NCP & the Government: Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, on February 16, said that several conspiracies are being made to defame his government, expressing paranoia over his government’s future. On February 17, he praised his ‘extraordinarily performing’ governments saying that his government is leading the country towards ‘modernity, development, social justice, equality, and prosperity’.
Kathmandu District Court acquitted former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara on February 17 citing lack of sufficient evidence to prove the charge of attempted rape leveled against him. Following the acquittal, his suspension as a lawmaker has been lifted from February 18. On the very day, former deputy Speaker, Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe, was sworn in as the minister of law and justice. Once a staunch critic of patriarchy, who had said that the whole party reeks of male dominance, Tumbahamfe disappointed her supporters by taking up the ministerial berth. The election of Deputy Speaker is, however, uncertain, as the NCP and RJP-N are yet to reach an understanding. NCP is willing to offer the post to the Madhes party struggling for its provincial dominance, whereas RJP-N is reluctant to accept the offer unless it gets an assurance to lead the provincial government.
Lawmaker Purna Kumari Subedi restricted the media’s access to cover the meetings of the Agriculture, Cooperatives, and Natural Resources Committee. She also denied access to reporters to her House Committee Meeting on the same day.
Corruption and Governance: In a leaked audio recording of a conversation between Information Minister Gokul Baskota and Swiss Company local agent Bijaya Prakash Mishra, the minister is heard bargaining for Rs 700 million bribes over the procurement of security printing press for the government. Issuing a press statement on February 20, Nepali Congress demanded that the government should immediately sack Minister Baskota, who is also the spokesperson of the government.  The very day, Speaker of the House announced that the Minister had submitted his resignation.
Security Printing: The corruption scandal forced Parliamentary Account’s Committee to put a halt on the formation of a subcommittee which was to advise the government on the way forward regarding the government to deal. Following the resignation of Gokul Baskota, Minister for Communication and Information Technology, the government’s plan to establish a security printing press has hit a roadblock.
Indian encroachment on No Man’s land: India recently marked the area near pillar 752 to construct a 3-storey government building without informing Nepal. Dudhwa National Park handed over 5,000 sq. ft. land to Department of Customs, India, claiming the property doesn’t fall in the ‘Dasgaja’ area. The authorities in the area said that if this information is accurate, they will be forced to halt the construction works and have already requested the Department of Survey to conduct the land inspection. Any construction on no man’s land cannot be done unilaterally as either government needs to consult the other before doing so.
Coronavirus outbreak hits Nepal-China trade: Following the halt of cross-border trade between Nepal and China because of coronavirus scare, goods shortage is looming over Nepal. This is most likely to trigger an upswing in the market. The Rasuwagadhi-Kerung trade route has remained closed for the past three weeks because of COVID-19. This customs point used to witness the movement of 70-80 containers daily. But traders haven’t received new consignment and Chinese products are becoming dearer with each passing day.
Tightening surveillance of Foreign Nationals: The government has tabled a bill to amend and replace the current Immigration Act 1992. The draft proposes a series of revisions — i) separate immigration department in 77 districts to monitor and supervise activities of foreign nationals, ii) compulsory for foreigners to submit an alternate contact person with all the necessary details, iii) it will be mandatory for landlords hosting foreigners to inform the immigration department, iv) foreigners living in Nepal will be barred from engaging in national politics, v) foreigners wanting to enter protected areas will have to take special permission through travel agents, vi) special entry of foreign nationals without visa will be allowed by the government if sanctioned by the cabinet, vii) the provision introduces five types of visas though the existing regulations use eight, viii) the airlines will be held if foreigners enter Nepal without proper documentation and visa, and they will have to repatriate such passengers, ix) tampering with travel documents could land the person in prison for five years or fine Rs 5,00,000 or both, x) misconduct against immigration officials could result in one year jail or Rs 1,00,000 fine or both, xi) the home ministry can bar any Nepali from leaving the country if it feels the person can hamper international relations and, xii) Indians will have to show ID to enter Nepal via road.
Raxaul-Kathmandu Electric Rail: India allocated budget for a DPR on the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu electric rail project. However, it is unclear if India will bear the full expense to prepare the report. It will take approximately a year for the DPR to get finalized, after which the construction will take another five years.
Nepal-India contemplates second oil pipeline: The government began a process to establish another pipeline connecting Nepal Oil Corporation’s depot in Jhapa with Siliguri in India. The transportation of gasoline through the pipeline will help reduce costs substantially. Besides, it will reduce leakage and wastage. It currently takes 14 hours to transport oil by land but installing pipes will help reduce the time. The operation of the first pipeline has saved Rs 2 billion annually in freight charges.
Screening of air passengers in Delhi: India will screen COVID-19 on passengers flying from Kathmandu to minimize the risk of an outbreak. India justified this by stating Nepal’s proximity to China and how infection rates in South Korea escalated. As of now, Nepal has reported only one case of coronavirus, but India doesn’t seem to be satisfied with the health regulations placed in Nepal. India is already screening passengers from 12 countries to minimize the threat.
Review of 1947 Treaty: Nepal proposed a revision of the 1947 tripartite agreement with Britain on Gorkha soldiers. The review is over recruitment, deployment, perks, and facilities of the Gorkha soldiers working in Britain. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to London on February 12 as per government policy to scrap all discriminatory treaties and pacts signed with other countries. Nepal proposed a solution through dialogue and invited UK officials for the purpose.
Human Rights, Gender and Social Inclusion
Sexual Abuse: Police arrested Nanda Prasad Niraula, a 55-year-old teacher at Shree Narayan Basic School in Mahalaxmi Municipality of Lalitpur, charging him of sexually molesting 26 students. The case was first exposed by The Himalayan Times daily after it got a letter written by the girls to their principal about the abuse. The teacher had been transferred from two schools in Patan and Lakuri Bhanjyang earlier after facing similar accusations.
Gender-Based Violence: The Ministry of Women, Children, and Senior Citizens urged the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration to coordinate with the local levels to establish and operate the Gender-Based Violence Prevention Fund. In response to the MoWCSC, the MoFAGA issued a circular to the local levels directing them to act accordingly. The second amendment to Gender-Based Violence Prevention Fund (Operation) Regulations-2019 requires the provision of the fund. The fund will be used for rescue and medical treatment of GBV victims, financial support, legal aid, psychological treatment, and psycho-social counseling services.
Human Rights: Human Rights Year Book 2020 published by the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) shows that incidents of human rights violations rose in 2019 compared to the previous year. In 2018, a total of 5,110 cases of human rights violations were reported, with an increase of 1,532 in 2019. Similarly, the year 2019 witnessed 3,363 cases of violence against women that included 2,079 cases of domestic violence and 530 rape cases.
Migration: As per the Foreign Employment Promotion Board, 21 Nepali comatose migrant workers receiving treatment in hospitals abroad are yet to be brought home, despite having a directive for evacuation in place.
Minorities: The 2021 National Census will adopt census methods to collect details of sexual and gender minorities. The CBS was pitching for a sample survey method with a detailed questionnaire, but after a consistent request from various organizations working for sexual and gender minorities (SGM), CBS opted for census method. SGM activists believe that this provision will help reflect their correct number.
PROVINCE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Budget Expenditure and Development: Finance Comptroller Office of the Gandaki Province reported that only 19% of the budget has been spent in the past seven months of the current fiscal year. Of the total expenditure so far, Province Planning Commission has 57% share while the Office of the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers spent only 5%. Even the local provincial government has spent 27% of the budget. The expenditure stood at 68% in the last fiscal year.
On the contrary, Prime Minister Oli claimed that all indicators of the economy are positive in the current fiscal year. The claims turned out to be false as various indices including economic growth are negative. Calculation of the Central Bureau of Statistics in GDP achieved only 4% economic growth in the first quarter of the current fiscal against the targeted 8%. The department has not yet published the data as per the government directive.
Governance: A survey
report of the National Institute for Development and Research showed that 70% of
general people are unsatisfied with public service delivery at local
governments. As many as 60% are unsatisfied with the public hearing process and
complained that the services are not people-oriented while Chief of the
Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority in Karnali Province remarked
that irregularities and corruption increased two folds. Similarly, locals in Udayapur complained that
corruption increased in the local governments. The people perceive that elected
representatives and user committees have done massive embezzlement while
implementing development projects. While
corruption is perceived to be on the rise, the elected representatives have
been lobbying for increased financial gains as salaries and allowances. In Province
5, the Supreme Court was repealed to provide elected representatives’ monthly
salaries and allowances. Province Assembly proposed to the provincial assembly
to amend the Supreme Court’s decision and provide salaries and allowances. The
province government tabled a proposal at the assembly with a demand of
providing additional facilities for elected representatives.