News Digest (March 12-18, 2020)

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DOMESTIC POLITICS

Nepal Communist Party: Madhav Kumar Nepal, who headed one of the three factions within NCP earlier, is now being seen as a valuable prize for the Oli and Dahal camps, who are both vying to win Nepal’s favor in the recent weeks. Oli’s aides are reported to have geared up their activities with Nepal and his coterie.[1]

Nepali Congress: In an interview, NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who has been critical of Sher Bahadur Deuba’s style of leadership and functioning, pointed out at the ‘feudal culture’ in National politics. He also accused Deuba of being ‘concerned about consolidating his power in the party through wrong means.[2]  

Parliamentary Affairs: After the expiry of Manohar Prasad Bhattarai’s 5-year tenure on March 15, Gopalnath Yogi was appointed the executive general secretary of the federal parliament.[3][4] National Assembly Chair Ganesh Timilsina, an Oli appointee, criticized Speaker Sapkota’s unilateral move to appoint Yogi as the general secretary of the federal parliament. He expressed his displeasure at Sapkota for not consulting him before the appointment.[5]

The ruling NCP’s desire to appoint deputy speaker as a “part of a larger deal” with the Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), RJP’s unwillingness to accommodate NCP’s interests, and speaker Sapkota’s reluctance has left the federal parliament without a deputy speaker for more than a month and a half.[6]

Despite rule 10 of the Lower House Regulations, which encourages citizens’ participation in the lawmaking process, there is hardly any constructive discussion on the bills in the house.[7] Further, owing to the government’s recent activities to hijack the independence of the country’s lawmaking body, experts claim that the House of Representatives has increasingly been overshadowed by the executive, functioning more like an extension of the government rather than a principal actor in the separation of power.[8]

Historically, however, the parliament has always functioned as a tool of the ruling governing party rather than a platform to discuss policy-related issues, constitute laws, formulate policy, and direct and guide the government.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Pillar at Nepal-India border vandalized: Nepali Congress leaders and cadres pulled down a Nepal-India border pillar on March 14 which they claimed was built on Nepal territory. The pillar was installed at Baibaha in ward no. 3 of Beldandi rural municipality recently by a joint Nepal-India survey team. Border dispute in the southern part of the district has been creating difficulties for the survey team to work.[9]

Kalapani dispute: Nepal government has planned to establish a base camp at Kalapani, a disputed Nepal-India border area. Armed Police Force is forming a camp with ‘Level A’ hospital. This camp will be inaccessible by roads. The APF initiated the work after a Cabinet meeting on December 9, 2019, approved the proposal to register the land in the name of APF for installing a Border Observation Post (BPO). The government has already allocated Rs 10 million, and an additional Rs 120 million will be allocated soon.[10]

New Indian Ambassador meets Army Chief: Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra paid a courtesy call on Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) Purna Chandra Thapa on March 17.The meeting was held at the army headquarters.According to the Directorate, matters relating to bilateral relations and areas of mutual interests were discussed during the meeting.[11]

China extends a helping hand: China has assured Nepal of necessary support or aid to fight the probability of coronavirus being spread in Nepal. In a letter written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese Embassy has asked Nepal for any required support including aid, medical team, masks or other medical supply from China. Likewise, the letter also states that China is eager to send tourists to Nepal once the country is free from coronavirus. It has also guaranteed to expedite the infrastructure development projects in Nepal that have been affected due to the pandemic.[12]

SECURITY AND STRATEGIC AFFAIRSCOVID—19

SAARC on the fight: On March 13, Indian PM Narendra Modi invited all SAARC nations to devise a plan to deal with the global pandemic COVID-19. Representatives of all nations attended the video conference. Modi also proposed an establishment of an emergency fund and offered USD 10 million which can be withdrawn by any country. Meanwhile, PM Oli expressed his willingness to jointly deal with the situation and stated that Nepal is at a high alert for a possible outbreak. He stressed the urgency of the situation by overlooking all medical arrangements by himself.[13]

Chinese workers quarantined: Seventy-one Chinese workers employed in the construction of Pokhara Regional International Airport have been placed in quarantine. The Chinese workers had returned to Nepal between March 4 and 6 from after celebrating the Chinese New Year and have been kept in isolation at the project site. None of them have shown any effects of the pandemic.[14]

Chances and protective measures in Nepal: Nepal detected its first coronavirus patient around two months ago, who has since recovered. So far 445 people suspected to have COVID-19 have tested negative. Despite these preventive measures, the possibility of the virus entering the country cannot be ruled out. And even if only a few cases are detected, the number of infected people can multiply rapidly within a few days as seen in Iran, Italy, and South Korea.[15]

However, as the World Health Organization labelled COVID-19 as a pandemic, the government made public its strategy to prevent and control the disease, such as to stop flights from the most affected countries, not issuing tourist visas, and lockdown pocket areas, and seal borders. These measures would be taken if the virus spreads in the country, without mentioning a clear-cut implementation timeline. Experts criticized the government for not taking stringent measures and just announcing plans and asked to act as soon as possible.[16]

Suspect flees: A suspected coronavirus patient from Siraha, who was sent to Janaki Medical College Teaching Hospital, for further tests, escaped from the hospital on March 15. This clearly shows the inadequacy from the government side to contain people who are suspected carriers of the coronavirus. If this lackadaisical attitude continues, it could lead to a widespread proliferation of the pandemic all over the country in a few days.

Government to open fair price shops: The government plans to open a string of fair price shops in a bid to stop black marketing and price gouging for daily essential goods following rush buying due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The stores will be run by state-owned Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Corporation in Kathmandu Valley. Officials are yet to decide when, where, and how many shops will be opened.[17]

GOVERNANCE AND CORRUPTION

Governance Concerns: A week since Oli went into surgery, governance and politics have all but come to a halt. Oli did not even bother to name an officiating prime minister, leaving no one in charge of state affairs while he recovers. The last Cabinet meeting that Oli chaired was on March 1, a day before he was admitted to the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. He underwent a kidney transplant surgery on March 4. There has been no Cabinet meeting since then.[18]

Freedom of expression: The constitution and existing laws guarantee freedom of speech and press freedom, but the government has tried to restrict media freedom by threatening journalists and news organizations that criticized the authorities, said the Annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices-2020, which was recently released by the US Department of State.[19]

Although Rule 10 of the Lower House regulations envisions that people’s feedback could be necessary before parliamentary endorsement of the bills, Nepal’s political parties treat citizens only as their vote base, showing little accountability to them. Despite a well-placed provision, Nepali political parties in 2015 rushed to promulgate the constitution without collecting feedback from the members of the public. Now the trend of ignoring public participation in lawmaking continues.[20]

Transitional justice: A bill to amend the controversial Enforced Disappeared Enquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, is ready to be tabled in Parliament. Subash Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the Nepal Communist Party, remarked that the amendment has been made considering the spirit of the relevant Supreme Court ruling, international practices, and feedback from conflict victims. Nembang confirmed that the bill will be tabled in a week.[21]

Winter session likely to end without endorsing crucial bills: The ongoing session of federal parliament, also dubbed the bill session, looks like it might be the most unproductive one. With just about two weeks remaining for the prorogation of the current session, dozens of bills, including some crucial ones, are likely to remain pending. As of now, only two bills—the bill to amend the Revenue Leakage Act and the Industrial Enterprise Development Bill—have been endorsed. The next meeting has been called for March 20 and the house with meager chances of 10 meetings to be held will not have adequate time to endorse all the pending bills before the session ends.[22]

GENDER VIOLENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Acid Attack: Police arrested a 29-year-old woman on the charge of attacking her husband with acid in Tarkeshwor Municipality, Kathmandu. The survivor is getting treatment at Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital.[23]

Gender Stereotype: Nepal Nursing Council introduced a 15% reservation for men to study nursing as it is taken as a feminine occupation. The Council is trying to break the gender stereotypes, but there were only 59 men out of 4049 students in 2019. The data of registered nurses also shows a greater gender gap in the profession: out of 13,465 registered nurses, only 125 are male.[24]

Human Rights: The country report on human rights practices published by the US State Department states that the Nepal government has not been taking action against the cases of human rights violations. The report highlighted the extrajudicial killing of Biplab cadre Kumar Poudel and Madhesi activist Ram Manohar Yadav. It also highlights the discriminatory citizenship law for women, increasing violence against women, and the transitional justice process and government failure to address these cases.[25]

PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Name and Capital: Kul Prasad KC, Province Minister of Internal Affairs and Law, said the capital city would be decided through votes and may take some months. The province government has been facing criticism for the delay in finalizing capital city and province name. As per the constitutional provision the decision to designate the capital and name of the province has to be passed through the two-third majority of the assembly.[26]

Meanwhile, the Provincial Assembly of Province 2 failed to decide the name and capital through votes on March 17. The ruling parties—Samajbadi Party Nepal (SPN) and Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N)—proposed Madhes, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Janaki, and Congress Mithila-Bhojpura Pradesh as capital names. Of the total 107 members of the provincial assembly, 37 MPs voted for Janaki, 28 MPs for Mithila-Bhojpura, 42 MPs for Madhya-Madhes and 60 MPs for Madhesh.[27] However, the majority of the Members of Parliament (MPs)’s agreed that Janakpur should be the capital of the province.[28] 

On March 12, Province 5 government forwarded the amendment on provincial services bill for providing facilities to the local representatives. The government proposed that by adding expenditure headings there would be the possibility to provide more facilities than what is currently there.[29] However, earlier on October 18, 2019, the Supreme Court had repealed the laws of provincial governments enacted to allow salaries for elected representatives at the local level.

Province Heads in Capital: The heads of all provinces visited the federal capital Kathmandu with a bundle of grievances. They complained of a lack of clear acts, rules, and procedures for them to deliver their responsibilities. Governors also complained that their offices in the province had a shortage of resources. The province head also took the opportunity to share experiences. However, they could not meet the President and the Prime Minister. [30] 

Budget Issues:  The Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperative spent the highest 48.83% of the capital budget. However, the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forests and Environment, Office of Chief Minister and Council of Minister, and Provincial Planning Commission managed to spend the lowest 6.29%, 6.81%, and 7% of the capital budget respectively.


[1] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/13/in-oli-s-absence-two-ruling-party-factions-vie-for-madhav-nepal-s-favour

[2] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nc-must-fight-corruption-in-govt-anomalies-in-party/

[3] http://annapurnapost.com/news/150366

[4] http://annapurnapost.com/news/150422

[5] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/17/divisions-in-ruling-party-manifest-in-appointment-of-national-assembly-general-secretary

[6] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/12/ruling-party-is-undecided-and-speaker-is-reluctant-leaving-the-house-without-deputy-speaker

[7] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/15/nepal-s-political-parties-rarely-encourage-public-participation-in-lawmaking

[8] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/16/parliament-functioning-more-like-extension-of-government-rather-than-sovereign-entity-experts-say

[9] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/15/81987/

[10] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/14/81806/

[11] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/17/82589/

[12] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/17/82565/

[13] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/15/82112/

[14] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/71-chinese-workers-in-pokhara-quarantined/

[15] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/government-still-not-prepared-to-fight-coronavirus-outbreak/

[16] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/drastic-steps-planned-to-prevent-covid-19-outbreak/

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/money/2020/03/17/government-to-open-fair-price-shops-to-allay-fears-of-shortages-and-price-hikes

[18] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/12/with-oli-likely-to-be-out-of-commission-for-longer-concerns-about-governance-remain

[19] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/govt-curtailing-freedom-of-expression-report/

[20] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/03/15/nepal-s-political-parties-rarely-encourage-public-participation-in-lawmaking

[21] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/18/draft-amendment-to-transitional-justice-act-ready-nembang-says

[22]  https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/18/winter-session-of-parliament-likely-to-end-without-endorsing-crucial-bills

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/kathmandu/2020/03/13/police-arrest-woman-for-pouring-acid-on-her-husband

[24] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/16/despite-quotas-gender-stereotypes-are-still-preventing-men-from-becoming-nurses

[25] https://kathmandupost.com/2/2020/03/13/washington-takes-a-dim-view-of-human-rights-situation-in-nepal

[26] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-5/2020/03/12/province-5-assembly-members-debate-over-the-province-s-name-and-capital

[27] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/province-2-fails-to-name-itself-choose-capital/

[28] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/844795

[29] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/843730

[30] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/38783/2020-03-16

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