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News Digest (April 2 – April 8, 2020)

CESIF Nepal Democracy and Political Parties, Development, Infrastructure, Corruption, Foreign Policy, Gender and Inclusion, News Analysis, News Digest, News Digest, News Digest, News Digest, Security, Climate Change Leave a Comment

Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party & the Government: President Bidya Devi Bhandari addressed the nation on April 3, 2020, where she expressed her confidence that the human species will soon overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

According to the NCP spokesperson, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, senior party leaders requested a secretariat meeting to discuss the government’s recent controversial actions and their impact on the party.[2] The meeting was held on April 7, 2020.[3] In the meeting that lasted for about four hours and a half, about four hours were spent in summarizing the government’s actions.[4] In the briefing, PM Oli said that he was unaware of the government’s controversial agreement with Omni group.[5]

Nepali Congress & the Opposition: Requesting PM Oli to rid them of their responsibilities, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba urged the government to investigate and take strong action against those involved in irregularity in the purchase of medical equipment from China.[6] Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal(RJP-N) also demanded action against the individuals involved in the corruption.[7] Even some NCP leaders voiced their dissatisfaction in the government’s handling of the process.[8]

Following the government’s later decision to delegate the procurement of medical equipment to Nepal Army, NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel expressed concern over the ‘government’s mentality’ that Army’s involvement in the process will not be investigated.[9] NC also urged the government to speed up testing for COVID-19.[10] NC raised concerns about the Nepali people stranded across the border and in the United States.[11],12]

Federal Parliament: The House of Representatives (HoR) meeting, scheduled for April 5, was postponed until April 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the third deferment of the meeting, the last of which was held on March 12, 2020.[13] The Federal Parliamentary Secretariat contributed NRs 10 million in the government-created COVID-19 relief trust.[14]

Governance

Complaint lodged against Health Minister Dhakal at CIAA: Provincial assembly member of BibekSheel Nepali Ramesh Poudel registered a complaint against Minister of Health and Population Bhanubhakta Dhakal at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority. Poudel demanded investigation as the rapid testing kits are said to be substandard. Questions were raised after the government procured rapid testing kits for COVID-19. It was discovered that these kits were not approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and widely criticized as unreliable in various countries. Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal was accused of cancellation of the tender announced by the Ministry three months ago; the price of medical items were four times higher than the market price; businessmen close to the minister were awarded procurement tender overnight; the company which even did not have the experience of medical supplies was awarded the tender in just three hours’ time frame; the company has not been even registered at the Department of Commerce. Questions were raised after the government procured rapid testing kits for COVID-19. It was discovered that these kits were not approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) and widely criticized as unreliable in various countries. [15]

Government scraps contract with Omni Group: Following a widespread criticism, the government on April 1, 2020, scrapped the controversial COVID-19 emergency medical equipment procurement deal with Omni Group. Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, Director General at the Department of Health Services informed. The government faced widespread criticism after the medical equipment was bought from Guangzhou at a price about four to seven times higher than the usual market price. The procurement deal was worth Rs 3.40 million.[16]

Government considering assigning the medical equipment procurement contract to Nepal Army: The government is planning to assign the Nepal Army with the commission to the task of procuring medical equipment required to combat COVID-19.  The Ministry of Health and Population earlier scrapped an agreement with Omni Group. Omni is also accused of securing the procurement tender by bypassing the competitive bidding process. The government is now preparing to assign the task to the National Defence.[17]

Nepali editors concerned about Prime Minister’s IT consultant’s role in removal of new report: Editors of leading National dailies and online portals expressed discontentment over Prime Minister’s IT consultant Asgar Ali’s involvement in unauthorized removal of a news from an online news portal, Kathmandu Press. Issuing a joint statement on April 2, 21 editors of different newspapers and online news portals expressed serious concern toward the PM’s IT consultant’s role. The editor group demanded an immediate investigation into the matter and action against the perpetrator of the unconstitutional act. The editors also argued that the IT consultant’s role in the incident is a violation of press freedom.[18]

PM Oli in the dark about the controversial medical equipment purchase deal: Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli claimed that he was not informed of anything about the controversial medical equipment purchase deal that the government signed with a private company to import the tools required for the government’s COVID-19 response. After the media and the public claimed that the deal involved irregularities as the supplier was selected without any free competition and the rates of the purchase were higher than quoted in the proposal, the government annulled the deal.[19]

PM Oli warns of a challenging two weeks ahead in his televised address to the nation: Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Tuesday urged citizens to stay inside as he warned that the next two weeks could be critical for the country in a fight against COVID-19. In his televised address on April 7, Oli spent much of his address hitting back at his critics whom he accused of using moments of crisis to smear the government’s reputation. He suggested that the allegations of corruption were also part of the smear campaign. This address comes at a time when the government is facing attacks from the opposition over its treatment of a thousands of migrants stuck at the Nepal-India border, the alleged corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 kits, and its latest decision to make procurement through the Nepal Army.[20]

New NRB Governor takes oath, assumes office: Newly appointed governor of Nepal Rastra Bank, Maha Prasad Adhikari, took oath of office and secrecy from Chief Justice Cholendra Shamsher Rana on April 7, 2020, and also assumed his office on the same day. A Cabinet meeting held on April 6, 2020, appointed him to the position.[21]

Nepal extends suspension of international flights until April 30: The government decided to suspend all international flights until April 30 to contain the spread of COVID-19. A meeting of the high-level committee formed to control the Coronavirus outbreak made the decision on April 7, according to Narayan Bidari, a secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister. The government, however, is yet to decide whether to extend the suspension of domestic flights too. With the announcement of the lockdown, all the domestic flights was also suspended till April 15.[22]

The Supreme Court tells the government to repatriate Nepalis facing hardship abroad: The Supreme Court ordered an interim order to the government to bring in all Nepali citizens stranded abroad, who are willing to come back home, at the wake of global Coronavirus. A division bench of justices Deepak Kumar Karki and Manoj Kumar Sharma issued the order on Tuesday in response to the writ petition filed by advocates Mira Khadka Basnet and Manish Kumar Shrestha among others. The court has, however, ordered the government that citizens coming from abroad, should be quarantined for a certain period to protect the citizens from the Coronavirus outbreak.[23]

International Relations

Temporary quarantine facility at Indo-Nepal border: More than 180 Nepalis, who were on their way to Nepal from various Indian cities, have been kept in a provisional quarantine facility set up in the no man’s land area in Nepalgunj. Officials of both the countries decided to facilitate the Nepali nationals in the border since the stranded Nepalis refused to stay at a quarantine facility in India. They will be provided food for the 14-days extended quarantine.[24]

China reluctant to reopen the border with Nepal: Nepal’s customs officials said they have been unable to reopen Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani border points connected to China for trade activities owing to China’s reluctance due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Nepal. Nepal had decided to reopen the border during mid-March, but according to Chinese counterparts, they cannot open the border as per the Chinese policy. However, no official response has been received yet.[25]

Tourist visa extended free of cost: The government decided to extend tourist visas issued for the foreigners visiting Nepal as long as the lockdown continues without any additional charge. Many foreign governments have already evacuated their citizens from Nepal. However, many are still stranded in various parts of the country. The high-level committee for controlling the outbreak in the country decided that the visas which expired after the imposition of the lockdown will be renewed free of charge; however, the tourists whose visas had expired before the lockdown began have to pay the applicable fines.[26]

Rohingya refugees in Budhanilkantha face persecution: After the Rohingya refugees lost their jobs following the lockdown, a group of youth had been voluntarily providing basic necessities to 60 families in Budhanilkantha Municipality. However, some officials obstructed the distribution of relief materials stating no one can enter or exit the refugee camp. The city’s mayor asserted that the UN was taking care of the settlement.[27]

Government to not rescue foreigners stranded outside Kathmandu: The government clarified that it will not ‘rescue’ any foreigner who is stranded in any place due to the ongoing lockdown. Nepal Tourism Board informed that the tourists who are in the capital can go back to their home countries anytime they want if their governments arrange chartered flights but those who are not in the capital have to stay put wherever they are until the lockdown is eased.[28]

NRNA calls for rescuing Nepalis abroad: The Non-Residents Nepalis Association (NRNA) pushed the government to help the Nepalis living abroad illegally or those with student visas. NRNA spokesperson DB Chettri claimed that many Nepalis are living illegally in Europe, the USA, Australia, and the Gulf countries, and the government needs to rescue them.  Chettri asked those Nepalis living illegally to get in touch with Nepal’s diplomatic missions or the concerned NRNA chapter and that the NRNA is ready to provide support to the government if needed.[29]

Nepal to receive USD 29 million from the World Bank: Nepal is to receive USD 29 million from the World Bank in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank has approved a fast-track COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project to help Nepal prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness.[30]

Indian government lifts ban on drug export: The Indian government lifted the medical ban it had imposed on 24 medicines, including Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, metronidazole, ornidazole, Neomycin, chloramphenicol, Erythromycin and others and its raw materials. The ban on Paracetamol, however, has not been lifted yet.[31]

SC orders the government to bring home Nepalis who are willing to come home: The Supreme Court has issued an interim order to the government to bring all the Nepali citizens stranded at the Indian border and other countries, who are willing to come home, and put them under quarantine. The bench, however, has told the government to make proper arrangements of food, shelter and treatment of those citizens who are not in a position to return to Nepal, by coordinating with the Indian government. SC has also requested the government to bring Nepalis from different countries through diplomatic channels.[32]

SAARC allocates USD 5 million for COVID-19 projects: The SAARC Development Fund has allocated USD 5 million for COVID-19 projects in SAARC member states under its Social Window to support member countries in responding to COVID-19 pandemic. In keeping with SDF Charter Article 4 Section 2, Social Window shall primarily fund projects on poverty alleviation and social development focusing on education, health, human resource development, support to vulnerable/ disadvantaged segment of society, funding needs of communities, micro-enterprises and rural infrastructure development.[33]

Gender, Social Inclusion, Migration, and Human Rights

Protect migrant workers and marginalized: Amnesty International: Amnesty International stated that the nationwide lockdown has hugely affected migrant workers and marginalized people. Thousands of Nepali migrant workers are now in a difficult situation as they are stranded in the destination countries and their employers are violating their rights. AI urged the government for the measures taken as response to COVID-19 must be consistent with international human rights obligations.  It also said the government should protect the people who are at high health and livelihood crises.[34]

Health volunteers to fight against COVID-19: A meeting of the government’s high-level committee for the prevention and control of COVID-19 decided to mobilize at least 50,000 health volunteers at local levels. The government will ensure pay, insurance, and other facilities for them.[35]

Ensure every person’s right to health: National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), issuing a statement, said that its monitoring team is receiving complaints of deprivation of treatment and medicine for the patients of kidney diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental diseases. NHRC also urged the government to ensure every person’s right to health and treatment for all patients suffering from other diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic.[36]

Measles outbreak in Chepang community of Dhading: Two children in Chepang community of Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality in Dhading have died of measles-rubella and more than 159 are infected. Due to remoteness of the area, health workers find it difficult to provide regular vaccination services in that settlement. Their situation has further worsened because of the nationwide lockdown, making medical treatment inaccessible.[37]

Awareness campaign in the Chepang community: Village Social Impact launched an awareness campaign in the Chepang community of Chitwan district to prevent the spread of Coronavirus infection. They also distributed soap and instructed to wash hands to the indigenous community.[38]

Compensation to farmers: The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development is in the process to introduce a relief package for farmers affected by lockdown during the pandemic as farmers are suffering to get agricultural inputs and to sell their products as well. In this scheme, small dairy farmers and poultry farmers will be provided Rs 10 per liter and Rs 60-120 per live chicken respectively.[39]

Nepalis forced to take unpaid leave in Romania: Almost 500 Nepali migrant workers in Romania have been forced to take unpaid leave during the pandemic. As per a representative of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, the employers were planning to cancel the work permit of migrant workers for some time but later agreed to provide them unpaid leave. Till March 5, over 3,600 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Romania, with 146 deaths.[40]

Provincial and Local Governments

Federal government’s response: While deciding to mobilize 50,000 rural health volunteers over the country to control and prevent COVID-19, the COVID-19 Committee also decided to revise protocol for setting up and operating quarantine facilities and distribution of relief materials to the needy. The government also decided to set up Patient Receiving Teams, which will receive patients or suspected patients and take them to designated places.[41] Apart from these, the government decided to launch large-scale rapid diagnostic tests in three districts—Baglung, Kanchanpur, and Kailali.[42]

Provincial governments’ response:

Province 1: The government designated various hospitals in Province 1 to treat the COVID-19 patients and collect their swab samples for tests. Reportedly, many private hospitals refer patients with COVID-19 like symptoms to BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences without any screening tests.[43]

The federal government sent a PCR machine with a team of doctors from Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital to Janakpur Provincial Hospital on March 31 to set up a lab. However, testing is yet to start because of logistical delays. Dr Pramod Yadav, chief at the Health Division in the province, said that they will start the testing of collected swab samples as soon as the lab is fully operational.[44]

Province 2: The meeting of Province 2 government has decided to take a strong action against private health institutions that refuse treatment to patients. Based on the meeting, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law sent a letter to the chief district officers of all eight districts with instructions to dismiss the license of the private hospitals if found reluctant in providing treatment to the patients in such a critical time. The provincial government reported that private health institutes failed to provide basic health services as well as were found misbehaving with patients.[45]

Gandaki Pradesh: Gandaki Pradesh decided to take action against the private health institutions that are not treating the patients. The Pradesh made it mandatory for all hospitals and health institutions under the province to provide treatment to all patients.[46]

Province 5: Province 5 government intensified search for individuals who returned to Nepal after the global spread of the viral disease. All 109 local governments have started collecting the record of quarantining facilities. As reported on March 5, there are a total of 2,351 people in quarantine in various facilities across 12 districts and about 300 health workers have been deployed at those facilities.[47]

The government of Province 5 has started to provide information through a mobile app about COVID-19 by collecting information about people who came to Nepal from foreign countries and whether they have any disease symptoms. The app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and the website of office of the Chief Minister.[48]

Sudurpaschim Pradesh: On March 5, Sudurpashchim Pradesh recommended the federal government to extend the lockdown after the number of COVID-19 infections increased in Kailali, and the high level committee of the federal government concluded to extend the lockdown until midnight April 15.[49] However, Far Western Regional Health Directorate claimed that the government has sent inadequate medical equipment to test and treat COVID-19.[50]

Local governments’ response: Province 1, Jhapa, Kankai Municipality distributed relief packages to 131 poor families from the development budget. Municipality distributed five kg of rice, dal, oil, and salt.[51] Similarly, Hatwagadhi Municipality in Bhojpur started a helpline number to collect information about the COVID-19. The helpline helps in collecting information about the disease and help the locals by disseminating the required information of the Virus.[52]

Photo: Image by leo2014 from Pixabay


[1] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/03/158592364971465088.html

[2] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/04/158598179443151851.html

[3] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/06/158617049634886156.html

[4] http://annapurnapost.com/news/152599

[5] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/852339

[6] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/03/158590792534421843.html

[7] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/03/158591203762314411.html

[8] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/04/158596808221111264.html

[9] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/03/158591042025925245.html

[10] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/04/158600163016938017.html

[11] http://annapurnapost.com/news/amerikaamaa-koronaa-prbhaavit-nepaaliikaa-baaremaa-kaangres-mhaamntrii-koiraalaako-caaso-152459

[12] https://www.setopati.com/politics/203351

[13] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/03/1585895140957977.html

[14] http://annapurnapost.com/news/152565

[15] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/complaint-lodged-against-health-minister-dhakal-at-ciaa/          

[16] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/govt-scraps-contract-with-omni-group/

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/02/government-considering-assigning-medical-equipment-procurement-contract-to-nepal-army

[18] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/02/nepali-editors-concerned-about-prime-minister-s-it-consultant-s-role-in-removal-of-news-report

[19] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/oli-was-in-the-dark-about-controversial-medical-equipment-purchase-deal.html

[20] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/oli-warns-next-two-weeks-can-be-more-challenging.html

[21] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/new-nrb-governor-takes-oath-assumes-office.html

[22] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepal-extends-suspension-of-international-flights-until-april-30.html

[23] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/supreme-court-tells-govt-to-repatriate-nepalis-facing-hardship-abroad.html

[24] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/02/temporary-quarantine-facility-built-on-no-man-s-land-to-keep-more-than-a-hundred-nepalis-caught-in-indo-nepal-border-in-nepalgunj

[25] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/china-reluctant-to-reopen-border-points-with-nepal.html

[26] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepal-to-extend-visas-of-tourists-unable-return-home-in-lockdown-without-fine.html

[27] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/budhanilakantha-municipality-stops-youth-from-providing-relief-support-to-rohingya-refugees.html

[28] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepal-not-to-rescue-foreigners-stranded-out-of-kathmandu-now-onwards.html

[29] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nrna-calls-for-rescuing-nepalis-abroad/

[30] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/08/87757/

[31] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/08/87754/

[32] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/07/supreme-court-tells-government-to-bring-all-stranded-citizens-willing-to-enter-nepal-home

[33] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/saarc-development-fund-allocates-five-million-dollars-for-covid-19-projects/

[34] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/ai-calls-on-govt-to-protect-migrant-workers-other-marginalised-groups/

[35] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/govt-to-mobilise-50000-health-volunteers/

[36] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/ensure-every-persons-right-to-health-national-human-rights-commission/

[37] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-3/2020/04/06/measles-outbreak-kills-two-children-and-infects-over-150-in-chepang-settlements-of-dhading-district

[38]  https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/awareness-on-coronavirus-in-chepang-community/

[39] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/govt-to-finalize-compensation-to-farmers-at-huge-loss-due-to-virus/

[40] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/08/in-romania-hundreds-of-nepalis-forced-to-take-unpaid-leave-pay-cuts

[41] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/05/15860977004737211.html

[42] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/04/rapid-covid-19-diagnostic-tests-to-be-launched-in-baglung-kanchanpur-and-kailali

[43] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-1/2020/04/05/most-hospitals-designated-for-covid-19-test-sample-collection-are-not-doing-their-job

[44] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-2/2020/04/02/covid-19-testing-lab-yet-to-come-into-operation-in-janakpur-provincial-hospital

[45] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/849986

[46] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-4/2020/04/04/158599910467132742.html

[47] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-5/2020/04/05/as-province-5-steps-up-contact-tracing-to-avoid-outbreak-health-workers-decry-lack-of-resources

[48] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-5/2020/04/06/158618658558399402.html

[49] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/government-extends-nationwide-lockdown-by-another-week-until-april-15/

[50] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/02/15858447372919023.html

[51] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-1/2020/04/02/158581970089141985.html?fbclid=IwAR36EYiuSIBkbeXf3n17uWDSWb5Q84QWfm4avcat-0rJLqa0FFoHedIvjZk

[52] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/bhojpur-sets-up-covid-19-helpline-desk/

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