News Digest (March 19-25, 2020)

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

DOMESTIC POLITICS

Nepal Communist Party & the Government: Fearing a possible spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal has cancelled all his meetings.1 Dahal has also urged the party leaders and the general public to take extra precautions against the disease.2 Indicating the gravity of the situation globally and in the country, PM Oli addressed the nation on March 20 where he announced decisions on measures including closure of all private and public services (except essential services) until April 3 and suspension of all international flights from March 22 till March 31 and long-haul domestic vehicles until the mid of April.3 Likewise, on March 22, the prime minister called a cabinet meeting to further discuss COVID-19 emergency in the country and decided to close down Nepal’s borders with both the neighboring countries for a week.4 On March 23, a high level committee for prevention and control of COVID-19 ordered a complete national lockdown for a week.5  

Nepali Congress: The COVID-19 crisis in Nepal has affected the general convention schedule of the main opposition, Nepali Congress, and the party has cancelled the distribution and renewal of party membership.6 Supporting the government’s effort to fight the global pandemic, the party decided to contribute Rs 5 million to the government-created Coronavirus Fund.7   

Federal Parliament: The Legislation Management Committee of the National Assembly endorsed the Special Service Amendment Bill on March 19.9 The Bill will allow intelligence agencies to electronically tap a ‘suspect’s’ conversation without any court order. Opposition Nepali Congress, which was initially against the Bill, decided to support it after an assurance that the provision will not be misused. According to an added provision, an official found to be misusing the provision could be slapped with a 7-year jail term.10  

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Nepali embassies temporarily closed: Some Nepali embassies issued a notice suggesting visitors contact virtually given the COVID-19 pandemic, other embassies in France, Brussels, and Geneva took the step to remain shut until further notice a bit later. Even the Nepali Embassy in UAE closed on March 17 until further notice.[1]

Vehicular movement constrained at Jamunaha checkpoint: Vehicular movement has been restricted at Jamunaha checkpoint along the Nepal-India border in Banke since March 18 to avoid the possible spread of COVID-19. The security personnel from both countries are monitoring the operation of all heavy and regular vehicles entering Nepal and India via the checkpoint. Banke CDO said that despite the restrictions, the movement on foot has remained as it was.[2]

Extension of visa of foreigners living in Nepal: A high-level committee meeting led by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokhrel decided to extend the visas of the foreigners currently in Nepal. The decision was made in light of the travel restrictions imposed all around the world because of COVID-19. Similarly, the government also decided to refund the price of the ticket for those cancelling their flights.[3]

Government to tracks tourist details: The government is preparing to introduce a new system that requires every hotel across the country to submit details of their foreign guests to the government. An electronic tracking system is being developed for this purpose. The hotels are required to update passport details, check-in and check-out time, next and previous destinations of the foreign tourists. This mechanism has been placed analysing the risk of coronavirus infection in the country. Meanwhile, the department of tourism also urged all the hotels to follow precaution guidelines issued by the WHO and Ministry of Health and Population.[4]

Nepali rupee records all-time low against USD: As the Nepali currency is pegged against the Indian Rupee, any change in Indian Rupees affects the Nepali currency. On March 22, Nepali Rupee registered an all-time low against the US dollar, according to the exchange rate fixed by Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB). As per the reference rate set by the central bank, Rs 120.68 was needed to purchase one US dollar.[5]

US Aid for Nepal to fight COVID-19: The US government has offered an additional USD 1.8 million in assistance to bolster the Nepal government’s COVID-19 readiness and response. These funds are part of the USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund for Contagious Infectious Diseases.[6]

Border Sealed: Nepal has sealed 170 border points with China and India to avert spreading of the COVID-19. The vehicular movement across the nation has come to a halt. Security personnel have been stationed along 164 border checkpoints with India and six with China to stop the flow of people except for essential ones. In light of restricted movement across borders, the import is likely to decline.[7]

Many Nepali workers who worked in different parts of India were returning via the border on March 23 only to witness a sealed border. Most of them claimed that they did not know about the travel restrictions. Later in the evening, the Nepali nationals were allowed entry and were asked to observe self-isolation. Likewise, the Indian border forces allowed nearly 300 Nepalis to cross the Mechi Bridge and enter Nepal. The concerned authorities did not take any step to quarantine those who entered and just maintained contact details of the returnees.[8]

Tourists stranded in Nepal: Due to travel restrictions across the world, around 10,000 foreigners are stuck in Nepal. The Department of Immigration extended their visas till March 22 to stay back in Nepal. The department clarified that the foreigners will be sent back to their respective countries once the restrictions are lifted, probably after April 3. Foreigners whose visas were valid till March 21 will receive the department’s services free of cost. However, if the visa expired before March 21, the foreigner will be liable to pay late fees.[9]

Nepal turns to China and India for medical supplies: Nepal is facing a huge shortage of adequate medical supplies to cope with the pandemic and has, therefore, requested China and India to send medical supplies. Minister for Industry, Commerce, and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta said that Nepal will be following the Chinese model to combat the possible outbreak of COVID-19. The government is planning to use army hospitals to treat the pandemic patients. They are also requesting the Chinese doctors and officials to train the local doctors and medical staff to fight the pandemic.[10]

China offers support: Chinese government expressed its commitment to help Nepal to combat coronavirus. Posting a twitter message on March 24, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi wrote that the China government is making arrangements to supply medical goods to Nepal.This assurance from China comes at a time when Nepal enforced a lockdown closing all the sectors except essential ones to contain the novel coronavirus.[11]

Nepali embassy in Delhi asks adherence to government advisories: The Embassy of Nepal in India has urged all Nepali citizens to adhere to and respect the advisories issued by both the governments of Nepal and India so as to protect themselves from COVID-19. The statement follows Indian government’s decision to suspend all passenger trains, bus services, metro, and inter-state bus services until March 31, locking down all 75 districts where coronavirus cases have been reported.[12]

GOVERNANCE & CORRUPTION

Government bans entry to Nepal from March 20: The government has banned all passengers, including Nepalis, from entering Nepal from European Union territories, including the United Kingdom, West Asia, Gulf countries, and countries like Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan with effect from March 20 midnight until April 15. The ban was announced to respond to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the novel coronavirus has spread across the world, countries have placed travel bans and shut down their borders to contain the spread. [13]  

Nepal undergoes lockdown: Amidst increasing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, Nepal underwent lockdown for a week starting 6 am from March 24. Meeting of the high-level committee for the prevention and control of COVID-19, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, took the decision late on the evening of March 23, hours after a second coronavirus case was confirmed.[14]  The Government exercised the authority under Article 2 of the Contagious Diseases Act, 2020 (1963) for the lockdown.[15] This would be a much stricter stay-at-home order that would bring all movement to a halt and also close all government offices, businesses, and shops except essential services like health, security, food supply, drinking water, dairy, electricity, telecommunications, information and communication, customs, quarantine, and waste management.

Fund to fight the pandemic: On March 22, after sealing off the borders with both the giant neighbors, the government created Rs 500-million fund to fight the pandemic. Movement restriction was also put into effect from 10:00 am to last for a week. The decision came as a response to public concerns after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in India with which Nepal shares a 1,800-kilometre long open border. [16]

Public gathering ban: The government barred gatherings of more than 25 people and most government offices closed down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, state agencies themselves ignored the order and the Health Ministry conducted a press conference inviting dozens of people. [17]

New Nepali Ambassador for China: On March 23, the Parliamentary Hearing Committee endorsed Mahendra Bahadur Pandey for Nepal’s Ambassador to China.12 There was no complaint lodged against Pandey at the parliamentary panel. The Cabinet had decided to nominate Pandey as Nepal’s envoy to the northern neighbor following decision of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to recall Ambassador Lila Mani Paudel.[18]

Second COVID-19 case confirmed[19]: Nepal reports a second case for COVID-19 as a 19-year-old Nepali student who had returned from France via Qatar tested positive. The unidentified student arrived at Kathmandu Airport on March 17. She had visited Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital on March 20 for the coronavirus test after her Vietnamese friend, who had travelled with her from France to Qatar, tested positive for COVID-19 a day ago.[20] The government then tracked down the whereabouts of 125 people who shared the aircraft with the 19-year-old student and urged them to self-quarantine for 14 days. They have also been asked to immediately contact the nearest hospital if they show symptoms of COVID-19 while under self-isolation.[21]

Stranded Nepalis at Indian border allowed entry: The government decided to allow Nepalis who were stranded in the Indian territories due to Indo-Nepal border closures. The high-level committee for the control and prevention of novel coronavirus inked the decision. Government spokesperson and Finance Minister Yuvraj Khatiwada informed that all those entering the country will have to be kept in quarantines by the provincial government in coordination with the municipalities.[22]

SECURITY & STRATEGIC AFFAIRS

Counter-intelligence bill endorsed: The federal parliament is readying to pass an amendment to the Special Service Act which allows government to curtail privacy of citizens in the name of security concerns.[23]

Activists including Taranath Dahal from Freedom Forum and legal expert Dinesh Tripathi have expressed concerns that the bill will give the government sweeping power to collect individual data violates constitutional provision that guarantees right to privacy and was dangerous for democracy.[24]

The bill to amend the Special Service Act was registered in the National Assembly late last year despite opposition from the Nepali Congress. It was under deliberation at the Legislation Management Committee of the Assembly, which endorsed the bill unanimously on March 19. With this, the intelligence officials have the privy to conversations of ‘suspects’ without a court order.

SOCIAL INCLUSION, MIGRATION & CLIMATE CHANGE

Migration: Even during the lockdown, Malaysian employers are forcing migrant workers to attend work. More than half a million Nepali migrant workers live in Malaysia, the most affected Southeast Asian country by the COVID-19 pandemic. The companies have threatened them to not provide basic salary if they refuse to work.[25]

PROVINCE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

COVID-19 Response: All the provincial governments joined hands in support of preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19. Most of the provinces set up emergency funds at the provincial and local levels. Cabinet meeting of Province 1 set up a fund and Corona Information Desks at the Office of the Chief Minister and Council of Minster.[26] Similarly, Province 2 requested the public o self-quarantine at home.[27] Similarly, Kathmandu Metropolitan set up a fund of Rs 100 million.[28] Besi Sahar of Gandaki Pradesh allocated Rs 10 million as Corona response.[29] The cabinet meeting of Province 5 decided a fund of Rs 100 million.[30] Gandaki Province decided to shut down all border crossings with India and China to prevent and control the possible spread of novel coronavirus.[31] Similarly, Karnali Pradesh also set up a fund of Rs 500 million.[32]

Further, Province 2 imposed a lockdown at its border points following a meeting on Saturday with the Indian security force. All eight districts of the province share border with India where the COVID-19 pandemic has infected over 553 people and killed 10 as of March 26, 2020[33], and where a significant number of the districts’ population work. It is estimated that, on average, about 2,000 people travel across the border points every day.[34]

Budget Issues: Treasury Controller Office of Gandaki Province reported that the expenditure for the fiscal year stands at a meagre 31% of the recurrent budget over eight months of the current fiscal year while only 26% of the capital funds have been spent so far. Slow budget expenditure remains a bottleneck in carrying out development works, similar to the past fiscal years.

Likewise, local governments in Myagdi district spent just over 25% of the annual budget in eight months of current fiscal year. The governments blamed construction companies and consumer committees for their carelessness in carrying out the development works and not spending the budget on time.[35]

Further, lack of business has halted the provincial assembly meeting of Sudurpaschim Province since February 23 because of the postponement of the assembly meeting as the Ministry of Social Development tabled two bills in the Parliament Committee without consensus. Opposition parties – Nepali Congress and Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal – put forth their objection against the postponement of the assembly meeting. Apart from this, the opposition parties also criticized the government’s inability to drive progress as they have only spent 18% of the budget of the current fiscal year.[36]


[1] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/19/83043/

[2] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/20/83132/

[3] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/20/83132/

[4] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/govt-to-track-foreigners-in-all-nepal-hotels.html

[5] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/23/83883/

[6] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/22/83577/

[7] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/23/83902/

[8] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-1/2020/03/23/following-cabinet-s-decision-to-close-borders-hundreds-of-nepalis-faced-a-long-day-on-monday-at-the-borders

[9] https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/10000-foreign-nationals-stranded-in-nepal/

[10] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/government-requests-india-and-china-for-protective-gear-and-medical-equipment

[11] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/25/84448/

[12] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/nepalis-in-india-urged-to-adhere-to-government-issued-advisories-and-remain-indoors

[13] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/18/government-bans-entry-of-all-passengers

[14] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/nepal-goes-under-lockdown-for-a-week-starting-6am-tuesday

[15] https://mofa.gov.np/

[16] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/government-seals-border-creates-rs-500-million-fund/

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/government-has-banned-gatherings-of-over-25-people-but-its-own-agencies-and-house-panel-are-ignoring-the-fiat

[18] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/former-foreign-minister-pandey-appointed-new-ambassador-to-china/

[19] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-confirms-second-covid-19-case/

[20] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-confirms-second-covid-19-case/

[21] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/125-who-flew-with-covid-19-patient-traced/

[22]  https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/stranded-nepalis-at-indian-border-to-be-allowed-entry-govt/

[23]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/19/house-panel-endorses-bill-allowing-intelligence-agency-to-listen-in-on-conversations

[24] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/new-bill-lets-govt-snoop-on-citizens/

[25] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/23/nepali-workers-forced-to-work-even-under-lockdown-in-malaysia

[26] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/847394

[27] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/846919

[28] https://nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/39111/2020-03-19

[29] https://baahrakhari.com/feed-detail.php?nid=249445

[30] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/846731

[31] https://kathmandupost.com/gandaki-province/2020/03/25/gandaki-province-prepares-for-coronavirus-pandemic-closes-all-international-and-domestic-border-effective-tuesday-onwards

[32] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/846905

[33] https://www.mohfw.gov.in/

[34]https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-2/2020/03/22/province-2-tightens-border-with-india-as-covid-19-precautions

[35] https://www.karobardaily.com/news/economy/30393

[36] https://www.karobardaily.com/news/politics/30253

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