Nepali Times Asian Paints

Transitional justice denied

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018
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In a joint statement issued in New York on Tuesday, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch warned that just extending the terms of Nepal’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) is unlikely  to improve prospects for the victims of the conflict to meet demands for justice, truth, and accountability met.

The statement said that the one-year extensions of Nepal’s two transitional justice mechanisms without necessary legal and institutional reforms ordered by the Supreme Court and the United Nations are insufficient to comply with international standard. “The net worth of these two bodies has now been tested by the victims in Nepal who are deeply dismayed and disappointed at not having been served truth and justice – even after years of delay,” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International.

On 5 February Nepal extended, for the second time, the mandates of the TRC and CIEDP by one year without measures to ensure compliance to human rights or to increase the capacity of the commissions as demanded by victims, civil society groups, and the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRC). In fact, the NHRC called on the government to amend the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act, 2014, in line with international standards and the judgements of the Supreme Court of Nepal.

“Families and victims of Nepal’s decade-long civil war have waited far too long for answers, and cynical government attempts such as extending the mandate without broader reform as directed by the highest court is a further slap in the face,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The two commissions have gathered a lot of documentation, but the authorities seem more committed to protecting perpetrators than ensuring justice in the process.”

The TRC and CIEDP have fallen short of international standards, both in constitution and operation, despite repeated orders by the Supreme Court of Nepal, rights groups say, pointing out that the current legal framework allows for the possibility of amnesties and effective impunity for gross human rights violations amounting to grave crimes under international law, and the broad authority to facilitate reconciliation, including without the informed consent of the victims and their families.

In addition, a non-consultative, uncoordinated, and opaque approach to their work has also created distrust among all major stakeholders, including conflict victims and members of civil society. Where the commissions have made efforts to work effectively, they face problems due to a lack of sufficient human and financial resources.

“With Nepal now a member of the UN Human Rights Council, the international community has high expectations of the government,” said Frederick Rawski, Asia director at the International Commission of Jurists. “It needs to commit to ensuring that these institutions function independently, free from political interference, and in accordance with international standards that prohibit impunity for gross human rights violations. Merely extending their mandates without addressing the underlying problems is not adequate.”


Nepal bird census

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018
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Photo: Kamal Rimal

Photo: Kamal Rimal

The census of birds in various nature sanctuaries around Nepal last month showed that the number of indigenous and migratory birds found in the country are steadily declining.

Ornithologists say the main reasons are habitat destruction, use of agro-chemicals, depleted fish in rivers and lakes as well as hunting along migratory routes. Even so, there are more than 884 species of birds in Nepal, with 527 of them in the Kosi Tappu Nature reserve along the Kosi River in eastern Nepal.

Counting bird species and their total numbers every year in Nepal which started in 1987 simultaneously with other parts of Asia under the initiative of Wetlands International. The idea was to carry out the census all together across the region during the winter migration period so that there is no double counting.

Oriental Pied Hornbill in Dharan. Photo: Yatra Rai

Oriental Pied Hornbill in Dharan. Photo: Yatra Rai

“Counting the birds at one go all over the world is more accurate,” explains Nepal’s foremost ornithologist and coordinator of Wetlands International Nepal Hem Sagar Baral.

This year’s census was carried out from 6-22 January across Nepal’s wetlands and national parks. Preliminary results show a decline in not just the total number of water birds, but also the species count for water birds.

However, it is not easy to count birds flying all the way from Siberia to Kosi Tappu and other national parks in Nepal. There were 300 volunteer birders in ten groups who fanned out across the Kosi banks, and they later went to the 55 protected water bodies and wetlands across Nepal. The enumerators don’t just count birds but also collect information in areas where there is illegal hunting and habitat destruction.

“Kosi Tappu is really special because nowhere else in Nepal do you see such a large variety of birds in such a small place,” says bird enumerator Samjhana Karki from Barachetra. Among the 50 species of birds she spotted, most were water fowls with the Brahminy (ruddy sheldduck) being most numerous.

The numbers of Brahminy ducks were down from last year, but this year the birders spotted the Greater White Fronted Goose for the first time in 17 years in Kosi Tappu.

Researchers during bird census. Photo: Kamal Rimal

Researchers during bird census. Photo: Kamal Rimal

Says Baral: “The reason for the declining number is mostly human encroachment into wetlands and river banks. If this trend continues, the birds from Siberia will just fly on to India without stopping here.”

Tourist lodges and eco-tourism entrepreneurs in Kosi Tappu are worried that the proliferation of livestock, use of pesticides in fields, and the decline in fish in the river will lead to further declines in the bird population.

Says bird researcher and tourism entrepreneur Badri Chaudhary: “We need to make sure that the birds are undisturbed, we can dig wallows so the buffalos don’t go into the river.”

Kamal Rimal


Yeti reduces carbon footprint

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
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Umesh Chandra Rai, CEO of Yeti Airlines,Director General of Civial Aviation Authority of Nepal Sanjeev Gautam, UNDP Nepal Country Director Renaud Meyer and Mitch Hall (left to right) in an event to mark Carbon Neutrality Partnership between Yeti Airlines and UNDP on Friday in Kathmandu.  Pic: Yeti Airlines

Umesh Chandra Rai, CEO of Yeti Airlines,Director General of Civial Aviation Authority of Nepal Sanjeev Gautam, UNDP Nepal Country Director Renaud Meyer and Mitch Hall (left to right) in an event to mark Carbon Neutrality Partnership between Yeti Airlines and UNDP on Friday in Kathmandu. Pic: Yeti Airlines

Kunda Dixit

Yeti Airlines has become the first operator in Nepal to perform an energy audit and plan mitigation efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

An fuel inventory of the company’s eight aircraft fleet, its 27 vehicles and offices around the country showed that the company generated just over 18,000 tons of CO2 equivalent last year. Yeti now hopes to increase efficiency by replacing its ageing with BAe Jetstream 41s with more modern ATR 72 500s, work with the civil aviation authorities to streamline air routes as well as offset its carbon use.

“As an airline we burn a lot of aviation gasoline, but there are ways to reduce emissions by being more fuel efficient and other measures that will not just make us climate friendly but will also save on costs,” says Yeti Airlines CEO Umesh Chandra Rai.

Yeti has been working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal to spread awareness about its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) through decals on its aircraft, airside ramp buses, boarding passes and on other stationery. UNDP has been signing up the private sector to propagate its SDGs throughout the world and this week signed a similar  carbon reduction agreement with China’s Hainan Airlines.

“The SDGs also have climate goals and we are very happy Yeti is building on the partnership with a concrete move towards reducing its carbon footprint,” says Renaud Meyer Nepal Country Director of UNDP. “Nothing is forcing Yeti to do this, the airline is doing it as part of its social responsibility.”

Yeti’s carbon footprint increased in 2017, but with the induction of two ATR 72 500s which are 15% more fuel efficient, it hopes to reduce its CO2 per passenger by up to 11% this year. The airline hopes phase out all its Jetsream 41s in the next five years.

Rai says he hopes other domestic airlines will also join in improving efficiency, and work with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to reduce long holding times for aircraft due to congestion at Kathmandu airport. Other measures include pilots reducing the rate of climb, and to using the entire length of runway for landings and takeoffs.

Cutting back long holding patterns would save more aviation fuel and reduce carbon emissions than fuel efficiency, and CAAN is being urged to move smaller domestic aircraft to a new STOL airfield outside Kathmandu.

CAAN Director General Sanjiv Gautam says after the much-delayed airport upgrade is finished by 2019, aircraft movements will be smoother. A new radar system that goes into operation this week will also reduce separation between aircraft and reduce holding times.


Himalaya’s Himalayan turns 25

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018
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Photo: Himalayan Bank

Himalaya Rana was honoured for with lifetime achievement at the bank’s 25th anniversary function this week at the Hyatt Regency, Photo: Himalayan Bank

When Himalaya Shumsher Rana returned to Nepal after a stint at the United Nations to establish a joint venture bank in 1983, he probably didn’t imagine that 25 years later Himalayan Bank grow to what it is today: Nepal’s premier pioneering financial institution with a paid up capital exceeding Rs 8 billion with 49 branches all over the country.

At the bank’s 25th anniversary function this week at the Hyatt Regency, Himalaya Rana was honoured for his lifetime achievement. Retired, but also serving as the bank’s chief adviser, he recalled how unique it was in the 1980s for a South Asian financial partnership with Habib Bank of Pakistan.

Chief Executive Officer Ashoke SJB Rana, scion of the founder, praises his father’s pioneering spirit and foresight. It was on the foundations laid down by his father that Himalayan Bank now registers a yearly growth of 12-15%.

The bank receives Rs1.2 billion annually from Nepalis working abroad as remittance, and has distributed Rs6.5 billion to shareholders as dividend. It has also introduced new products like a premium saving account, accidental death insurance, and MasterCard, American Express, Unionpay and JCB credit cards.

However, Nepali banks in general are facing liquidity crunch after the elections in 2017. The growth in real estate transactions shows that although there is money in the market, banks are not being able to cash it as deposits.

“The government consistently spent less than 30% of its total capital within a six year period. This fiscal year it showed only 14% expenditure out of the total capital, which is another reason why banks are facing deficits,” Ashoke Rana explains.

Ever since Nepal Rastra Bank signed the global protocol of Anti Money Laundering, banks have to comply with new international regulations. This means extra budgeting is needed to hire more people to screen all accounts, invest in anti-money laundering software, and other inputs.

“Compliance is the buzz word in the banking sector right now,” says Rana, “and it adds another challenge for Nepal’s financial institutions.”

Another system introduced by the Rastra Bank is the interbank payment system under which banks are to allow customers to pay their utility bills through other banks if they want to.

Himalayan Bank is seizing this moment to introduce a faster payment system and it hopes to allow customers to upgrade banking while at the same time expand its physical branches in the seven new provinces to comply with the central bank’s requirements.

Himalayan Bank is also involved increasingly in lending on infrastructure projects, especially hydropower and the energy sector.

Sikuma Rai

 

 


Protests over temporary capitals

Thursday, January 18th, 2018
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Local people in Birganj on Thursday protest against the government’s decision to set up the Province 2 temporary headquarters in Janakpur. Photo: RSS

A day after the outgoing Sher Bahadur Deuba government chose temporary headquarters of all seven provinces, protests have erupted across the country.

In Dhankuta, protesters torched several government offices, forcing the local administration to declare a curfew Thursday. Demonstrators wanted their hill town to be the Province 1 capital, and took to the streets when the government chose Biratnagar. In Birganj, protesters have enforced a strike demanding their border city be the Province 2 capital instead of Janakpur, which is the government’s choice. People in Bara, too, are up in arms.

In Dang, cross-party leaders and cadres have joined hands to oppose the government’s decision to set up Province 5 headquarters in Rupandehi. In Dipayal, NC cadres burnt effigies of their own party president, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, for declaring Dhangadhi the Province 7 capital.

There is also dissatisfaction against Hetauda, instead of Kathmandu or Kavre, as the Province 3 capital. Only Pokhara and Surkhet, the temporary headquarters of Provinces 4 and 6 respectively, have been unopposed so far.

Upon his arrival Thursday from a medical trip to Bangkok, UML Chair KP Oli, widely seen as the PM in waiting, slammed the government for naming state chiefs and provincial capitals to ‘fulfil its own needs’. But he urged protesters to roll back their strikes, saying state assemblies will later decide on provincial capitals.

Oli’s appeal is unlikely to calm protesters. They know the government has chosen temporary headquarters only, and that the real power to declare provincial capitals lies in state assemblies. But they also know that if they relent now they will have less power later.

NC leader Surendra Chaudhary, who is in the forefront of protests in Birganj, says: “The more we intensify our protests now, the stronger our bargaining power will be later. If we fail to make our voice heard now, the state assembly will endorse what the government has decided.”

Chaudhary’s statement sums up the mind-set of cross-party leaders and cadres spearheading protests. They know what they are up to now is just a rehearsal for a bigger fight. And, if state assemblies nullify the government’s decision, protests will erupt in the cities that have been made temporary headquarters. It seems the real test to implementing federalism has just begun.

 


Commemorating Edmund Hillary

Saturday, January 13th, 2018
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The tenth anniversary of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary this week was a propitious moment to think again about the legacy of this great man. There are other anniversaries: 65 years after the first ascent of Mt Everest in 2018, and the centennial of Hillary’s birth next year.

hillary

At one time Edmund Hillary was the most famous person in the world. Every child knew of his climb on 29 May, 1953. These days, if you asked an American under the age of 40 who Ed Hillary is they are likely to say: “Brother or uncle of Hillary Clinton?”

During the 1960s and 70s Nepal was known as the recreational and spiritual jewel of the world, a destination that was on everyone’s ‘bucket list’. In large part, that allure was due to the achievements and the promotional effort of Edmund Hillary. The so-called hippies matured into the generation that fought to protect the environment, promoted recycling, and planetary sustainability. They were inspired by Nepal, but Hillary was the catalyst.

Hillary’s son Peter Hillary, a world-class adventurer and humanitarian in his own right, wrote of the liberating effect of his father’s achievement on Mt Everest: ‘While Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay just wanted to climb the mountain because no one had reached the summit, it never occurred to them that this daring climb into the physical and physiological unknown expanded the realm of possibility for every one of us down near sea level the fact that we too could climb the world’s highest mountain if we wanted to … we are all liberated by the successes of others, because their successes show that it can be done.’

Kumar Mainali, president of Mountain Legacy, the Nepalese NGO that administers the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal, has spoken of the game-changing impact of Hillary’s style of development assistance: ‘We all know about the expedition, but for us what is of far greater significance is the model of development that Edmund Hillary pioneered after that climb … that promoted an alternative to the model of development had been largely one-sided: whether colonial, evangelical, or ostensibly philanthropic, the developer would unilaterally push an agenda conceived without input from the impacted communities.’

Hillary’s sense of gratitude and responsibility made him want to return the favour to Nepal, with what became a remarkably ambitious and successful range of projects. His model of development emphasised the human dimension, integrating communities and ecosystems in lifting living standards in the mountains. This broader focus made development projects more likely to succeed and cheaper to implement because it invests ownership and responsibility in the communities.

Hillary did not regard himself as an explorer or a humanitarian professional. He was bee-keeper, and he was an adventurer. Hillary was not just a practitioner of adventure, he also advocated for it as a necessary exercise of the human spirit. By adventure he understood an effort to reach a set goal, which might involve a great deal of drudgery or even boring downtime, but would employ all one’s skills and character to the utmost, and still risk failure.

What he realised as he undertook his first development project in the Khumbu eight years after climbing Mt Everest, was that building a school or reforesting a hillside could be the same kind of effort. Recreational adventure became a stepping stone to philanthropic adventure. Directly or indirectly, Hillary’s example has led hundreds of trekkers, mountaineers, and other adventurers to undertake a huge diversity of assistance adventures that have greatly benefited Nepal’s people and helped sustain its ecosystems.

New Zealand is making plans for its own Hillary Centennial year. We should remind the world that Hillary chose to make Nepal the primary focus of his lifelong adventures.  This is a final opportunity to capitalise on an asset of unparalleled power to stir the imagination. Let’s seize it.

Seth Sicroff

Director of Mountain Legacy’s Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal Project.


Commissions for commissioners

Monday, January 8th, 2018
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111

Santa Gaha Magar in Himal Khabarpatrika

In 1992, when Nepal held its first parliamentary elections under the 1990 Constitution, the polls cost just Rs 110 million.

In November-December last year when the first parliamentary-provincial elections under the 2015 Constitution were held, the Election Commission (EC) spent that much in just repairing old vehicles.

The total cost of the November-December polls was Rs 10 billion –- 181 times higher than in 1992, and double the amount allotted for the second Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2013.

One may argue that the election budget may have rocketed because of inflation and the necessity of simultaneously holding two tiers of elections. But the 1992 elections budget is equivalent to just about Rs 810 million in today’s currency value.

“The latest elections were much more expensive than all the past polls, even after adjustment for inflation,” says Nilkantha Uprety, former Chief Election Commissioner.

Himal Khabarpatrika investigation has found that the parliamentary-provincial polls were wasteful because all Election Commissioners were hand in glove for kickbacks.

They bought luxurious vehicles and unnecessary equipment and materials at inflated prices. They even submitted fake bills, and transferred the secretary who refused to go along with the scams.

Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad Yadav and Election Commissioners Ila Sharma, Ishwari Prasad Poudel, Sudhir Kumar Shah and Narendra Dahal unanimously decided to buy five luxury vehicles for themselves. When Secretary Gopi Nath Mainali opposed their decision, he was transferred out of the EC –- a move that violated the election code set by the EC itself.

After removing Mainali, the EC fast-tracked the procurement process to buy the five luxury vehicles, each costing Rs 23.3 million. Sources say the five Election Commissioners got a cut of Rs 10 million from this purchase, which they divided up among themselves.

Despite having four printing machines at its disposal to print Voter ID cards, the EC bought another machine for Rs 160 million. But the new machine was not used to its optimum, and voters were ultimately allowed to cast ballots by just showing citizenship cards.

An EC official told us on condition of anonymity that the five Election Commissioners got a kickback Rs 10.6 million for the new printing machine. “Election Commissioners bought the machine only to pocket their cuts,” he said. “If the new machine was really required, it would not have been thrown into the storeroom.”

Chief Election Commissioner Yadav took home TVs and air-conditioners bought for his office. Election Commissioner Ila Sharma was caught on CCTV camera taking a TV set out of her office. Her daughter rides a car owned by the EC. She has allowed her domestic help to use a scooter bought by her office.

The EC spent a huge amount of money on producing, publishing, airing and broadcasting voter education materials, clearing the payments for work that was never done, or only partially completed. Sources say the Election Commissioners ordered their accounts department to pay documentary makers who submitted blank CDs. If 10,000 copies of pamphlets were printed, the bill submitted was for 100,000 copies.

The Election Commissioners approved all fake and forged bills, claiming their cuts. And media houses that refused to give them kickbacks were not given public service announcements.

As a result, voter education was so ineffective that as many as 1.7 million votes were invalid in local elections. More than 1 million and 1.5 million votes were invalid in parliamentary and provincial elections respectively.


 

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