Nepali Times

Federalism in jeopardy

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017
Pic: Bachu BK

Pic: Bachu BK

Iain Payne and Binayak Basnyat

A decade ago, Nepal’s political parties agreed to change the country’s unitary system of government to a federal system. Two years after Nepal’s 2015 Constitution established federalism, the country is now challenged with how to operationalise the federal structure—with the latest fault line emerging around the way in which revenue will be shared among local, provincial, and central governments.

In Nepal’s federal structure, power is assigned to three governments — local, provincial and central– each of which has autonomy to raise and spend revenue. However, the legislative framework for the assignment of revenue was not put in place prior to local government elections, which has resulted in a confusing mixture of claims and counter claims emanating from old and emergent power centers. Consequently, continued progress in successful implementation of the federal provisions of the 2015 Constitution is in jeopardy.

New Legislation

Despite the many months since the promulgation of a new constitution, it was only on July 7, 2017, that two bills—the Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission Bill and the Inter-Governmental Fiscal Transfer Bill—were tabled ind Parliament. These bills are crucial for the management of public finance in the federal structure, overseeing revenue distribution among the three governments. However, the bills tabled further demonstrate a worrying trend—the deliberate stalling of the power-sharing process called for in Nepal’s new constitution., the bills give the central government an increased share of the proceeds of national revenue collection, at the expense of local governments.

After strong public criticism  lawmakers are now trying to amend the Inter-Governmental Financial Management Bill, which will regulate the distribution of resources between local, provincial, and central governments.

When viewed in the context of the nation’s total income, reducing local government’s share of the revenue generated from sources such as hydropower and natural resources may seem insignificant. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, royalties from mining, hydropower, and forestry accounted for only approximately Rs 2.5 billion —or less than 0.5 percent—of central revenue collections. In the grand scheme of things, whether local bodies take 5 percent or 50 percent of these royalties may not prove to be significant for local budgets, which can be subsidised by central grants. What is significant is the way in which these latest developments demonstrate yet another barrier put up by centrist forces to maintain status quo and derail attempts to share power beyond Kathmandu.

Meaningful Decision-Making Power

The 2015 Constitution envisages local (and provincial) governments as meaningful contributors to and drivers of the local planning process. With successful local elections after two decades in six of the country’s seven provinces, hopes are high that local governments will deliver on their mandates.

However, to do this, local governments must not only be politically empowered but also be sufficiently resourced.. Newly instituted subnational governments have  a meaningful degree of decision-making power to execute their constitutionally-mandated responsibilities. This autonomy only comes when local governments are able to raise their own revenue and set their own budgets. However, far from providing increased fiscal authority, these new bills are moving in the opposite direction.

Charting a Way Forward

Nepal’s Constitution provides for a relatively centralised system of revenue collection. The central government retains all major revenue sources—such as income taxes, and VAT; provincial and local governments are assigned a limited number of comparatively low-yielding revenue sources, such as property and vehicle taxes. In a context where subnational governance systems are required to be built from the ground up, and in which revenue-raising potential will vary greatly from province to province, this design is appropriate. Local governments should not be expected to raise the lion’s share of their own revenue; gaps will need to be filled by intergovernmental fiscal transfers.

The fact that a considerable share of the financing for provincial and local government budgets will come via fiscal transfers is not in and of itself cause for alarm; it does not mean that these subnational governments will lose their independence, per se. In fact, this provides a safety net for these governments while they begin to raise the bulk of necessary revenues through other means. However, what should concern us is that given the opportunity , political forces in Kathmandu once again are manipulating legislation to prevent the sharing of power.

(Iain Payne is a Colombo Plan Nepal Fellow and Binayak Basnyat is a program associate at the Asia Foundation in Kathmandu.  A longer version of this piece is In Asia blog)



World-wide waves

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Sgt. Santosh on a reporting assignment for Gurkha Radio. Pic: British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBS)

Sixty-five years after it first started broadcasting, Gurkha Radio that connects Nepali soldiers in the British Army with families back home, remains the most listened to of the 18 stations in the British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBS).

Although many families of retired soldiers are now with them in Britain, serving soldiers and others still have relatives back home and the radio links them with news, current affairs and entertainment. And despite social media its radio programs are required listening for ex-Gurkhas and their families settled all over the world.

Gurkha Radio keeps soldiers updated on events in Nepal with a staff of 18 reporters country-wide contributing to news bulletins aired from its Kathmandu station from 5:45am to 11:45pm on weekdays. It also broadcasts from Brunei and the United Kingdom and its programs are re-broadcast through 10 UK radio stations.

The British Army sets up a receiving unit when Gurkha soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan or other war zones so that the servicemen can keep in touch with what is happening in Nepal and around the world, and even to keep in touch with families. The unit is dismantled once the mission is over.

Gurkha Radio’s first broadcast was in 1952, when the service was set up within Dharan camp, one of the Gurkha recruiting centres in eastern Nepal. The first live broadcast from Kathmandu took place in 1986. The British Army also brought out the magazine Parbate written in Roman Nepali script, and which is now published in English from Sandhurst.

“Gurkha Radio is a low-profile radio with a very specific target audience,” says Kathmandu news editor Suman Kharel. “We mostly focus on the activities of the British Gurkha Camp in Lalitpur and the British Gurkha Camp in Pokhara. The credibility of the service is very high among the family members of British Gurkhas. Its integrity has hardly been questioned during the last 65 years.”

Kharel joined Gurkha Radio after 22 years with BBC Nepali in London, and says his work hasn’t really changed because it is still mostly broadcasting news and current affairs.  Although his target audience today is much smaller, he says the work is equally exciting because it is a cohesive and niche listenership. The only two challenges he faces are fulfilling listeners’ requests, because the station broadcasts from three different time zones, and enticing the younger generation to tune in.

Gurkha Radio averages 2.5 million connections from 165,000 unique devices in a month. Most listeners are in the UK, US, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The station’s most popular Nepali show is Pardeshi Ko Sandesh, where serving Gurkhas send messages to their family members and vice-versa. It’s followed by Kathmandu Ko Saugat and Swarnim Sangam.

Because families now prefer to keep in touch through Skype or Facebook, one would think that Gurkha Radio may soon become obsolete, but Kharel doesn’t seem to think so: “The future of radio journalism is as bright as it was in the past. Radio will still remain the most popular medium in Nepal for many years to come because of our topography, low literacy level and lack of access to the Net and its relatively high cost.”

Shreejana Shrestha 

Read also:

Making global airwaves by Ganesh acharya

Nepali Radio, Nepali Awaz by Om Astha Rai

Yo BBC ho by Sraddha Basnyat

Putting it on air by Naresh Newar

Re-polling in Ward 19

Sunday, July 30th, 2017
bharatpur 19

The Election Commission will announce a new date for re-polling in Ward 19 of Bharatpur, where the NC is the dominant party and is backing Maoist candidates. Pic: Om Astha Rai 

The Supreme Court (SC) on Sunday ordered re-polling in Ward 19 of Bharatpur Metropolitan City of Chitwan district.

After postponing hearings on a writ petition that challenged the Election Commission (EC)’s decision to re-conduct polls in Bharatpur-19, a joint bench of justices Om Prakash Mishra and Purushottam Bhandari finally handed down a verdict that could benefit Maoist mayoral candidate Renu Dahal.

Renu, Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s daughter, was trailing behind UML’s mayoral candidate Devi Prasad Gyawali by 784 votes when Maoist cadre reportedly tore up 90 ballot papers cast in Ward 19.

Maoist mayoral candidate Renu Dahal

Maoist mayoral candidate Renu Dahal

UML urged the EC to declare torn votes ‘invalid’ and count remaining votes. But the EC, apparently under pressure from the Maoist Chair Dahal who was Prime Minister at that time, ordered re-polling in Bharatpur-19

Two petitioners, including one UML candidate, filed a writ against the EC’s decision at the SC. The Apex Court took two months to rule on this case, finally staying the EC’s decision.

Now, the EC will announce a new date for re-polling in Bharatpur-19, where the NC is the dominant party and is backing Maoist candidates. Maoists hope to make up for their vote deficit from Bharatpur-19, and surpass UML when votes from Bharatpur-20 are also counted.

After 90 ballot papers of Ward 19 were torn up on 28 May, counting of votes of Bharatpur 20 was also suspended. Ballot papers cast by voters in Bharatpur 20 have been kept inside a sealed covered hall, where vote counting was underway.

UML leaders have slammed the SC’s verdict, saying it will encourage political goons to tear up ballot papers in future elections if their candidates appear to be losing. Two Maoist cadres Madhu Neupane and Drona Shiwakoti who were arrested and charged of tearing up ballot papers were released on a bail within a week.

UML mayoral candidate Devi Prasad Gyawali

UML mayoral candidate Devi Prasad Gyawali

In Bharatpur, Maoist Chair Dahal had thrown all his weight behind his daughter’s candidacy and even persuaded NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba to withdraw Dinesh Koirala’s candidacy, flying down to campaign for Renu Dahal. UML leaders claim that Maoist cadres tore up ballot papers under a clear instructions from their party boss.

“That night, Maoist cadres took an unusually long dinner break, called around and tore up ballot papers,” UMl candidate Devi Gyawali had told Nepali Times two weeks ago. “I am sure they tore up ballot papers only after they got clear instructions from Kathmandu.”

Maoist candidate Renu Dahal dismissed Gyawali’s claims, and maintained that ballot papers were torn up in a scuffle that broke out between the two sides.

Read also:

Metro without mayor 

Manufacturing ministers

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

maoistFrom the Nepali Press

Rameshwar Bohara in Himal Khabarpatrika, 30 July-5 August

After sending nine cabinet ministers and four state ministers to join the Sher Bahadur Deuba government, the CPN (Maoist-Centre) is now selecting five more state ministers.

For a distant third party in Parliament, having 18 ministerial berths is an impressive achievement. But this pales in comparison to what the erstwhile revolutionary has achieved after joining parliamentary politics – a bourgeois democracy they fought a bloody war to overthrow.

In the last 10 years after the end of the war and joining the peace process in November 2006, as many as 72 Maoist leaders have become ministers of which 44 were cabinet and 28 state ministers.

Some Maoist leaders have become ministers multiple times: Krishna Bahadur Mahara is a six-time minister. After being Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister even in the Deuba government he is now Foreign Minister. Giriraj Mani Pokharel had already become minister three times, and has now become Health Minister for the fourth time when Deuba expanded his cabinet last week.

Janardan Sharma, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Prabhu Shah have become ministers three times each. Nine other Maoist leaders have become ministers twice and 30 leaders once.

There have been 10 governments in the last 10 years, and the Maoists have been left out only three times. Except when Madhav Kumar Nepal, Khila Raj Regmi and Sushil Koirala were Prime Ministers, the Maoists have always been in government – they led three governments and were part of four other ruling coalitions.

Political analyst Shyam Shrestha says: “Maoists have now become part of the very bourgeois system that they condemned. Their attitude and aspirations are not different from those of old parliamentary parties.”

Comrades from the UML whom the Maoists during the war denounced as lackeys, would often proclaim that they are not into politics to be ascetics, implying that their real aim is to grab power and earn money. Now, that has become favourite one-liner among Maoist leaders. Politics is a lucrative business. Shrestha, who is also a Maoist MP, says: “Maoist leaders are vying with each other for greed.”

Analyst Mumaram Khanal, who quit the Maoists and is now a Central Committee member of the newly-unified Bibeksheel Sajha Party, says Maoist leaders no longer debate political agendas, and are just concerned about grabbing plum ministerial posts. The Maoists have split not because of ideology but because of the party command could not fulfill every leader’s aspirations, he adds. “For example, Mohan Baidya would not have split at all if his lieutenant, Dev Gurung, was made Finance Minister.”

Narendra Jung Pitar, an analyst still affiliated with the CPN (Maoist-Centre), says: “In our party, there is an ongoing marathon to enter Singha Darbar. But except for one or two, no Maoist minister has done anything to be proud of.”

A Maoist leader sarcastically says: “In the Hetauda convention, our party decided to form a manufacturing brigade. And sure enough, our party is now manufacturing ministers.”


Art for social change

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017
Ang Tsherin Sherpa (1)

All photos: Siddhartha Art Foundation

Nepal has long been known as the source, transit and destination country for people subjected to trafficking. An estimated 23,000 people have been trafficked from Nepal since the 2015 earthquake. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more than 100,000 children are sold for sex each year in the US.

An ongoing exhibition, ‘The True Stories Project’ organized by Siddhartha Art Gallery in collaboration with Art Works for Change (AWFC) and sponsored by the US Embassy seeks to highlight the stories of the women and children whose lives have been uprooted by the cruel practice.

“When Randy Rosenberg the chief curator of AWFC reached out to us, we were very excited to collaborate as the plight of women has been a focal point of ours. Many would prefer to sweep the crimes committed against women, children under the carpet but we need to put it out in the open,” says Sangeeta Thapa of Siddhartha Art Foundation.

Hitman Gurung True Stories (1)

As a part of the project, nine women and girls from Shakti Samuha and Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) learned how to tell their stories visually in different art styles under the guidance of art therapist Lajja Dixit and Sattya Media Arts Collaborative. The three pieces that tell the true stories of these women and children are exhibited along with the works of five Nepali and seven international artists.

The True Stories project, the preparation of which began a year ago, is a visual journey through video, art and photographs exploring the issues of exploitation of women, the manifestation of resilience and the definition of empowerment. The artworks have been divided into four categories: Objectification, Mythology, Exploitation, Empowerment.

Sujan Chitrakar True Stories

Sujan Chitrakar uses dolls encased in a glass box to depict the hypocrisy of the society which on one hand preaches about goddesses and on the other objectifies women as sex objects. Marilyn Minter captures the movements of a female mouth licking candy and cake decorations in a sensual voyeuristic video. Ang Tserin Sherpa merges the traditional with contemporary as a small boy stands in front of a disturbing mandala, symbolising the exploitation of young boys. A naked woman sews and stitches the scraps of clothings around her as she embarks on a journey of self healing in Gabriela Morawetz’s video. Nabin Baral’s powerful photos highlight the plight of women as they are branded a witch. Sheelasha Rajbhandari explores the identity of girls after marriage in her installation and Hitman Gurung addresses the vulnerability and insecurity of a Tharu woman in her own country.

The exhibition doesn’t paint those trafficked as mere victims but as survivors by involving them as storytellers and illustrators of their lives. By using art and photographs as a medium, the exhibiton brings the issue of trafficking and violence against women out of research papers, and seminars to the doorstep of public. It draws attention to a heinous crime and initiates a discussion on a subject  that is either considered too normal because it is so widespread or kept completely under wraps.

Says Thapa, “The power of visual language is being used as a tool to highlight or educate viewers on this issue – many visitors including school children have the opportunity to understand the issue. Our next project will be making four murals in the city that once again address these issues.”

Just women 

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Tufan Neupane in Himal Khabarpatrika, 16-22 July

Nepal’s new Constitution requires all political parties to choose women either as Chiefs or Deputy Chiefs of recently elected self-governing Local Councils. Political parties could not violate this constitutional provision, but blatantly disregarded its spirit by fielding women candidates mostly for Deputy Mayor or Deputy Village Chiefs.

They received a lot of flak for not showing faith in the ability of women to lead municipalities and village councils, but another provision of the same Constitution may partially redress the injustice done to them.

Article 217 of the Constitution has set aside the responsibility to head Judicial Committees of Local Councils to Deputy Mayors or Deputy Village Chiefs which  means that women will be at the helm of most local courts because nearly 90% of deputy mayors and chiefs are women.

There are 566 of the 617 municipal and village councils elected from the first two phases of local elections in May and June have women as Deputy Mayor and Deputy Village Chiefs.  They will be heading three-member Judicial Committees responsible to hear and rule on disputes related to land, other properties, cattle, communities and natural resources. However, their precise jurisdiction and roles will be determined by a law that is now in Parliament.

Advocate Nirupama Yadav, who was chosen by Sajha Party as a Deputy Mayor candidate in Kathmandu, says: “If women head local Judicial Committees, it will increase women’s access to justice.” Mediation and Reconciliation Committees will also be constituted under these Judicial Committee, which will function exactly like district courts. But all Deputy Mayors or Deputy Village Chiefs may not have the necessary knowledge and skills to head local courts.

So the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) is preparing to train all Deputy Mayors and Deputy Village Chiefs on the roles and responsibilities of local Judicial Committees, how they function and how some cases are mediated and reconciled.

“Once these local courts come into effect, most property disputes will be solved at the local level,” says Dinesh Thapaliya, MoFALD Secretary. Hari Prabha Khadka, Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, says their roles as Local Judges will be huge, but they are capable of this. “If we face legal or technical problems, there will be experts to help us,” she says.

The Local Self Governance Act 1999 also had a provision to set up such judicial committees, but it was never implemented because of the delay in passing bylaws and regulations. Experts on local governance say that mistake should not be repeated.


How pollution affects the monsoon

Friday, July 21st, 2017
How pollution affects the monsoon

The M55 Geophysica aircraft at Kathmandu Airport on Friday preparing to fly 21km above the Himalaya to analyse the impact of pollution on the South Asian monsoon. All photos: Kunda Dixit

Forty of the world’s top atmospheric scientists were busy on Friday at Kathmandu Airport calibrating their equipment and rigging it up to a strange-looking plane with such a wide wingspan that it doesn’t fit inside the Buddha Air hangar.

They are part of StratoClim, a European project to study aerosols and dust particles in the stratosphere above the Himalaya, and how it affects the South Asian monsoon. They have rented a converted Soviet spy plane, the M55 Geophysica, that can fly 25km up and has been used to study the atmosphere all over the world.

Markust Rex

Markust Rex, a professor at the Alfred Wegener Institut in Germany

“The Asian monsoon, how it is affected by man-made pollutants and aerosols is not well understood,” explains Markus Rex, a professor at the Alfred Wegener Institut in Germany. “This is the only place on the planet with such high concentrations of particles so high in the atmosphere, and it happens only during the monsoon. We want to study how it affects global weather, and also the impact of climate change on this process.”

Scientists have found that the Himalaya is the only region where such particles go as high, and think they may be sucked up by the low pressure created by the intense heat over Northern India at the start of the monsoon. However, the particles also affect the progress of the monsoon, and may impact on weather across the globe.

Says Rex: “What we want to see is how much of this is aerosol or natural mineral dust, and how much is industrial pollution.” The M55 aircraft, which looks like the American U-2 spy plane, bristles with sophisticated sensors that can collect individual aerosol particles at more than 21,000m above sea level to analyse them with onboard spectrometers to pinpoint their origin.


The M55 Geophysica, that the scientists have rented. It can fly 25km up and has been used to study the atmosphere all over the world.

If the findings show a large concentration of chemical pollution, scientists will then want to know how it is blown all over the world, if it is affecting monsoon precipitation so that Asian countries can take steps to clean up emissions. Reseearchers at the Kathmandu-based ICIMOD have been studying wind-blown cross border pollution in South Asia at lower altitudes, and have found evidence that the deposition of soot particles on the Himalaya adds to snow already melting from global warming.

But StratoClim is interested in pollution at a much higher elevation. It will fly the high-altitude plane in carefully planned routes above Nepal’s air-space four hours at a time till mid-August, taking samples of air from the edge of the stratosphere and anlaysing them. The data will be used for computer modeling of monsoon systems by scientists from Germany, France, Italy and the United States.

_MG_0270The plane will be flown by Oleg Shchepetkov, a test-pilot with type rating for dozens of Soviet-era military planes. He will be dressed in a space suit to be able to survive decompression at high altitude, and the M55 can only accommodate one pilot since the rest of the plane is taken up by equipment.

Asked why the project doesn’t just put sensors on the top of Mt Everest, Francesco Cairo of the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Rome told Nepali Times: “Mt Everest is too low for us. This plane can take us nearly three times higher, and that is what we are interested in.”

Kunda Dixit