating that China will be unable to provide 14 excavators as promised to each hilly district under its foreign aid program in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the aid needs to be prioritized in other sectors.[24]

Energy secretaries of Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan discuss issues: Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Bhutan are facing problems related to electricity demand, generation, and distribution because of COVID-19. Therefore, the energy secretaries held a virtual meeting to discuss the solution. They assessed the state of energy and repercussions of COVID-19 in each country. The Nepali secretary requested his Indian counterpart to establish a joint venture for the construction of Butwal-Gorakhpur 400-kV Transmission Project and to allow the private sector to import electricity. Nepali Secretary also ‘proposed tripartite mechanism meeting of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh electricity trade’.[25]

Gender, Social Inclusion, Migration, and Human Rights

The Supreme Court orders the government to protect the rights of migrant workers: A single bench of Justice Sapana Malla Pradhan issued an interim order to the government for taking care of health needs of migrant workers and repatriate them to Nepal. The order is in response to a writ petition filed by Advocate Som Prasad Luitel and others against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.[26]

Amnesty International accused Qatar for using pandemic to expel migrant workers: Amnesty International (AI), a human rights advocacy group, accused the Qatari Authorities for expelling Nepali migrant workers during the time of pandemic. AI interviewed 20 Nepali migrant workers who were arrested by Qatari Police telling them they were being taken to the COVID-19 test. According to the arrestees, they were taken to the detention center, kept in an inhuman place for several days, and directly sent back to Nepal.[27]

Suicide cases:In the first two weeks of lockdown, 198 suicide cases were registered to police across the country. Since it is difficult for the people with mental illness to get counselling from their counselors and friends during the lockdown, depression, loneliness, and stress have taken their toll, said spokesperson of Nepal Police.[28]

Violence against Women during lockdown: According to data of Nepal Police, violence against women and girls has been increasing during lockdown. In the 21 days of lockdown, 76 rape cases, 10 rape attempt, and 72 cases of domestic violence were registered. Most of the perpetrators of rape cases were the family members and neighbours.[29]

Food Insecurity: The United Nation World Food Program, Nepal office warned that food insecurity is likely to occur in near future as the nationwide lockdown has impacted food harvest and planting.[30] However, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development criticized the report. Food security focal point, Ram Krishna Regmi argued that due to good winter rain, production of winter crops would increase this year. He added that the report exaggerates the status of food security, market price, and food import.[31]

Provincial and Local Governments

Conflict among three tiers in COVID-19 response: On April 15, 2020, the National Assembly organized a video conference meeting among all seven provincial governments to get an update on COVID-19. Speakers of all provincial assemblies claimed that the lack of consensus among the three tiers of government – federal, provincial, and local – are not performing up to the mark to prevent and control the COVID-19 because the three-levels of governments are not at the same level in the COVID-19 response.[32] 

Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) Kits: According to the report from the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), as of April 21, doctors have tested 36,719 people for COVID-19 by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits. The ministry also informed that 7,067 people are in quarantine and 107 people are in self-isolation around the country.[33]

On April 15, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) started COVID-19 test through RDT kits in areas where foreign returned people are residing. The KMC started this testing after two people who returned from abroad in Kathmandu were confirmed COVID-19 positive.[34]

Out of 10 districts, three districts in Karnali Pradesh halted the COVID-19 test due to a shortage of RDT kits. The remaining seven districts in Karnali Pradesh have also low RDT kits.[35]

Weak preparation in the COVID-19 response: The Ministry of Social Development alerted Province 5 that they will have difficulties if they have COVID-19 case in their provincial premises. The Province lacks doctors, health workers, ambulances, drivers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), COVID-19 test kits.[36]

Similarly, Province 2 government provided a PCR machine to Narayani Hospital, Birgunj on April 15. Narayani Hospital medical superintendent said that the machine has not come into use due to the unavailability of supportive equipment for operating the machine. The locals and representatives raised their voices to start PCR tests in the Birgunj after three COVID-19 cases confirmed on April 12.[37]

34 doctors reach Dhangadhi: The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) sent a group of doctors to Dhangadhi for the prevention and control of COVID-19. According to the Ministry of Social Development, the federal government initiated to deploy the doctors in different places over the province as per the need because the province is in a high risk of COVID-19 spread because a large number of Nepali migrants have returned from India. Similarly, MoHP also decided to send doctors to Province 2.[38]

Province 5 started a contact tracing app to prevent and control the possible spread of the COVID-19 to help find out the details of the people who came in contact with the infected.[39]

Province 2 appeals to MoHA to stop the transfer of top officials for the time being: The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, Province 2 sent a letter on April 18 to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) appealing to stop the transfer of security officials for the time being. Province 2 put objections to the decision during such a challenging time when all the manpower is being used to prevent and control the COVID-19 epidemic. The new security officials will take time to settle down, when time is of the utmost concern for the prevention and control of the COVID-19.[40]


[1] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/857019

[2] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/20/oli-s-sudden-issual-of-two-ordinances-raises-concerns-of-a-party-split-in-the-making

[3] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/20/oli-s-sudden-issual-of-two-ordinances-raises-concerns-of-a-party-split-in-the-making

[4] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/16/158700874895893593.html

[5] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/855368

[6] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepali-congress-proposes-all-party-mechanisms-to-monitor-relief-distribution.html

[7] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/covid-19-response-demand-for-all-party-mechanism-reappears.html

[8] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepali-congress-sees-authoritarian-thought-in-two-ordinances.html

[9] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/bibeksheel-nepali-sajha-party-say-govts-move-against-the-spirit-of-democracy/

[10] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/governments-decision-inappropriate-unnecessary-and-against-the-constitution-rpp/

[11] https://www.spotlightnepal.com/2020/04/20/president-bhandari-issues-ordinance-relating-political-parties/

[12] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepali-congress-sees-authoritarian-thought-in-two-ordinances.html

[13] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/small-parties-protest-olis-move-to-issue-ordinances-on-parties-constitutional-council.html

[14] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/plea-to-scrap-two-ordinances-quashed/

[15] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/21/government-prepares-to-seal-udayapur-district-following-confirmation-of-11-new-covid-19-cases-in-a-day

[16] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/govt-plans-to-let-industries-operate-from-next-week/

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/karnali-province/2020/04/22/of-the-total-5-000-entering-jumla-in-a-month-the-number-of-people-tested-for-covid-19-is-in-the-hundreds

[18] https://kathmandupost.com/karnali-province/2020/04/19/rapid-tests-halted-in-three-karnali-districts-due-to-shortage-of-rdt-kits

[19] https://kathmandupost.com/karnali-province/2020/04/16/conducting-coronavirus-tests-is-a-challenge-in-remote-karnali-districts

[20] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/04/18/second-covid-19-patient-discharged-from-the-hospital

[21] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/04/21/health-ministry-purchasing-additional-100-000-rapid-diagnostic-test-kits-via-fast-track-process

[22] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/21/government-prepares-to-seal-udayapur-district-following-confirmation-of-11-new-covid-19-cases-in-a-day

[23] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/west-bengal-govt-closes-kakarbhitta-border-unilaterally.html

[24] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/18/89871/

[25] https://www.spotlightnepal.com/2020/04/17/energy-secretary-ghimire-discusses-issues-electricity-his-counterparts-india-bangladesh-and-bhutan/

[26] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/supreme-court-asks-government-to-bring-back-migrant-nepalis-stranded-in-foreign-lands/

[27] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/16/qatar-used-coronavirus-pandemic-as-a-ruse-to-expel-nepali-migrant-workers-amnesty-international-says

[28] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/16/suicide-cases-remain-a-challenge-for-law-enforcement-agency-even-duirng-lockdown

[29] https://nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/41628/2020-04-20

[30] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/4-6-million-nepalis-are-food-insecure-and-10-have-severe-need/

[31] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/wfp-reports-on-food-security-exaggerated-nepal-government/

[32] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/provincial-speakers-complain-of-non-cooperation-in-covid-19-response.html

[33] https://thahakhabar.com/news/96272

[34] https://nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/41424/2020-04-17

[35] https://kathmandupost.com/karnali-province/2020/04/19/rapid-tests-halted-in-three-karnali-districts-due-to-shortage-of-rdt-kits

[36] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/855653

[37] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/17/158711426664413800.html

[38] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/855467

[39] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-5/2020/04/21/158744041794356898.html

[40] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/18/158720868726395428.html

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