Nepali Times


Thursday, January 5th, 2017

If 2016 began amidst a border blockade, 2017 has started with a blockade of parliament. One month after the bill was tabled for the controversial second amendment to the Constitution, the House remains blocked and elections are still uncertain.

After the Supreme Court refused to issue an interim order against the amendment bill this week, the NC-Maoist ruling coalition is preparing to debate it in Parliament. Its hope is that the opposition UML will come around. The Madhesi Front has decided to vote for the bill with a note of dissent, and the Federal Alliance may also support it.

Mahendra Raya Yadav of Tarai Madhes Sadbhavana Party, a key constituent of the Front, told Nepali Times: “The bill will not address all our demands, but we will support it.” The Alliance, led by Upendra Yadav’s Federal Socialist Party, says it will vote for the bill if it also amends Article 274 which prohibits tinkering with federal boundaries without the consent of future provincial councils.

After the SC verdict, the UML may allow the House to convene, but is angry with the government’s decision Thursday to sack the National Reconstruction

Authority (NRA) CEO Sushil Gyewali, a UML appointee. However, even if the Front and the Alliance support the bill the ruling coalition will still fail to secure a two-third majority without the UML on board. NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba has assured Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal that it is his responsibility to ensure the required number. Deuba is supposedly offering ministerial berths to the newly-unified Hindu Royalist RPP and the MJF (Democratic) to take the number to the magic 394. Obstruction of Parliament has delayed the debate over the impeachment of suspended CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has resumed hearings on a writ petition that challenged the legality of Karki’s appointment. The hearing was postponed after petitioner Om Aryal and other lawyers argued last month that Karki lacked the experience and moral character to head the anti-corruption watchdog.

As the hearing resumed on Thursday, lawyers for the defence Sushil Pant and Baburam Kunwar argued that Karki’s service in the royal administration had to be counted, and dismissed accusations of his moral character. Karki’s lawyers sought more time, and the Court will resume its hearing on Friday.

With the impeachment motion in limbo in Parliament, all eyes are on the Supreme Court verdict.

Om Astha Rai

NRA CEO sacked

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

c1zbiq2uaaaob93The government sacked the CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) Sushil Gyewali on Thursday.

A cabinet meeting had sought clarification from Gyewali last week, accusing him of failing to expedite post-earthquake reconstruction works. Gyewali had submitted his clarification on Wednesday, defending his works.

The government had asked Gyewali to clarify why he failed to coordinate with government mechanisms, mobilise the NRA staff, implement the decisions of the Advisory Board and swiftly distribute housing grants.

Gyewali clarified that donors were satisfied by his coordination skills, and the NRA had signed agreements of housing grants with 477,000 families. He also clarified that his works were deemed ‘satisfactory’ by the Advisory Committee of the NRA.

A cabinet meeting on Thursday concluded that Gyewali’s clarification ‘was not satisfactory’, and asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to sack him. Dahal is reportedly consulting the Attorney General before sending a termination letter to him. He has hinted that he will move the court for justice. If he does that, the government cannot immediately appoint a new CEO. And post-earthquake reconstruction will be further delayed.

Gyewali was appointed by the UML government. After Oli’s ouster in August, the new NC-Maoist government wanted to replace him with someone close to them.


What’s wrong with nationalism?

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017
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UML Chair KP Oli talks to journalists after meeting Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba this week. Photo: RSS

From the Nepali Press

UML Chair KP Oli in a candid conversation with journalist Kishore Nepal in 3 January. Excerpts:

Kishore Nepal: You have chosen a difficult path, isn’t it?

KP Oli: Yes. But it is necessary because our sovereignty is at risk. Five years after India’s independence in 1947, Kashmir became an Indian state. Bangladesh emerged as a new nation in 1971. And Sikkim was annexed into India in 1974.

What about Bhutan?

Bhutan is a member of the United Nations. When Kashmir was annexed into India, it was not a UN member.

But Nepal is a UN member. So why are you so paranoid?

UN membership gives Nepal a degree of legal status. But that does not mean that our sovereignty is completely protected.

What didn’t you raise this with the Indian Prime Minister?

Wanting to annex another country is one thing, but it is quite a different thing to actually do it. But the Tarai is now being turned into a buffer zone. We have already made a mistake by creating Province 2, a Tarai-only state.

Why did the major parties hastily promulgate the constitution?

Hastily? Where were you when we were negotiating for eight long years?

Why are the parties polarised then?

This is a battle for nationalism. Have we ever begged for anything from India? Have we ever done any injustice to India? We have always expressed our commitment to protect India’s genuine and justified concerns. But why did India just take note of our constitution?

All of you top leaders stood up to Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar. Why are you divided now?

India made a wrong move at the wrong time. The special envoy’s advice was also wrong. I politely explained everything with Jaishankar. I told him Nepal should not feel bullied by India. But whenever I talk of Nepal’s national interest I am accused of being a hollow nationalist, or a disciple of Mahendra. Nationalism is different from ideology. You can be a Congress or Communist, royalist or republican, but you can be a nationalist irrespective of your ideology. Is India our only neighbour? Isn’t China also our neighbour? Why can’t we use Chinese ports.

Why did the Nepali Congress breach the agreement with the UML when you were set to become Prime Minister?

You know why – to stop me from being Prime Minister. Why is the Congress accepting Pushpa Kamal Dahal as Prime Minister now? Because Dahal is handsome? It is a power game, but not everything is about that. It is also about nationalism. I fought against Mahendra’s authoritarianism, but I appreciate his nationalist stand to an extent. But when I talk of nationalism, you people make fun of me.

When will the UML stop obstructing the House?

Whenever the second amendment is withdrawn from Parliament.



Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

From the Nepali Press

Krishna Gyawali in Kantipur, 23 December

New evidence of the suspended CIAA Chief Lokman Singh Karki overstepping his jurisdiction.

Case 1

On 7 February 2015, a day after a meeting between Karki and the Office of the Nepal Trust secretary Sridhar Gautam, the CIAA ordered the Trust to approve the ownership transfer of Gokarna Resort.

In 1995, the Royal Palace had leased Gokarna Resort to L M Suvir Brothers of Singapore for 30 years. A provision of the agreement between the Palace and the leaseholder prohibited L M Suvir Brothers from transfer its majority share to any other entity. The Trust, which was formed to manage royal property nationalised after the abolition of the monarchy, did not allow LM Suvir Brothers to transfer its ownership to Yeti Holdings Pvt Ltd.

However, just two days after receiving the CIAA order, the Trust swiftly facilitated the transfer of ownership of Gokarna Resort to Yeti Holdings. Karki is suspected to have had a personal interest in the deal between the two companies.

Case 2

An investigation by the Ministry of Health exposed anomalies in the allocation of MBBS seats by the Nepal Medical Council. The probe team also recommended actions against the Council’s registrar Nilmani Upadhya in its report. But the CIAA raided the Ministry, seized this report and appointed Upadhya as its ‘Health Expert’. Sources say Upadhya showed Karki how to interfere in the medical sector.

Case 3

When the CIAA filed cases against the Nepal Tourism Board in April 2015, it implicated Forest Secretary Sharad Chandra Poudel, who was known among his peers as an honest bureaucrat and against whom Karki nursed a grudge.

The CIAA raided the immigration desk at the Tribhuvan International Airport as part of Karki’s plan to hand immigration to Nepal Police.

Case 4

Tainted Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) General Manager Gopal Khadka was being investigated by the Ministry of Supply, the CIAA spokesperson Krishna Hari Pushkar publicly defended him in a press meet. He said: “If action is taken against Khadka the accused will be cleared by the Supreme Court,” he said. Then, the ministry promptly halted its investigation.

Case 5

In June 2016, a team of ‘experts’ sent by the CIAA prepared questions for a medical entrance examinations replacing the ones drafted by Kathmandu University. Later, the CIAA secretary Shanta Raj Subedi told a parliament committee that the CIAA Commissioner Raj Narayan Pathak’s daughter Priya Pathak appeared in the entrance exams.

Case 6

On 16 September 2016, the Supreme Court decided to review a writ petition challenging Karki’s appointment as the CIAA Chief. In a hastily summoned press conference, the CIAA announced  that it had expedited investigation into embezzlement of allowances for ex-Maoist combatants. A commissioner said: “There was no investigation underway, and no notice was ever served against any Maoist leader. Karki was just trying to bargain with Maoist leaders.”


No change in exchange

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

ic-note-2The 50-day deadline to exchange Indian currency notes of 500 and 1,000 is over, but the fate of those currency notes in Nepal remains uncertain.

Even after telephone conversations between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is yet to inform the Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) about how  these banned currency notes can be exchanged, if at all.

When Modi announced demonetisation in November aiming to weed out black money and counterfeit currency from the Indian economy, the NRB had more than INR 33 million in high denomination 500 and 1,000. It is believed that Nepali businessmen also had a big amount of INR 500 and 100.

The end of the 50-day deadline in India has set off fears in Nepal that the banned Indian currency notes possessed by the NRB and Nepali nationals will remain worthless.

However, the NRB is hopeful that it will still reach an understanding with the RBI to exchange the banned currency In the hands of Nepalis. The NRB’s Executive Director Bishma Raj Dhungana has said that India will hopefully make special arrangements for Nepal and Bhutan.

Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara and the NRB governor Chiranjibi Nepal have held several rounds of talks with their Indian counterparts. The NRB has also written a letter to the RBI, but has not received a reply yet.


Madhesis for amendment

Saturday, December 31st, 2016
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Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal with Madhesi leaders at Baluwatar on Saturday. Photo: RSS

After separate meetings with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba this weekend, Madhesi leaders have hinted that they may after all vote for the second amendment to the Constitution.

Madhesi leaders met Deuba on Friday and Dahal on Saturday, and were assured by the both leaders that elections will be held only after amending the Constitution. In return, they agreed to vote for the second amendment.

“The second amendment does not address all our demands, but we are still ready to pass it,” Tarai Madhes Sadbhavana Party (TMSP) President Ram Naresh Yadav told Nepali Times after meeting PM Dahal at Baluwatar.

The Maoists-NC ruling coalition had registered the second amendment in November, but it got stuck as the main opposition UML obstructed every Parliament meeting since then. The second amendment was registered to appease Madhesi parties, but they were not happy either.

After one month of political gridlock, the Maoists-NC coalition prepared to announce dates for federal, provincial and local elections putting on hold the second amendment. And it mounted pressure on Madhesi leaders to embrace the second amendment.

Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) leader Hridayesh Tripathi has said that they will vote for the second amendment with a note of dissent. The Madhesi Front is not in a position to wholeheartedly support the second amendment because the Federal Alliance, led by Upendra Yadav’s Federal Socialist Party, stands against it.

When the Front held a two-day meeting to chart out its new strategy this week, no one from Yadav’s party turned up there. Yadav has vehemently criticised the second amendment, and is likely to portray other Madhesi leaders as traitors during elections.

After a green signal from the Front, the Maoists-NC coalition needs to table the second amendment, which is now in the parliament secretariat. But the UML continues to obstruct the House, fearing that the bill will be passed with a combined strength of the NC, the Maoists, Madhesi and other fringe parties.

TMSP President told Nepali Times: “Madhesi and Janajati MPs within the UML are putting pressure on their party leadership to support this bill, so the UML will have to give in to pressure sooner than later.


No restrictions on Chinese tourists

Sunday, December 25th, 2016
Pic: Elaine Wang Yiwei

Pic: Elaine Wang Yiwei

The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu has denied rumours of official restrictions on the travel of Chinese tourists to Nepal, refuting media reports that the Chengdu Tourism Bureau had suspended group tours to Nepal and India.

An informal message about the supposed ban was quoted by some Nepali media, but it turns out no such order was issued either by the Chengdu Tourism Bureau or any other agency in China.

“Everything is as normal,” a customer service staff of China International Travel Service (CTIS) told Nepali Times over the phone from Chengdu.

The rumours that China has imposed restrictions on tourists travelling from Tibet to Nepal may have been triggered by speculation that they may be en route to Bodh Gaya where the Dalai Lama is supposed to be speaking at the Kalchakra Ceremony next week.

The Nepal Embassy in Beijing as well as the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu both denied there was any official restriction on Chinese visitors to Nepal.

No formal notice has been released by Chengdu Tourism Bureau so far. And embassy of China in Nepal didn’t receive any relevant notice neither, according to a consulate official.

Ironically, Kathmandu and Chengdu signed a sister-city agreement two days after the supposed ban on travel. Chengdu Tourism Bureau said Party Secretary of Chengdu Tang Liangzhi signed the pact on the establishment of a friendly relationship with Kathmandu and to further cooperation between both cities in the fields of finance, media, infrastructure and energy.

Online travel bookings for the Chinese New Year holiday next month are open as normal. Tuniu, one of the most popular online travel booking platforms in China, directs visitors to nearly 100 package tours in Nepal.

Asked if there were any restrictions on travel by Chinese tourists to Nepal, an online customer service staff told us: “We can arrange any time for you if you want to go to Nepal.”

Both group tour and individual tourist can still freely travel to Nepal, however there seem to be some restrictions on Chinese nationals entering Nepal overland from Tibet. According to a Chinese tourist Mo Mo who wanted travel to Kathmandu from Lhasa two days ago, the Kerung (Geelong) checkpoint is closed for Chinese citizens, and the only way to go to Nepal is by flight from Lhasa, Chengdu or other Chinese cities.

This is also confirmed by a Chinese car rental agency, Shen Xing, based in Kathmandu which provides transportation from Kerung to Kathmandu. An official of the China Youth Travel Agency in Tibet confirmed that Geelong port will not be be open for tourists at least until after Chinese New Year at the end of January 2017.

However, overland travel in the opposite direction from Nepal to China seems to be open for Chinese and Nepali nationals.

Qiu Tian and Pan Lan