Nepali Times Asian Paints

Local polls wrapped up

Monday, September 18th, 2017
Pic: Jiyalal Sah

Pic: Jiyalal Sah

Nepal successfully held the last phase of local elections — trickier than the first two phases — in its most volatile region on Monday.

Province 2, where local elections were postponed three times before, witnessed a significant turnout, with men and women lining up to cast their votes since early morning.

Election Commission’s preliminary estimate is that 70 % of voters turned out to elect their local representatives in eight plains districts of Province 2, where Madhes-based parties had not allowed voting even as six other provinces went to the polls before the monsoon.

There was a minor clash in a village council of Rautahat district, but the voting was largely peaceful throughout the region, largely because Madhesi parties participated in the process.

Monday’s voting will elect 6,627 local representatives in 136 local councils, including one metropolitan and three sub-metropolitan cities. Results are expected to arrive in one week’s time, before Dasain festival begins.


Briefing or briefcase?

Monday, September 18th, 2017

BREAKING: Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) Managing Director Gopal Khadka was sacked by the cabinet today. This op-ed was published before his removal

Guna Raj Luintel in Nagarik daily, 17 September

A newly appointed minister summons the Managing Director of a Public Enterprise under his ministry for briefing. The MD reaches the ministry with progress reports and future plans, but the minister is not interested in his briefing he is more interested in the briefcase.

“Mr MD, what’s in it for me,” the minister asks.

When the MD says there isn’t anything, that is the end of the briefing. The MD returns to his office, and weeps. The minister then asks his confidantes how to replace an MD who is “too honest” with someone who can siphon kickbacks to him and his party.

This is the pitiable state of affairs in Nepal today. Only those who deliver briefcases full of money to ministers and their parties can hold top government positions. This bare-faced corruption is leading to democratic decay and impunity.

Until 2006, we blamed the monarchy for everything that was wrong in our country. That was not completely untrue, but the kleptocracy of one king has been replaced by the plunder of multiple kings.

In 1995, Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari picked a UML cadre Lok Krishna Bhattarai to head the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC). But Adhikari found out that all his predecessors used to pay Rs 120 million to the queen to get the appointment. Adhikari told me about how he was kicked out of the NOC after he exposed this corruption.

If NOC executives used to pay millions to the palace two decades ago, they now pay billions to political parties. This explains why the ruling and opposition parties are mum even when media is awash with exposés of corruption within the NOC.

Since Gopal Khadka’s appointment as the NOC Chief in January 2015, the state-owned petroleum monopoly has been rocked by a series of mega scams. Several parliamentary committees and probe panels have found him guilty, but neither the Minister of Supplies or the anti-corruption watchdog dare take action against him.

In November 2015, the NOC Board of Directors, chaired by Supply Minister Ganesh Man Pun, held Khadka guilty in a corruption case. Pun publicly vowed to remove Khadka, but he was protected by then-CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki.

Karki is gone, but Khadka has kept the CIAA on his side and no one else dares to touch him. The government is afraid to sack him, UML Chair KP Oli also doesn’t dare utter a word against him.

The same government that has allowed Khadka to loot the country is preparing to sack the Civil Aviation Authority Nepal General Manager Sanjeev Gautam without substantial charges in which the state stands to lose billions.

Gautam terminated an agreement with Spanish contractor Constructora Sanjose for upgrading Tribhuvan International Airport, citing non-performance and failure to meet deadlines. Sanjose filed a lawsuit demanding Rs 4.60 billion in damages, and two local courts in Nepal, a Spanish court and one in Singapore have already ruled in its favour. Gautam’s removal will weaken CAAN’s defense against Sanjose’s lawsuit. There appears to be a nexus between politicians and Sanjose to remove Gautam.

If Sanjose wins it can get back a Rs 7 billion compensation and surety bond seized by the government, and probably everyone will get a share. That the government began preparations for Gautam’s removal just when Sanjose representatives were in Kathmandu is no coincidence.

These two examples of NOC and CAAN show just how broken our system is, and only a new revolution can fix it.

(Gun Raj Luintel is the editor of Nagarik Daily)

Nepal’s Rohingya

Friday, September 15th, 2017

Pic: Samartha Ranjit/Pahilopost

From the Nepali Press

Sagar Budhathoki in , 15 September

Ram Sharan Adhikari, 50, had never seen burqa-clad women before. But it all changed in 2012 when a group of Rohingya refugees came to his Kapan neighbourhood outside Kathmandu and asked if he could rent them his land to stay.

It was a barren plot and at first Adhikari was reluctant because he did not know who they were, or where they had come from. He first mistook them for Nepali Muslims from the Tarai. They spoke a different language, but he never bothered to find out what it was.

It was only when he found out they had been driven out of their homeland, that he allowed them to set up huts in his property for Rs 150,000 a year.

It was only when Rohingya Muslims staged a demonstration in front of a UN building in Kathmandu demanding resettlement that people in Kapan found out they were actually refugees. Although most were ‘boat people’ who sought shelter in Malaysia or Indonesia, these Rohingyas had crossed over into Bangladesh, then India and then across the open border into Nepal.

As Myanmar drove out more Rohingya Muslims, their population in Nepal began to grow. Today, with fresh persecution in Rakhine State in what is described by UN as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’, more refugees are expected to join the 400 already here. Of them, 200 are sheltered in land owned by Adhikari himself and he has provided them and visits their houses almost every day, and provided some of them with jobs.

“They are hard-working and largely peaceful people,” he says. “They are not up to any mischief.”

The refugees are a devout lot, and they pray every day, hoping one day to be able to return to Burma. The rent contract needs to be renewed, and there is no sign of a resolution of the crisis along the Burma-Bangladesh border, in fact the violence has got worse.

Says Adhikari: “They can live here as long as they want.”

Bridging hills and plains

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

RJPN has chosen a hill settler, Rajesh Man Singh, as its mayor candidate in Birganj. Photo: Jiyalal Sah

When Madhes-based leaders rose up in 2015 against what they saw as a conspiracy in the new Constitution to further marginalise the plains, highlanders in the Tarai were fearful for their safety. As violence broke out, many sold property and headed north to the mountains.

In Birganj, the epicentre of the 2015 Blockade, cadres of Tarai-centric parties would often issue veiled but often blatant threats against hill settlers. Two years later, as Province 2 prepares for the first local elections in two decades, that fear has dramatically dissipated, with mainstream parties fielding Madhesi candidates and some Tarai-centric parties having candidates of hill ancestry.

Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), the recently formed alliance of Madhesi parties, has chosen a Newar businessman as its mayoral candidate in Birganj: Rajesh Man Singh (pictured above campaigning door-to-door). He was active during the Madhes Movement and supports greater autonomy for the plains in the new federal structure.

Says Birganj-based human rights activist Kamal Mohan Pokharel: “The RJPN and other Madhesi parties have sent out a message of harmony and social integration by choosing hill settlers as their candidates, and this has removed to a certain extent the sense of fear among them.” The RJPN has also fielded six hill-origin candidates for Ward chairs in Birganj. Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), another Madhes-based party, has three highlanders as Ward chair candidates. Nepal Loktantrik Forum has not put up candidates in all ward committees, but it has one hill candidate in a Madhesi-dominated ward.

After years of polarisation between hills and plains, the parties appear to have realised the benefits of integration. Candidates are busy campaigning for the polls on 18 September, and their message is no longer divisive, but about improving relations between traditionally excluded groups in the Tarai and Kathmandu.

Mainstream parties based in Kathmandu, for their part, have fallen back on Madhesi candidates for local governments. Youth from the hill community are active in election campaigns of Madhesi candidates, and vice versa.

Ironically, instead of ethnic politics and caste vote banks turning communities against each other, next week’s local elections has brought Nepalis in the Tarai together.

Says Birganj resident Babita Poudel, “It’s not that we people from the hills and the Tarai don’t want to unite, it is politicians who are keeping us apart. They created a situation where the highlanders and the plains people started hating each other.”

 Julia Thomas in Birganj


Where are they?

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Peshal Kumari Wagle, 59, attends an event organised by the ICRC to mark the International Day of the Disappeared in Kathmandu on Tuesday. Her son, Gopi Krishna Wagle, was abducted by a group of unidentified men from Tandi, Chitwan in August 1999. Nearly two decades later, she is still searching for her missing son. Photo: Om Astha Rai

As Nepal marks the International Day of the Disappeared (IDD) on Wednesday, hope is fading for the families of the 1,300-plus Nepalis disappeared by the security forces and Maoist guerrillas during the conflict 1996-2016.

The extended one-year tenure of the Commission for Investigation of Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) is expiring in just six months, but all it has done so far is collect complaints from the families who were detained by both sides and never heard from again.

At a program organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kathmandu on the eve of the IDD on Tuesday, the CIEDP Chief Commissioner Lokendra Mallik admitted that the investigation will not be complete in its remaining tenure. The ICRC has been collecting its own data about the disappeared families, and has a list of 1,344 individuals.

As the CIEDP seeks another extension, possibly longer this time, the families of the disappeared are increasingly disillusioned, and are angry at the CIEDP for its sluggishness and apathy.

“No more excuses, we need results,” said an angry Keshab Khanal, whose father was taken away by the army from their house in Syangja. A decade after the end of the war, he does not know whether his father is dead or alive.

“If you (CIEDP Commissioners) cannot find out what happened to my father and other people like him, you should resign,” he said. “Stop pretending to be working.”

Purni Maya Lama, whose husband was abducted and murdered by Maoists in Kavre, said: “People here make a big fuss when a dog goes missing, but no one is concerned about my missing husband. If he is really dead, show me where he was buried.”

Ram Bhandari, Chair of the National Network of the Families of the Disappeared (NEFAD) whose father was disappeared by the Army, said: “The government is now run by those who ordered detention and abduction of our family members. If the CIEDP just follows government instructions, we cannot expect anything from them.”

But Mallik said the Commission’s hands are tied in the absence of a strong law criminalising enforced disappearances: “Our mandate is limited to finding the truth about the disappeared, filing charge sheets against the perpetrators and recommending reparation for the families of the victims. We cannot go beyond that even if we want to.”

The Commission has complained about the lack of a strong law, time and resources. And without all this, it is unlikely to meet the needs of the families of the disappeared for truth, justice and compensation.

The ICRC has once again reminded the Nepal government of international covenants that all parties to a conflict must do everything possible to prevent people from going missing, and must clarify the fate of those who disappear.

“The legal obligations regarding Missing Persons continue to apply even a decade after the end of the conflict,” said Andre Paquet, head of the ICRC mission in Nepal. “The common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions applies also for post-conflict situations.”

Last year, the ICRC had published the list of 1,334 persons who are still missing in Nepal. This list will be updated on Wednesday when the entire world marks the IDD with this year’s theme: where are they?

Om Astha Rai

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Toothless Commission 

India irked by Deuba

Friday, August 25th, 2017
pm deuba visit India

Photo: RSS

Om Astha Rai in New Delhi

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s state visit to India has laid bare just how insecure New Delhi feels about Beijing’s influence in Kathmandu, especially in the wake of the stand-off over the disputed Doklam region of the China-Bhutan border.

It is not clear why exactly Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Deuba for an unscheduled tea talk ahead of their official meetings on Thursday. Analysts interpreted that as India’s attempt to project Nepal as being on its side and against China over the Doklam row.

Read Also:

Deuba, Delhi and Doklam, Om Astha Rai

Things went well until a union minister went over-the-top in his attempt to show Nepal is India’s friend, and not China’s. At the Civic Reception of the Nepali PM by India Foundation, a research organisation close to India’s ruling BJP, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilash Paswan said: “India will defend Nepal if a third country attacks it, and Nepal will have to support India if a third country attacks India.”

Paswan accused China of “swallowing’ Tibet, and assured that “India will not let that happen to Nepal”.

In response, Deuba said tersely: “China is a good friend of Nepal … China has always respected Nepal’s sovereignty.” Nepali Times has learnt that Deuba’s retort did not go down well in New Delhi.

Foreign Affairs Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, whom India sees as a pro-China politician, was sitting next to Deuba. After the program, some Indian politicians, diplomats and ex-army generals surrounded Mahara and asked him if he put his words in Deuba’s mouth.

Mahara later told his confidantes: “I had a hard time trying to convince the Indians that it was not my idea, and our PM spoke his own mind.”

Indian leaders were annoyed partly because Deuba did not add that “India too is Nepal’s friend, and India too has always respected Nepal’s sovereignty”, or words to that effect. Sources say Indian leaders felt that Deuba’s statement upended everything that India did to project Nepal as being closer to India rather than China.

The joint statement between Nepal and India was issued late on Thursday. A top Nepali delegate told Nepali Times that Nepal had to refuse “too many points” that the Indian side insisted on inserting into it.

India did manage to insert a line in the 46-point joint statement stating that the two countries are ‘committed to further enhancing close cooperation between the Indian Army and the Nepal Army’.  A delegate told Nepali Times that this line shows Nepal is going the Bhutan way regarding national security, which could be India’s aim at a time when it is confronting China over Bhutan.



Deuba, Delhi and Doklam

Thursday, August 24th, 2017


In diplomacy, some things are better left unspoken, and that is exactly what India’s PM Narendra Modi did at a joint press meet with visiting Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba in New Delhi on Thursday.

Last year, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited, Modi advised him to ‘take all sections of the society on board for effective implementation of the Constitution.’ Earlier that year, during KP Oli’s visit, the two countries failed to issue a joint statement owing to differences over Nepal’s new Constitution, which India had rejected.

But this time, Nepal’s prime minister was warmly congratulated for successfully holding two phases of local elections, and in his teleprompted statement, Modi did not utter a word about the Constitution under which those polls were held.

Parliament voted down an amendment bill registered by the ruling NC-Maoist coalition the day before Deuba left for New Delhi, but in Delhi he promised to continue trying to get Madhesi parties to own the Constitution.
Some analysts here say India realised it may have pushed Nepal too far with the blockade, right into the arms of China, and is therefore trying a different tack.

“India’s strategic priorities have clearly changed after Doklam, it can no longer keep pushing for an amendment,” says Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) MP Abhishek Pratap Shah, who is on Deuba’s entourage in New Delhi. “India now needs Nepal’s support and goodwill more than ever,” he adds.

This could be why Modi invited Deuba for an unscheduled tête-à-tête Wednesday evening, even greeting Deuba at the doorstep of his residence, ahead of Thursday’s official meetings.

When Deuba gulped while reading out his speech at the press conference, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rose from her chair to offer him a glass of water.

Modi and Swaraj went out of their way to be gracious to Deuba with  friendly gestures. Could this new bonhomie be due to the India-China row over the disputed territory of Doklam in Bhutan?

B C Upreti, an Indian member of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group, downplayed Doklam, but admitted there had been a shift in India’s policy towards Nepal.